At Lake Russell, bait is the bomb in December

Lake Russell
Guide Wendell Wilson catches December stripers at Lake Russell around big schools of baitfish.

Find baitfish and you’ll load the boat

With the approach of winter causing water temperatures to drop, there is one simple rule for fishing for any species in South Carolina’s Lake Russell. Find the bait and you will find the fish — all of the fish.

“December is one of my favorite months on Lake Russell. That’s because the winter pattern is starting to set up. And you also have the gulls arriving to help you find the fish,” said guide Wendell Wilson of Elberton, Ga. “By this time of year, we mostly just fish around the schools of bait, either on the main-lake flats or in the larger creeks.”

Everything is concentrating on those schools of bait, according to Wilson (706- 283-3336). By targeting them, anglers can expect to catch spotted bass, largemouth bass, striped bass, crappie and white and yellow perch. The pattern usually holds steady throughout the month, he said.

“They will all be schooled up together,” Wilson said. “We look for them in 30 to 50 feet of water. Once you find them, fish the bottom with either a drop-shot rig and medium minnow or with a jigging spoon.”

Watch the weather

Wilson said stripers and bass will sometimes come up off the bottom and suspend higher in the water column. In that case, he suggested casting an Alabama Rig with 2 1/2- to 3-inch curlytails or paddle-tails that imitate threadfin shad.

“The A-Rig is probably the best single lure for stripers. A second choice is a free-lined medium shiner or a herring,” Wilson said.

The weather also plays a role in which species to target, he said. The best days to fish for stripers are not the best days for perch and bass. Sunny, windy days are best for perch and bass, while cloudy and calm days, even rainy days, are best for stripers.

Those are also days to target a trophy striper, he said, adding that if you do, you had better be prepared to deal not only with a ferocious fish, but with the standing forests of trees beneath Russell’s surface.

“I hung one of the biggest stripers of my life on Dec. 3 one year. Unfortunately, he found a tree,” said Wilson, whose fish ate a herring but only took a few seconds to strip the braid off his reel down to the backing before hanging the line in a submerged tree.

“I was fishing with a very heavy outfit, so it was not like I was not ready for him, but he had me hung up in about five seconds.”

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