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Fresh water striped bass fishing in South Carolina’s Lake Murray is a pretty dull business much of the year, involving deep water trolling and such paraphernalia as downriggers. But as temperatures begin to drop this month and continuing through December, the baitfish that these stripers feed on become sluggish, and as a result, easy prey for hungry stripers. That’s when these fish begin to raft up in huge schools and chase bait near the surface. The result is fast and furious surface action for both fly and light tackle anglers. Furthermore, thanks to the institution of a 21-inch minimum size limit on stripers, Lake Murray now has an excellent population of fish in the three to 10-pound class.
Most of the fishing on Lake Murray takes place out of Columbia, South Carolina’s capital city, which is only minutes away from the lake’s eastern shore. Several full-time spin and baitcasting guides offer fishing trips on sprawling Lake Murray, but fly fishing guides are still a rarity here. However, this past August I enjoyed a fly fishing excursion with Randy Saliga of Blue Heron Guide Boat Service (*). While Saliga is by no means an accomplished fly fisherman, he is quite willing to work with fly fishermen, and recognizes that when stripers are on the surface they can be caught with flies as well as on artificial lures. Moreover, his large boat, powered by a 200-horsepower motor, is ideally shaped for a fly rodder on the prow and someone with standard gear in the back. During my trip with Saliga in late August, a short cool snap had initiated a bit of surface-feeding activity, and when we got in the middle of a feeding frenzy I was able to get into stripers using a Clouser Minnow, while my companions took fish on Zara Spooks.
Saliga charges $260 for a day’s fishing for two anglers. He has first-rate Shakespeare spincasting gear and a good selection of lures, but if you want to do some fly casting, I recommend bringing your own equipment and flies. An eight-weight rod equipped with a floating line is ideal, but make sure you have some weighted flies to get down a few feet in a hurry when bigger fish are hanging underneath smaller schooling fish. Alternatively, you can carry a spare spool with sink-tip line. Flies to bring include surface poppers and minnow-imitating streamers, especially in chartreuse, which seems to be a favorite color for Lake Murray’s stripers. Spin-tackle anglers should plan on using a medium-action rod spooled with eight or 10-pound test line. Spincasters get good action on Zara Spooks, Chug Bugs, Striper Swipers and that old standby, the Butterbean Jig.
Keep in mind that although South Carolina is truly Deep South, fall temperatures can get nippy, so dress accordingly. Frankly, exciting as it is, this fishery is probably not worth focusing an entire trip around. It’s one of those stopover, or add-on, opportunities that a well-travelled angler should know about in the event his or her travel plans call for a trip to central South Carolina. For information on nearby lodging, restaurants and the like, you can contact the Lake Murray Tourism and Recreation Association (*). Enjoy! – Jim Casada.