Welcome to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Black Bass Slam! This exciting challenge allows anglers to test their fishing abilities by catching all four species of black bass in South Carolina. Our state boasts four exciting bass: the Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Redeye (Bartram’s) Bass, and Spotted Bass. Each species has unique characteristics that differentiate them from their fellow fish. In this series, we will be working through each species exploring how to identify them, prime habitats and locations, and angling tips to help you complete the slam. For more information concerning the rules of the Black Bass Slam, please visit our website at https://www.dnr.sc.gov/aquaticed/bassslam.
Identifying the Bartram’s Bass
The Redeye Bass – locally known as the Bartram’s Bass – is a native fish that is only found in the Savanah River drainage. South Carolina’s Redeye Bass is thought to be a unique species separate from its relatives in neighboring Georgia and Alabama. The Bartram’s Bass is one of seven total Redeye Bass species that include the following black bass: Chattahoochee Bass, Altamaha Bass, Tallapoosa Bass, Coosa Bass, Cahaba Bass, and Warrior Bass. These seven species together form what fisheries biologists refer to as the “Redeye Bass Complex.” Each of these fish are commonly referred to as Redeye Bass but maintain distinct genetic differences.
Beyond the scientific uniqueness to the Redeye, they have a passionate following of anglers that recognize Redeye Bass fishing offers the best of the best in southern angling. They offer explosive strikes, they are always hungry, the waters are relatively unpressured, and their habitats are as scenic as trout water. For many, fishing for Bartram’s Bass with fly rods and poppers is the pinnacle of the fishing experience.
Physical characteristics and location will help you determine if you are holding a Bartram’s Bass. These fish are naturally smaller and take more time to grow. An adult Redeye Bass is 8 inches with a genuine trophy being around 12 inches. Anything much larger is likely a hybridized Bartram’s Bass with an invasive Alabama Bass. In terms of coloration, they will be an olive hue fading to a white belly. Bartram’s Bass have elongated black splotches along the lateral line with an almost leopard print pattern along its back. The tail fin will have white and orange margins with the anal fin having a hint of orange coloration along its front edge. All Redeye Bass, including the Bartram’s Bass, have a silver to teal crescent behind the eye. If this crescent is missing, it is not a Bartram’s Bass. Temperature, stress, and habitat can vary these physical characteristics, but they are a great way to begin identifying your catch.
Locating the Bartram’s Bass
Location is the best way to ensure that you have caught a Bartram’s Bass and not one of its fellow black bass members. Bartram’s do not occur everywhere in the state. These Redeye prefer cooler moving water above the Fall Line. They thrive in shoal complexes along rivers and creeks within the Savannah River drainage. The Chattooga River is their northernmost range and the Savannah River around North Augusta, SC is their southernmost range. Lake Jocassee is the largest population of lake dwelling Redeye.
If you are standing in waters that flow into the Savannah River such as the Chattooga River and adjacent streams, you are in the right place. Bartram’s need a rocky substrate for reproduction so aim for rocky shoal areas with decent water flow to increase your chances. Pockets along seams and behind rocks offer prime ambush habitat for these fish, so be sure to cast at every pool. Bartram’s prefer to ambush around seams. Seams, where two different water speeds meet, act like an aquatic buffet line sending bugs, crayfish, and baitfish tumbling down the current.
The Tackle Box
Once you have located the right habitat for Bartram’s Bass, a wide array of tackle can be used to catch one for the Slam. Redeye primarily target terrestrial insects that fall on the water’s surface. They also forage on baitfish, crayfish, and macroinvertebrates. Their diet makes fly fishing an ideal way to target these fish. Poppers and topwater flies are the primary choice of dedicated Redeye anglers. A black or olive woolly bugger and other small streamers make great choices as well. If you’d like to pursue them with conventional gear, any small crankbait or soft plastic is a great choice. Those imitating natural insects and baitfish like crayfish and jointed shiners are excellent choices. Anglers using rooster tail lures have found plenty of success with Redeye Bass.
If you would like to try completing the Slam using a fly rod, the Bartram’s Bass is an exciting place to start. You will need a 3 weight to 5 weight fly rod, floating fly line, and a 3X leader. Successful fly patterns include leggy poppers and foam topwater flies. While most colors will work as Bartram’s aren’t too picky, a seasoned Redeye angler usually starts with yellow. Subsurface streamers such as woolly buggers and micro crayfish work well when the topwater bite slows, which is rare. In most cases, a size 6 to size 10 fly will successfully catch Redeye.
Ranger Will’s Field Recommendations
“The Bartram’s Bass is a special gem of a native fish in South Carolina. Being one of only two native black bass to our state, it should be respected and appreciated despite its size. A real movement from Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina has spread to encourage sport fishing for the Redeye Bass. A few hours on their home waters and you may find yourself identifying as a Redeye angler, which can quickly become a lifetime pursuit! To add this species to your Bass Slam list, I recommend heading to the upstate. The best populations of Bartram’s Bass exist in the Chattooga River below the Hwy 28 Bridge crossing and all the way down until you reach Lake Tugalo. Lake anglers should head out to Lake Jocassee, which currently holds the world record Redeye Bass. With that said, don’t forget about the main stem of the Savannah River, which holds great populations in the Augusta and North Augusta area.”
SCDNR SC Public Fishing Access Map
Devils Fork State Park
Chattooga River – Sumter National Forest
Fly Fishing for Redeye Bass: An Adventure Across Southern Waters by Matt Lewis
For more information on the Bartram’s Bass and other South Carolina fishes, please see our Guide to Freshwater Fishes located in PDF format. A hardcopy version is available by request by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.