Bassin’ on the Cooper River

Productive bites come for anglers who get on the water before the sun gets high in the sky. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Get an early start for some hot topwater action

A short boat ride in the pre-dawn darkness brought professional bass fishing guide David Murdaugh Sr. to his chosen stretch of hyacinth-loaded shoreline, just off the main body of the Cooper River. After a lifetime of fishing this river, coupled with years of professional guiding, he felt good about this area. 

“I like both sides of the cover along here, but we’ll fish the east side first. It’s been really good lately,” Murdaugh said. 

He began the morning with his ‘go-to’ topwater lure for June on the Cooper River, a frog. Three casts into the trip, he’d looked over his left shoulder twice toward the other side of the creek where big fish were apparently mauling smaller fish.

“Wind in, we’re switching sides,” he said as he bumped the electric kicker to high speed to cross over to what we hoped would be a bass bonanza.

It was.

He cast the frog to the edge of the cover, and a half-heartbeat later the frog disappeared in an aggressive swirl of a marauding bass. He worked that 5-pound bigmouth to the boat, quickly deposited the fish into the livewell and cast again. As he finished that cast, another big fish rolled just farther up the shoreline, betraying its location. He launched the frog, seemingly laser-guided to the precise target, popped it once, and it appeared as if someone flushed a commode under his lure, as the big fish busted it. This one lugged the scales down past the 7-pound mark.

Action continued for a magical hour, then abated to a more normal bite that was still good, but not as ridiculously productive as it had been.

“Welcome to the Cooper River in June,” he said. “Get here early, fish the right spots, and big bass bites happen in a hurry,” Murdaugh said.   

David Murdaugh caught this Cooper River hawg on a frog, his favorite topwater lure for June. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Go early

The message to bass fishermen on the Cooper River is in bold print, all caps: forego that extra hour of slumber and go fish a frog.

Murdaugh said that mythical, ‘magical hour’ does exist on the Cooper River during June.

“For many fishermen, by the time they actually get here and begin casting, that magical moment is a memory,” he said. “By sunrise, the bite is still good, and remains good. But that special fishing, when bass are swirling and breaking on forage all along the shoreline to the extent you can pick a specific target, is often over.” 

Good fishing is still the norm, and June is a prime month for consistent action throughout the day by employing a variety of lures.  

Murdaugh (843-452-9566; Cooper River Guide Service on Facebook) said several factors influence the best places to fish along the river. But good fishing exists from the Pinopolis Dam all the way to saltwater.

“Any stretch of the river, all along the way, can produce excellent bass action during June,” he said. “Fishermen can fish any sector and do well. It’s the local habitat environment that’s usually the key. I tend to target areas where the weedy shorelines drop into deeper water, at least down to 4 to 6 feet deep, quickly. 

“I also prefer hyacinth weeds as the predominant vegetation, but hydrilla can be excellent, and that even gets better as we get deeper into the summer weather,” he said. “My favorite habitat in June would be the hyacinth weed lines where some grow a short distance away from the shoreline edge. That enlarges the potential target area and attracts big bass.”

Accurate casting is a key to success. The current flow and water level are impacted by tides, and the depth and vegetative changes along the shoreline means targets are constantly changing, and are often small.

Work manmade objects that lie along already productive shoreline cover during June. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Limited strike zone

“When searching for the right areas, I tend to hit the small points and pockets along a stretch of vegetation,” he said. “These are the high percentage spots. Anything different can be a key, but a cast a foot away may not entice a strike. I want to hit right at the edge of the shoreline, or if it’s a tiny pocket a few inches deeper into the shoreline, I’ll put the bait right in that hole. Accuracy makes a world of difference.”

Murdaugh typically doesn’t fish the lure all the way back to the boat. The first few feet are the predominant strike zone this time of year.

“If I make a good cast, I’ll work the lure a short distance, and if it’s not bit, reel it in and hit the next target.” he said. “A big ole bass will usually hit a frog in the first couple of pops, but this strategy holds for any lure I use, not just the frog.”

Murdaugh said long stretches of weedy shoreline cover, adjacent to deeper water, with multiple small points and pockets lined with weedy growth are prime targets. 

“Bass are looking to ambush prey, and they’ll hold on these small points and pockets,” he said. “Anything different can hold a big bass, and they’re often targets that fishermen can identify if they’re looking for them.

“A break leading into a shallow flat is excellent,” he said. “The water flowing in or out of the breaks into the river creates an eddy. And any nearby weeds, stumps or old pilings enhance the potential productivity of that spot.”

Murdaugh said it’s around such areas where multiple big bass tend to congregate. So he’ll fish them thoroughly. And it’s a good idea to circle back to the area later to re-check it even if a good bass was taken earlier, because the tide flow and water level change may attract other forage and bass to the area. 

Murdaugh monitors his graph and is always on the lookout for bass and forage.

Getting an early start is key to frogging for bass this month. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Watch for bait

“I like seeing shad and other forage on the graph. It’s another level of opportunity I can use to develop a pattern,” he said. “The more information I have, the better my odds of catching bass.”

Murdaugh will employ a variety of lures during a day’s fishing, and he’ll switch lures regularly when not consistently getting bites.

“I’ve learned to not get locked into any one lure unless I’m catching fish with it right now,” he said. “My favorite topwater lures for the river are a frog, Pop R, Whopper Plopper and both the Tiny and Baby Torpedos. The Devil’s Horse is an oldie but goodie, too.” 

“I love my frog for big bass on the Cooper River,” he said. “It’s consistent. But some days, it’s a matter of knowing when to stick with the frog, or change when the bite is off for that lure.”

He works flukes in situations such as schooling fish action, which occurs anytime of the day through the summer. He’s always got a fluke and a heavy topwater for long-distance casting rigged and ready.

Based on the cover type, he’ll flip worms into specific, tight targets, and he’s also high on the wacky worm.

“I’ll fish the wacky worm around stumps, logs, blowdowns and around breaks,” he said. “The combination of a rocky shoreline with thick vegetative cover that drops quickly is a prime target for wacky worms.” 

Don’t overlook this explosive bass fishery this June, and throughout the summer. A lot of anglers will fish this bass-rich environment during the weekends, so weekdays are often less crowded. 

Murdaugh’s specialty is largemouth bass, and he guides on the Cooper River and both Santee Cooper lakes. He also guides for catfish and bream on the Santee Cooper lakes.

But heed Murdaugh’s early-morning advice if you want to catch a ‘hawg’ on a frog this June. 

Murdaugh works in, around, and under any objects such as docks on the Cooper River. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Tides are a key to success

The one factor on the river that’s non-negotiable in terms of impact on where anglers may catch big bass is the tide. Murdaugh said success on the Cooper River is directly linked to working the right patterns to this ever-changing tidal flow situation. 

“Bass fishermen go fishing when they can, and I’m going to be out extra early during June regardless of the tide,” he said. “But the tide level and direction of flow strongly influences where I fish. I want that early bite in June, but the best targets vary with the water level and tide flow.”

Murdaugh said his favorite tide for bass fishing the river is a high and falling tide. But he can’t control when tournaments are held, or when sunrise occurs, so he’s developed strategies for places to fish on various tides.

“By studying the river to learn what happens to a specific area from one tide extreme to the other, I’ve been able to find productive places at any tide,” Murdaugh said. “A target that’s productive on a high tide, may not be special on a low tide because of water level, availability of forage and the cover and weed situation.” 

Having moving water, whether outgoing or incoming, is better for fishing than a slack tide, he said. He’ll fish deeper and slower during slack tides when bass are less active.

“The key to catching lots of bass on the Cooper River is understanding and adapting to tides,” he said. “I may have an opportunity to fish an area when water conditions are prime for that specific habitat, but I know it’s in constant change. Even when catching bass, I realize this productive area is time-limited because of tidal changes.” 

About Terry Madewell 809 Articles
Award-winning writer and photographer Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C., has been an outdoors writer for more than 30 years. He has a degree in wildlife and fisheries management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager.

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