Tailrace bream

Simple gear leads to quality catches on the river. (Photo by Brian Cope)

River panfishing, the old-fashioned way

In today’s world of high-tech fishing with advanced electronics, it’s still nice to do some simple fishing, no digital devices required. That’s one reason Capt. Joe Dennis of Captain J Hook Charters (843-245-3762) likes fishing the upper portions of the Cooper River in the Tailrace Canal below Moncks Corner, SC.

Here, the bream are healthy, hearty, and predictable in the summer. And fishing for them requires nothing more than crickets and light tackle, including the most basic of all fishing gear, a cork.

Bluegills like this are a dime a dozen in the Tailrace Canal. (Photo by Brian Cope)

“This is just like the fishing you did as a kid — the fishing your dad and granddad did as kids,” said Dennis.

Dennis isn’t anti-electronics by any means. On many of his other trips, he uses LiveScope, one of the most advanced pieces of fishing electronics on the market, along with numerous other high-tech devices. But here, he enjoys the simplicity of old-style fishing.

Starting his fishing trips as early as possible, Dennis said being on the water at first light is always a good start.

“When fishing rivers in the summer, the coolest part of the day, which is usually at first light, isn’t quite as important as fishing lakes,” said Dennis. “But it’s definitely a help to anglers, because some July days can become uncomfortably hot fairly early in the day. And also, the low-light conditions of the first hour or so of the morning tip the odds in the angler’s favor, because as soon as these fish can see your cricket, they’re going to be hungry and more willing to bite than they will be after they’ve found their own breakfast.”

Fish all around

A quick scan of this river shows that the likely bream-holding areas are numerous. It seems tough to pick a bad spot. If it’s got cover like downed trees or surface vegetation, it’s likely to hold bream.

Dennis has some spots that have been productive to him in the past, so he spends a lot of time fishing those. But he said almost any time he drops a bait in similar areas that he’s never fished, he has plenty of luck.

If he had to pick out the biggest mistake most anglers make fishing here, it’s that they fish too close to the banks.

“This is a tidal river, so these fish will create beds that are always under water, no matter what tide it is. So during low tide, the best spot for your cricket may be just a little off the banks. But at high tide, you should be fishing far enough off the bank to reach those same beds,” he said.

The structure around the railroad trestle offers good cover for bream. (Photo by Brian Cope)

And to a lot of anglers accustomed to fishing lakes with a relatively constant depth, it can seem unnatural to fish so far away from the bank.

Because the hottest bream holes on the river vary in depths with the tide cycle, Dennis likes to fish foam corks, which offer a quick way to adjust the depth you’re fishing.

“As the tide comes in or goes out, you’re constantly changing your depth. And that’s easier to do with a simple cork,” he said.

He uses 4- to 6-pound test Slime Line monofilament spooled onto a small spinning reel, mounted onto a Catch The Fever Precision Cast crappie rod.

Quality polarized shades can help anglers locate bream beds.

“Especially during low tide, you can often see the fish on the beds. This can help pinpoint where the fish are, but even during low tide, some beds are too deep to see. It’s good to look for beds, but don’t get so caught up in it that you ignore deeper water,” he said.

This is simple fishing, and Dennis said the most important thing is to just go, and to go early.

“You can do this just blind casting. As long as you cast close to weedlines, partially sunken debris, or even just bends in the river or eddies in the current, you will catch your share of bream here,” he said.

Capt. Joe Dennis shows off two Tailrace bluegills. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Pro tips

Still, a few tips can make your day more productive.

While some anglers can make a perfect cast to their likely bream hole, Dennis said many inadvertently move their bait away immediately.

“Most anglers make their cast, then immediately close the bail on their spinning reel. This picks up enough line that it moves their bait out of the strike zone,” he said.

To fix this, Dennis suggests anglers make a cast, then before closing the bail, lift the rod up. This draws enough line off of the reel that when they close the bail, the bait stays put.

“That’s one of the small details that can turn a slow day of fishing into a hot one,” he said.

Another detail offered by Dennis is to move when the bite slows down, but don’t move too far.

“Sometimes you’ll just want to make a big move in the heat of the day, just to let the breeze cool you off. But if you’re focused on catching fish and the bite in one hole slows down, you’ll usually find another bed close by,” he said.

Often, Dennis catches fish from a bed around some brush, then goes to the very next type of structure nearby. He’ll usually find fish on several different pieces of cover that he can see while sitting at the very first hole he fishes.

Adding nightcrawlers or redworms to your bait arsenal can add shellcrackers to the mix, especially if you’re fishing deeper holes.

Hit the trestle

If you want a change of scenery, Dennis said you’ll find it within sight of the dam by fishing around the train trestle’s pilings. This is fairly deep water, and bream are often holding much deeper here than along the banks.

“During the summer, especially when the sun is high, you’ve got to put your cricket as close to the pilings as you can. And start off fishing in the shadows, but don’t be afraid to fish the sunny side too. Just make sure your bait is getting down deep,” he said.

Small lures and light line are perfect for anglers looking to use artificials for these fish. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Artificials add to the fun

Nothing is more simple than catching panfish with live bait under a cork, and the Cooper River is a great place to do it. Some anglers like to add to the fun by also using ultralight lures.

Mepps spinners, Rooster Tails, Road Runners, Beetle Spins and small crankbaits are all good options. Grubs on jigheads are also promising choices.

Fishing with these lures works best by getting away from the bank far enough that you don’t have to worry about hooking any brush or downed trees.

It’s a natural instinct to cast toward the bank, but it’s often better to cast parallel to it instead, in slightly deeper waters.The important thing here is to allow those lures to sink a good bit before reeling. Then just do a slow, steady retrieve, and be ready for a jarring strike.

This type of fishing also works well near the train trestle pilings, where you’ll have plenty of luck if you allow those lures to sink extra-deep before beginning your retrieve.

About Brian Cope 2787 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@carolinasportsman.com.

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