By Ken Poor
The Cooper River is a tidal river located just north of Charleston, South Carolina. The northwest end of the river ends at the Pinopolis Dam, built in 1941, and the south end of the river ends at the Charleston Harbor.
Above the dam is 60,000-acre Lake Moultrie which is fed by way of the Diversion Canal from 110,000-acre Lake Marion. As the Cooper River winds its way south, in addition to water from the dam, it is fed by

Alligators are abundant in the Cooper River. Don’t mess with them and they will leave you alone.

the East Branch, the Wando River, numerous small feeder creeks and then combines with the Ashley River to form Charleston Harbor and then the Atlantic Ocean.

On the upper stretch of the river, close to the dam and for some distance below the dam, the current from the water when released from dam will mask the tidal current. The area just below the dam can be extremely dangerous when water is released. Sirens have been installed in the area to warn fishermen and boaters that water is about to be released from the dam. If you are fishing close to the dam pay attention to the warning sirens.
Typical of tidal river systems such as the Cooper River, current flow is constantly changing and is much more obvious than on an inland lake. On the Cooper River, in addition to the tidal current, in the area close to the dam, there can be powerful current generated by the release of water from the Pinopolis Dam.

Experienced river anglers are very much aware of the opportunities that current flow combined with the eddies it produces can at times provide amazing fishing and they are always ready to use it to their advantage. For bass anglers fishing inland waters such as lakes or ponds, current flow and the eddies it creates is often an overlooked opportunity to catch fish.
An eddy is defined as a current that is typically formed in contrast to the main current and is typically considered slack water. Eddies are created by obstructions to current flow and will vary in size depending on the size of the obstruction and the strength of the current creating the eddy
Lake currents are normally generated by the wind or by the drawdown of the water in the lake, either for power generation, or in some cases flood control. On inland lakes current obstructions can be, but are certainly not limited to, main lake points, underwater rock piles, gravel bars, humps, stumps, logs, or piers.
The eddy will be formed on the down current side of the obstruction. For fish, eddies are a feeding opportunity and for largemouth bass that don’t like current flow they represent a feeding opportunity out of the current.
On the Cooper River, the constant change in tidal currents and current flow created from water discharge at the dam, combines with the natural shape of the river, and the massive amount of shoreline cover, both natural and manmade, to provide a tremendous and challenging fishing opportunity. Understanding how the current flow positions fish is an important part of the puzzle on any body of water and the Cooper River is a prime example.

Most of the time I fish for largemouth bass. The Cooper River also provides excellent catfish and bream fishing.

Everyday there are two high tides and two low tides. The water level on the fresh water section of the Cooper River rises and falls about 4-feet for each tide change and while most people think the tide changes every six hours that is really not accurate. When the tide changes, the direction of the current flow in the river also changes.

If you were on the river every day at 8 AM for say a couple of months, you would see that at that exact time of day, over that period of time the tides would be very different and in fact you would see both high and low tides. The reason is the tides actually change about every 6 ½ hours and as a result high and low tides are at a slightly different time each day.
Anglers that fish the Cooper River, or any tidal river or salt water pay close attention to the tides. The reason for this is because fish position themselves according to the tide and the currents generated by tides. Of course, if you want to know the exact time for either high or low tide all you have to do is consult the tidal charts.
Some species of fish will bite better on the incoming tide, while others prefer the outgoing tide, but it doesn’t stop there. At both high tide and low tide there is about an hour or slightly less when the water doesn’t move. This time in between tides is called the slack tide and some fish will bite better during the slack tide and some species of fish will not.
Largemouth bass in the river will move to a spot that provides a good feeding opportunity and when available with little or no current flow. The constantly changing tidal currents means that anglers must constantly change their location to match the movement of fish. If there is a lack of forage in a spot the bass will move to a different area. If there is adequate forage the bass will often just move to a different spot within the patch of cover to get out of the current and to position themselves in a good spot to ambush prey. What was a hot spot yesterday, may not be one today.
It is important to understand that tidal changes are not instantaneous and in fact they build up rather slow, and the time frame for rise, fall, and intensity will constantly vary, depending on several factors including, the moon and weather conditions, in particular the wind.

In addition to current flow and tides on the Cooper River it is important to understand brackish water. In the river, brackish water is a patch of water that is a combination of fresh and salt water. On the Cooper River, this occurs about half way between the dam and the Charleston Harbor where the fresh and salt water in the river meet. The salt water is from the ocean and the fresh water is from the dam side of the river.
The edge of the brackish water will move up and down the river, slightly, with the tide and other factors. Largemouth bass do not like salt water, but will feed along the freshwater edge of the brackish water moving up or down the river with the edge of the brackish water. Other species of fish will not tolerate fresh water and still others live in the brackish water. Some species of fish are more tolerant of both salt water and fresh water.
Largemouth bass are by no means the only fish in the freshwater section of the Cooper River. Along with the bass there are alligators and snakes, catfish, crappie and an assortment of bream (panfish) are also abundant, just to name a few species you are likely to see. Striped bass which are seasonally common in the Cooper River are born in fresh water but live in salt water and return to fresh water to spawn.
Fishermen new to the Cooper River are often amazed by the size of the river, as well as the variety, and the amount of cover along the river. In addition to massive weed beds and rice patties, there are thousands of trees, logs, stumps, piers and pilings. Additionally, unless you are familiar with the history of the Cooper River you may be surprised to find out what you are actually fishing.

The berm is a manmade dirt wall constructed by slaves. The openings in the berms almost always produce bass.

During the 1800s, well before the Pinopolis Dam was constructed, much of the Cooper River shoreline was cleared, by slaves, and dikes were constructed to create rice patties. Rice production continued for a few years after the Civil War. When rice production stopped, the rice patties were abandoned and since that time nature has started to reclaim the patties.
Many sections of the original dikes that formed the rice patties are still visible and the dikes, as well as the breaches, and openings in them provide excellent fishing. The edges of the dikes are overgrown with weed beds and many of the logs in the original openings still provide good cover for bass.
The rice patties dikes are a must fishing spot because they are a prime area and also to just say you fished a historical area, but they are also only a small part of the fishing available on the Cooper River. Cover all along the river is all excellent largemouth bass habitat and combinations of cover such as weeds and wood will always be the best choice. The majority of angler’s fish the West Branch, but the small channels off the East Branch should not be overlooked.
The bigger, thicker, and deeper the cover the more likely it is to hold a big fish. The reason is that the big fish are deep in the hardest to reach spots and that makes them much more challenging to catch. When fishing weed beds along the dikes, don’t overlook the inside weed edges as well as the open pockets in them.
Just about any type of lure will catch fish on the Cooper River, but like any body of water there are some that are much more productive than others. Before we discuss lure selection it is very important to understand another key point.

The fresh water section of the Cooper River starts at the Pinopolis Dam.

Boat position is critical when fishing any tidal river. Always position your boat so that whatever technique you use, when you retrieve your lure it is always moving in the same direction as the current flow. Bass and other species of fish expect to see forage moving in the same direction as the current flow.
Good techniques for the Cooper River include plastic worms, bass jigs and crankbaits. Spinnerbaits and other lures will catch bass, but are, in my opinion, not as productive as the first three. Always bring extra lures with you and expect to leave some of them in the river.
Plastic worm colors include watermelon and similar colors, jig colors include black/blue or black/brown and a crankbait with a wide bill, suitable for working wood cover, is a good choice. Rod, reel and line choice varies depending on the type of lure and the type of cover you are fishing. Almost always I will use bait casting gear and will have one spooled with 30 to 50-pound test braided line for heavy cover and a second one spooled with 12-pound test monofilament line for lighter cover.
The Cooper River and Charleston South Carolina is and always will be a special place for me. It provided me with my introduction to fresh water fishing and alligators. My first trips to the Cooper River were in the early 1960s while, as a sailor, I was stationed at the Charleston Naval Base. During my Navy career, I had the good fortune to return to the Charleston area several times. Well over fifty years later I live in South Carolina and still love to fish the Cooper River.

From Charleston
Take Interstate 26 West (toward Columbia)
Take Exit 209 A off of Interstate 26 West
Take Hwy 52 West towards Moncks Corner and Goose Creek
Travel approx. 5 miles on Hwy 52 West from the Interstate
Turn Right onto Red Bank Road
Travel about 3 miles on Red Bank Road to Bushy Park Road
Turn left on Bushy Park Road and travel about 1 mile to the launch ramps
The launch ramp area is locally known as Bushy Park Landing and is located east of
the Naval Weapons Station in Goose Creek. Boat ramps are located on both sides of
Bushy Park Road. As you approach the ramps, the ramp on the left is on the Back
River and is considered the fresh water side. The launch ramp on the right-hand side
of Bushy Park Road is locally referred to as the salt water side, but it also provides
access to the lower part of the fresh water section of the Cooper River.

Take I-26 to exit 199 and go northeast on US 17-Alt. After 15.9 miles, it merges
With US 52. Continue northeast on this road 1.9 miles, then turn right and go south
on SC 402 for 0.5 miles. Turn right onto Carswell Lane and follow this road to
the landing.

From Charleston
Take Interstate 26 West (toward Columbia)
Take Exit 209 A off of Interstate 26 West
Take Hwy 52 West towards Moncks Corner and Goose Creek
Travel approx. 6-7 miles on Hwy 52 West from the Interstate
Turn Right onto State road 9 and follow the signs to the Cypress Gardens (about
4 miles)
When you cross the bridge, immediately turn left into the parking lot for the launch
ramp. The launch ramp is located just before the entrance to Cypress Gardens.