One epic rainfall a half-year ago started a stretch of about four months during which rainy conditions were the rule in the Carolinas. Rivers in coastal South Carolina – the Waccamaw, the Great Pee Dee, the Black, the Lynches, the Sampit – received the brunt of all that rainfall.
With the City of Georgetown set to host a prominent bass fishing event next week, organizers and competitors have had a wary eye the last few months on the river levels and conditions.
Conway native Chris Jones is the Secretary/Treasurer of the Conway Bassmasters and has been fishing the local rivers since he was a toddler in the early 1980s.
Jones will serve as a marshal for the Huk Performance Fishing Bassmaster Elite at Winyah Bay, which will be staged next Thursday through Sunday (April 7-10) out of the Carroll Ashemore Campbell Marine Complex in Georgetown.
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Winyah Bay is the confluence of these rivers, which makes Georgetown an excellent location for bass tournaments, giving competing anglers multiple fishing options.
Jones has been fishing the rivers, especially the Waccamaw, which flows through Conway on the way to Winyah Bay, for about 35 years.
After the flooding rainfall of October 1-5, 2015, which dumped upwards of 20 inches of rain across much of South Carolina’s coastal plain and midlands, Jones was skeptical of how conditions would be for the tournament.
“The rain really messed things up around here for a while,” Jones said earlier this week. “After B.A.S.S. officially announced they were coming to Georgetown and we had all the rain, I didn’t even want them to come. I just knew it was going to be a waste.
“It shows the good Lord knows what he is doing anyway. As it turns out the water levels in all of our rivers are starting to come down. It is not prime time yet but (it is) getting close. If we don’t get a lot of rain in the next (week) it is shaping up to be a really good tournament.”
Georgetown is such a central location, there are even more options for anglers aside from fishing the rivers that flow directly into Winyah Bay. The only restriction is anglers cannot access the Santee-Cooper Lakes to fish the tournament.
The scuttlebutt surrounding the tournament is that many anglers are considering zooming southward down the Intracoastal Waterway to the Charleston area to fish the Cooper River in hopes of finding cleaner water and bigger bass.
“It is hard to say where will be the ideal place to run to,” Jones said. “To me (making the run to the Cooper River) is just too much of a gamble. It’s over a two-hour run one way, and you will have to stop for gas. The tides that week are not going to be optimal and just going to the Cooper River is not a given you will catch (an aggregate weight) in the high teens.”
In Jones’ view, staying closer to Georgetown, fishing the local rivers and having more fishing time would be a better option.
“I would rather focus on the Big Pee Dee, Black River and North Santee River. I think these places will surprise you once these guys start fishing. The lower end of the Waccamaw River will be a great place for guys to catch fish,” he said.
“The larger fish are not very abundant here so I don’t think it could be won here. That being said, I do not think anyone can go to the same spot four days in a row to win this event either. They will have to sample a little of it all to put together a winning game plan.”
It is spawning season for largemouth bass in coastal South Carolina, and many of the lunker females will be on beds during the tournament.
“We will be in the spawn (during the tournament),” Jones said. “There is some going on now. I would say the peak would be in mid-April. I don’t see sight-fishing for bedding fish (coming) into play here because of the water clarity. I’m sure many fish will be caught off the bed, but not from looking at them, just from fishing.”
Jones’ thoughts on what baits will be successful reflect that bass will be on the beds.
“Plastics are good on these rivers year round,” Jones said. “A Yamamoto Senko is always a player, speed craw, baby brush hogs - any of these type baits will work. A small 1/4 to 3/8 ounce spinner bait would be good in current areas. Floating frogs and swimming frogs will catch fish around grass and lily pads.
“If you are anywhere in the Carolinas in early spring; a Rapala Shad Rap crankbait is hard to beat and the rivers are no exception.”
Gregg Holshouser: firstname.lastname@example.org