Written by: Jonathon Togami, 2023 SCDNR Aquatic Education Intern
I am the 2023 Aquatic Education Intern for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. I grew up on the coast of South Carolina and knew the saltwater fishing scene well. When I started my internship with SCDNR I didn’t know what to expect and I had never fished in a decent sized river or lake before. In my time on the coast, I started fly fishing for inshore redfish as well as largemouth bass in ponds, both of which are a ton of fun to catch on the fly. The state of South Carolina has such an amazing diversity of bass and bream, and while most anglers catch these species with conventional gear, in recent years, there has been a growing community of fly anglers targeting these species as well. The Black Bass Slam is an awesome program run through SCDNR that encourages anglers to get out and fish different waters throughout the state. To complete the Black Bass Slam, anglers must catch all four species of black bass in the state – Largemouth, Smallmouth, Redeye (Bartram’s), and Spotted Bass – within one calendar year and submit pictures of their catches to SCBassSlam@dnr.sc.gov. When most people think of fly fishing in the state of South Carolina, they think of freshwater trout in the upstate, striper in the midlands, or redfish and tarpon on the coast. However, black bass are an extremely fun and exciting group of fish that are left out of the mix. The ease of access, the availability of these fish, the fight they offer, and the diversity of species make them the perfect target for any fly angler. I decided to complete the Slam entirely on the fly, in one day, and with minimal gear to show that the slam can be easily accomplished in a calendar year, that fly fishing doesn’t have to be complicated, and most importantly, because it would be an exciting challenge.
About the Fish
The Redeye (Bartram’s) Bass
The Redeye (Bartram’s) Bass is one of two native black bass in the state and is not part of a stocking program through SCDNR hatcheries. One of the defining characteristics of the Redeye is a distinct teal to silver crescent behind its eyes. These fish are all wild and are generally on the smaller side, growing at a rate of about an inch a year. While these fish are not very big, they are aggressive and they fight hard for their size, making them a fantastic fish to take on the fly.
Redeye (Bartram’s) Bass can be found in waters and tributaries of the Savannah River Basin, including Lakes Jocassee, Keowee, Hartwell, and Russell, as well as some tributaries of the upper Saluda and the Broad rivers in the Santee Basin.
I had a lot of help from my supervisor in the planning process for the Redeye (Bartram’s) Bass. This species is his favorite by far and he has dedicated a lot of time and energy into researching spots to catch these fish. He mentioned fishing the Chattooga and Chauga Rivers, but also knew there was a smaller population in the Savannah River.
The Smallmouth Bass, also referred to as the bronzeback, is not native to the state of South Carolina but is stocked here and is known for its sportfishing qualities, most notably, the relentless fight it puts up. Smallmouth can be identified by the position of their mouth in relation to their eye, and usually range in size from about half a pound to two pounds, with a trophy South Carolina smallmouth being about 5-6 lbs.
In South Carolina, smallmouth bass can be found in Lakes Jocassee and Keowee, and in the Broad River as well as its tributaries. These fish prefer living in cooler waters and in pool sections of cool, clear streams. Smallmouth generally limit their range to one pool or a few close pools in a river or stream.
I knew that the Smallmouth Bass would be the most difficult species on the list for me. I hadn’t really fished for them and these fish can get quite finicky at times. Because of that, I had a few places in mind to catch this fish. I planned to go upstream of Columbia on the Broad River, but knew that if I did, I would spend a lot of time either floating or finding access points to get on the river, so that probably wasn’t the best way to go. Instead, I figured I would hit the Savannah River because I had caught them there before and there were backup shoal systems near my primary target area that would be easily accessible.
The Largemouth Bass is the second of the native black bass species in the state and is also part of the statewide stocking program. Largemouth are the most caught species in the state and can be found in nearly every warmwater habitat throughout. These fish are plentiful, fairly easy to catch, and put up a good fight, making them a great fish to target for sportsman across the state, country, and the world.
These fish can be caught throughout the state in all kinds of man-made impoundments and lakes. When in streams and rivers, Largemouth prefer slow moving water and pools, as well as moderately clear water that has slow to no current.
During the planning process for the Largemouth Bass, my biggest concern was the time of day that I would be fishing for them and aligning that with the kind of water I was fishing in i.e., pond, lake, stream, creek, or river. If I wanted to fish for Largemouth in a pond, I would have the best luck early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid excess heat and the fish becoming lethargic. Location was not a huge concern for me because of the vast range of these fish.
The Spotted Bass is an invasive species in the state of South Carolina and is often known to hybridize with other members of the black bass family. These fish have a huge competitive advantage over other black bass and often overtake other species when illegally introduced into a new habitat. These fish grow quickly and have an average life span of around 5 years.
The Spotted Bass can be found in the Upper Savannah River drainage, Lakes Keowee, Russell, Jocassee, and Hartwell. They have also been introduced in tributaries of the Enoree, Saluda, and Savannah Rivers. These fish prefer large mountain streams and reservoirs and are highly adaptive.
When I was planning locations for the Spotted Bass, there was no other option in my mind than Lake Keowee. I have fished Keowee a good bit prior to attempting the one-day slam and have primarily caught spotted bass, the exception being one largemouth. There are other places I had in mind as backups but knew that Keowee was going to be a lock.
- Redington Crosswater Outfit with Crosswater Reel 5wt 9-Foot 4pc.
- Rio Products 9ft/8lb tapered bass leader.
- Rio Products Medium VersiLeader 10ft/20lb 6IPS.
- Todd’s Wiggle Minnow Size 4.
- Lifetime Tamarack Angler 10 ft Fishing Kayak.
- Ozark Trail Adjustable Aluminum Fishing Kayak Paddle.
- Ozark Trail Kayak and Paddle Board Cart.
- Kayak Anchor Trolley.
- 3lb folding anchor.
- Locking Forceps.
- Nail clippers.
The One Day Slam Experience:
When you are trying to tackle the Black Bass Slam in one day, it is essential to have a good plan with backup locations in case the day doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. I thought Smallmouth Bass was going to be the most difficult species to catch, so I decided to target them first to get them out of the way. To do this, I felt like I had the best shot on the Savannah River fishing in pools of some shoal systems. The Savannah also holds a decent population of Redeye (Bartram’s) Bass and Largemouth Bass. While I wasn’t counting on it to produce those fish, I thought it would be good to have the possibility of catching them too. After catching a Smallmouth in the Savannah, my plan was to fish the Chauga River for Redeye, then move on to Lake Keowee to fish for the Spotted Bass, followed by fishing nearby ponds for Largemouth. If I didn’t catch a Smallmouth quick enough in the Savannah, my backup plan was to move on to the other species and hit a section of the Broad River on my way back to Columbia. I was confident in my game plan for the day, and all that was left at that point was to gather my gear and prepare to take on the one-day slam.
Preparing for the Slam:
To prepare for the slam, I made sure to pack any gear that I may need for the locations I was preparing to fish and for weather that I may encounter while I was out. I wanted to bring my kayak with me to ensure my ability to fish effectively in large areas of water. I drive a Scion xD, it is a small car, but I take some serious pride in being able to pack that thing with anything I may need to go fishing, hiking, and camping. I prepped my 9 foot long 5 weight rod with floating line leading into a 10-foot long, 6 IPS (inches per second sink rate) leader connected to a 9-foot long 8lb test monofilament bass leader, then finally a Todd’s Wiggle Minnow fly on the end. In the car I packed a cooler with plenty of water and snacks for the day, my rigged-up fly rod, hip pack, kayak cart, kayak paddle, anchor, wading shoes, a life jacket, whistle, and a bin for any wet clothes/shoes after wading. All that was left to do was check the river level, strap my kayak to the top of my car, and get some rest.
On the morning of July 22nd, 2023, I woke up at 4:30 AM in Columbia, SC, made some coffee and breakfast, checked the flow rate and gauge height of the Savannah River, then hopped in the car and began the drive around 5:15 AM. I arrived at my put-in on the Savannah River around 6:40 AM, found a parking spot, put my kayak on the cart, and loaded it up with all my gear before walking it down to the landing. After walking the kayak down to the river, I threw on my life jacket, strapped down the folding cart to the back of the Kayak and was on the water by 7:20 AM. The area I was fishing on the Savannah did not have a very high flow rate at the time, giving me the ability to paddle both up and down stream in my kayak. I began paddling upstream from the put-in to fish a good-looking shoal system and after about an hour and twenty minutes of fishing, I casted my Todd’s Wiggle Minnow behind a smaller exposed rock and with one long strip the fly cranked downward in the water and wobbled side to side as it floated back to the surface. As soon as the fly reached the top of the water, the surface erupted, and I had hooked my first bass of the day. It wasn’t until the fish reached my hand that I saw the distinct teal crescent of the redeye bass. I wet my hand before handling the fish and took a picture of it on my kayak ruler as well as a picture of myself holding the fish before releasing the Redeye.
I continued fishing in pools of the shoal system on the Savannah with the same stripping pattern as previously mentioned. About 15 minutes after catching the redeye, I laid out a nice cast to the left of a larger exposed rock and before the fly reached the surface, I saw a flash of bronze in the water and felt the strong tug of a 15-inch smallmouth on my line. I brought the fish to hand, then took my pictures and released it back into the cool water.
Smallmouth was my target species for the Savannah in the first place, but I had already caught one as well as a Redeye – which I thought were going to be the two hardest species to catch in the day) so I decided to stay and take a couple more casts around the same rock I caught the Smallmouth near. About 4 minutes after catching the Smallmouth, I casted to the opposite side of the same rock and with another flash, my fly disappeared, and I felt the pull of another big fish. While I was fighting the fish I thought it was another Smallmouth, but when it finally got to me, I realized it was actually a Largemouth. I made sure to take the necessary pictures and safely handle the fish while doing so before releasing it and paddling back to the landing as fast as I possibly could.
I loaded the car with all my gear and was on the road to Lake Keowee by about 9:45 AM. I got to my put-in on Lake Keowee at about 12:10 PM and loaded up the kayak again before getting on the water, I fished in about 5 feet of water using the same rig the previous fish were caught on. A school of Spotted Bass were hanging out around a fallen tree, and I was sight-casting to them. I hooked a good-sized spotted bass, and it was pulling my kayak towards the school. Unfortunately, when I got him close to the boat, my line got caught in my paddle and the fly came out of the fish’s mouth. Desperate to get another fish on before my kayak drifted into the middle of the school and ruined my chances, I quickly laid out another cast. Luckily, I got another good sized Spotted Bass to eat. At 12:37 PM I had successfully brought the last species of the SCDNR Black Bass Slam to hand and taken my pictures!
It was such a cool and unique experience tackling the Slam in a single day and I learned so much about each of the species while getting more familiar with fishing rivers and lakes as well. It couldn’t have worked out any better than it did. I caught 4 fish throughout the day and each one was a different species of black bass. The fly I used remained consistent and is now retired and placed in a frame next to my tying desk alongside my certificate, patch, and stickers from completing the slam. All in all, I didn’t end up spending a crazy amount of money and I didn’t do it with an excessive amount of gear either. The Slam was an experience I will always remember fondly and will likely attempt to repeat each year from this point forward. I strongly encourage anybody interested in fishing whether it is freshwater or saltwater to attempt the Slam, whether it is in a day or in a calendar year. The biggest tip I would give to anybody attempting the challenge would be putting together a detailed plan for fishing as well as preparing for possible circumstances you may encounter while on the water. Safety should always take priority. If you are attempting the Slam in a day, I would recommend fishing the spots you’re wanting to go to beforehand to understand the fish in that area and the gear you may need to fish it successfully. For more information about the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Black Bass Slam, check out https://www.dnr.sc.gov/aquaticed/bassslam/index.html.
Have fun, keep fishing, and good luck!
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.