If you live in the Upstate and still make the long drive to either Murray, Clarks Hill or Wateree to load up on springtime crappie, you may be by-passing some overlooked fishing opportunities.

Several counties along the I-85 corridor are home to a number of small, water-district impoundments that contain both slab crappie and numbers of them to compete with the big lakes. Spartanburg County alone is home to four of these smaller bodies of water that are full of nice crappie.

The trade-off, in terms of gas mileage vs. equipment, is that most of these lakes have certain size restrictions on boats and/outboards. But if you take a look in the driveways of many upstate anglers' homes, it isn't unusual to see a sure-enough, decked-out crappie rig sporting a 10- to 15-hp outboard and a resume of lake permits streaming along its gunwales.

Just like the big lakes, these smaller waters each have their own personalities and peculiarities, in terms of their individual fisheries. But it wasn't difficult to twist the arms of a few local experts to get them to spill the beans about where to find the fish on these small lake-big crappie waters.

As the water source for the towns of Startex, Jackson, Wellford and Duncan, Lake Cooley is one of two water-supply lakes owned by SJWD Water District that are open to the public. Both Cooley and Lyman Lake, the larger of the two, are in western Spartanburg County and represent flat, shallow-pool reservoirs with plenty of shoreline cover - prime habitat for spawning crappie.

Cooley is a 300-acre impoundment of Jordan Creek, a tributary of the North Tyger River. The lake's floor is characterized as "bowl shaped" with no well-defined channel. Its upper section, above the SC 292 crossing, is a large, V-shaped shallow flat, with Jordan Creek emptying into the flat through a culvert that runs under Ballenger Road.

James Howell of Spartanburg, a pro-staffer for Fish Stalker Lures who maintains an informational website for Upstate anglers and often conducts fishing seminars at local bait and tackle retailers, looks forward to late March, when he can get on the big slabs at Cooley.

"Cooley is the hardest of the four public lakes in Spartanburg County to fish," he said. "It might be because it has the clearest water, but it's also got the biggest crappie in it. Those big slabs are elusive; you never know where they're going to be from year to year."

Howell said the peak of the spawn is typically the last half of March, but he assures fishermen that good fishing will last through April. Cooley doesn't have a lot of tributary creeks, which normally is the key to find crappie on other reservoirs, so Howell concentrates on main-lake features.

"The main-lake points have some pretty good ledges that drop off from about eight feet down to 20 feet," he said. "Working those ledges is generally where I start. Those are some good areas to tight-line troll, and it's easier to locate fish this way."

Lyman, a 500-acre impoundment of the Middle Tyger River, is the older of the two reservoirs and contains shoreline cover in the form of old docks and piers. Howell said the upper end of the lake is generally better for locating spawning and bedding fish. The last bridge on Lyman is the Sloan Road crossing; beyond the bridge is a typically shallow spawning flat that is known for holding numbers of fish.

"Lyman is full of smaller fish - it's not unusual to catch 100 crappie each trip out on Lyman, but they won't be the size you find at Cooley," he said. "Those shallow flats in four to six feet of water are usually loaded with them."

If the main flat above Sloan Road isn't producing the size fish he's looking for, another local angler, Jay Bruce of Greer, suggests dropping back and fishing Meadow Creek, which enters into the lake on the right, the last cove before you get to the bridge.

"There's a couple of shallow humps and a channel that cuts across that part of the lake," he said. "That's a good place to long-line troll curlytail jigs. Look for fish to be bedding in seven to eight feet of water."

Another option for catching crappie from Lyman as spawning starts to wane is to fish some of the deeper boat docks on the lower end of the lake. Anglers target these fish by using long jigging poles or by casting single jigs in and around the docks, either by themselves or by attaching a small popping cork 18 inches above the jig.

Located northeast of Cooley and Lyman and approximately 15 miles northwest of downtown Spartanburg lies 1,534-acre Lake Bowen. Bowen is dissected by SC 9 to the east and by I-26 to the west, dividing the lake into three nearly equal-sized parts. The lake has approximately 33 miles of shoreline, much of which is developed, which means lots of boat docks, man-made brushpiles and isolated lay downs in the lake. The docks and brushpiles are the primary source of crappie-fishing structure on the lake.

"You'll find most of the bigger fish up the river beyond the I-26 bridge, then go under the Compton Bridge, and there's a big stump flat," said Howell. "I've found the size and numbers to be between those of Lyman and Cooley."

One of Bruce's favorite spots to troll for crappie is near the boat ramp at SC 9 in Inman.

"Go straight across the lake and under the Foster Road bridge," he said. "There's a little no-name creek that (is) about 500 yards long and 100 yards wide," said Bruce. "I'll long-line troll a Kalin Triple Threat grub in translucent colors like albino shad or rainbow trout down the length of that creek."

Bruce contends that another good way to catch crappie on Bowen is to cover a lot of water, doing a lot of "runnin' and gunnin'" of Bowen's boat docks. He said Bowen's docks are a variety of both fixed-piling and floating structures. He keys on many of the older docks that typically have brush planted around them, and he prefers the widest docks he can find that have at least six feet of water under them to produce more crappie.

"I fish docks mostly from SC 9 to the dam," he said. "Once you get into April, the females pull out and leave the males to guard the nest. That's the time to catch the really black males that are aggressive and hit a jig hard."

Owned and operated by the Spartanburg Water System and Sewer District. Lake Blalock in the northern section of Spartanburg County, covers approximately 1,200 acres.

In 2007, Spartanburg Water System completed a project to raise the level of Lake Blalock from 700 to 710 feet above sea level. This required raising the dam by 10 feet and clearing the surrounding shoreline. This "new" water has proven to be a great bonus for crappie anglers.

"When the water was real low for a couple of years while they were working on the dam, it allowed a lot of good spawning cover to grow up around Blalock," Howell said. "When the lake came back up, it covered up that new growth. Now you can go down the banks with a jig and cork and catch some nice crappie."

Buck's Creek has also been known to produce good fish on Blalock. Being a major tributary to what is otherwise just a wide spot in the Pacolet River impoundment, the backwaters on the other side of the Buck Creek Road bridge offer some good skinny-water fishing around standing greenery near the channel. The headwaters of the Pacolet River, the main tributary on the east end of the lake, have similar characteristics.

"The cool thing about fishing in these creeks is that they are so narrow you can tight-line troll down the middle and cover the whole creek in about two swipes" Howell said.

Once the spawn is over, Howell gravitates to the bridges that span Blalock to finish out the month.

"Blalock is a good bridge-fishing lake," he said. "Crappie find a vertical presentation of a jig hard to resist when they get schooled up under the bridges."



HOW TO GET THERE - The Lake Cooley ramp and office are at 100 Cooley Dock Rd., West of SC 292 in Inman. The Lake Lyman ramp is located on Lyman Lake Rd off SC 357 in Lyman. the Lake Bowen warden's office and ramp are at 8515 SC 9 in Inman. The Lake Blalock office, park and ramp are at 1925 Sandy Ford Rd. in Chesnee.

TECHNIQUES/TACTICS - Fishing for spawning crappie can be done with either multiple-rod or single-pole tactics. Trolling, either tight-lining or long-lining, is a good way to locate fish and can be used all the way through the spawn. Once males are on the beds, many anglers prefer single-pole tactics of casting or "shooting" docks or other shoreline structure to catch fish. After the spawn, trolling for postspawn fish or jigging around bridge columns is productive on several of the smaller lakes.

FISHING INFO - James Howell, http://www.upstatecrappiemasters.com/; Lake Bowen warden's office, 864-592-2240; Lake Blalock warden's office, 864-578-5442; Spartanburg Water System, http://www.spartanburgwater.org/; Lake Lyman warden's office, 864-879-0804; Lake Cooley warden's office 864-949-1002; SJWD Water District, http://www.sjwd.com/

MAPS - Delorme South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-561-5105, http://www.delorme.com/.