AHQ INSIDER Santee Cooper (SC) Spring 2018 Fishing Report – Updated May 24
The newest Santee Cooper fishing report can be found at: http://www.anglersheadquarters.com/ahq-insider-santee-cooper-sc-summer-2018-fishing-report/
Santee Cooper water levels are at 75.77 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 75.04 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Surface water temperatures are around 78 degrees and the water is fairly clear with a healthy amount of color.
The bass spawn is very nearly finished on Santee, but tournament angler Steve Harmon reports that right now fish can be caught feeding on spawning bream. They are around grass, lily pads, trees and any other cover that bream use, and they will take topwater lures, spinnerbaits, flukes and worms. Very soon, however, most of the better fish will head deeper into 10-20 feet for the summer. Some smaller fish will stay shallower but the oxygen levels are generally not as good shallow.
On the catfish front, Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that days without wind and stalled high pressure can be a little tough, but he recommends fishing in areas that usually hold fish at this time of year. Anchoring around trees and stumps in 4-10 feet is a good bet, and drifting in 10-20 feet or deeper is a good option. Fresh cut shad, perch and herring will all work. There are also a lot of fish on the upper end of the system right now in the shallow swampy areas as temperature and oxygen conditions are ideal right now and there is excellent spawning habitat.
Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) adds that some good fish have been caught anchored shallow at night.
Steve’s boat is doing more catfishing than usual because the crappie bite has been slow. However, they have been catching both bluegill and shell cracker fishing around shallow beds as well as around brush 7-10 feet deep in 15-18 feet of water.
Santee Cooper water levels are down to 75.74 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and right at full pool in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). The upper lake is a bit dingy but in front of the dam is clear (for Santee), while the lower lake is clear except for a slight stain at the mouth of the canal. Water temperatures are in the mid-70s.
The bass spawn is winding down, and most of the fish are now in a post-spawn pattern. Early in the morning you can find some fish chasing shad if you are lucky, but with fluctuating water levels it has been pretty tough to locate fish for most people. The upper lake is now dropping back to more normal levels after being flooded, but the lower lake is super high.
The best baits for fish chasing shad are spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and topwater lures. A good general depth range is 4-6 feet but it is better if there is deeper water nearby.
On the catfish front, Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that things have not changed too much. Drifting cut shad in 10-25 feet of water is still a good pattern for better fish, while in deeper water smaller blues are abundant. It is also worth anchoring early and late in shallow water as long as mornings are mild (and there is not a cold wind.)
There has been a ton of water flow through the canal recently, and if you get in the right spots you can find the fish.
All the water flowing into the lakes has changed the crappie bite, and Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that the bite in the lower lake has slowed down. In the upper lake they are catching more fish, although they are generally smaller. In the lower lake they are catching fish in 7-10 feet, while in the upper lake they are a bit deeper.
Anglers are still catching bream around brush but fish have also started to go shallow. They are very scattered and it’s a matter of location, location, location.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 75.85 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.74 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Dirty water is making its way down the rivers into the lake. Water temperatures are in the mid-60s.
The bass spawn is starting to wind down, but tournament angler Steve Harmon reports that there is another wave of fish on the beds right now and so fish are still pretty mixed between spawning and post-spawn bass. They are certainly still shallow, and a lot of fish are being caught in the grass on frogs and buzzbaits. If you can find the right areas they are also feeding on spawning shad in the mornings.
The crappie pattern that Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) is fishing continues to hold up, and in the upper lake white crappie in the deep timber along the river channel are still being caught 18 feet deep in 32-34 feet of water. These fish still have eggs. There are also some black crappie being caught on shallow brush piles in 8-15 feet of water, and even though most of these fish are postspawn some still have eggs. It’s unclear what the next step for these fish is.
On the catfish front, Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that there is not much change in what is a pretty good bite. Drifting cut shad in 10-25 feet of water has been the best pattern for better fish, and out in 20-35 feet of water smaller blues are abundant. Good blue catfish can also be caught in the shallows.
Channel catfish are also starting to move shallower where they are biting commercial dip baits.
There have been some bream caught shallower but Steve is also still catching them deep around brush.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 75.21 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 75.08 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Water temperatures in the big water are in the low 60s but in the backs you can find mid to upper-60s.
Between the Costa FLW Series event last weekend and then a BFL this weekend, it’s hard not to lead off talking about Santee bass. The Costa event was won with just under 25 pounds per day over three days, and winner Ronnie McCoy of Lamar reported that he caught his fish by targeting a combination of bed fish and bass that were keying on spawning shad.
Two of our regular correspondents, FLW fisherman Dearal Rodgers of Camden and guide and FLW fisherman Bryan New (704-421-5868) both finished well, with Bryan managing a 21stplace finish on the boater side and Dearal managing a top 10 finish on the co-angler side. From their cumulative experiences, as well as that of tournament angler Steve Harmon, it looks like somewhere between half and 75-80% of the fish have already spawned. There was obviously a big wave in late February, another big wave last week, and with warm weather this weekend and heading into the new moon there should be another big wave of spawning fish. It remains to be seen what is left on the final full moon in April.
Fish are both spawning and staging around trees at different depths, but if you can find spawning shad the most active feeding fish may be around them. While most fish are shallow, they can be a little lethargic in the mornings away from the shad spawn. Spinnerbaits, Chatterbaits, and soft plastics in the Senko style have been the most popular baits recently.
Crappie fishing has been hurt by cool temperatures, but with temperatures finally warming again in the last couple of days fishing has been better. Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that most of the black crappie are in the 8-10 foot range and appear to be post-spawn, but the white crappie that spawn in the deep timber along the river channel in the upper lake are busting full of eggs and just getting started as temperatures finally get right. They are being caught 18 feet deep in the river channel in 32-34 feet of water around standing timber.
On the catfish front, Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that in his time on the water recently he has found a good bite. In his most recent two-day trip they caught 70+ blues drifting cut shad in 10-25 feet of water, with the biggest in the 20s. Most of the fish are in the 3-12 pound range. There is also a good bite in the shallows.
A few shellcracker have been caught shallow but most of them are still deeper.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 75.31 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 75.11 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Water temperatures are in the upper 50s and reaching the low to mid-60s in the backwater ponds. The lake has a pretty normal color to it.
Up-and-down water temperatures make for some unpredictable conditions on the Santee lakes, and Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that at least as of yesterday they weren’t finding a ton of crappie shallow. Water temperatures have only jumped up over the last couple of days, and while there will almost certainly be a big wave of fish moving to the banks very soon they aren’t all up there yet. Steve’s boat found some nice, fat pre-spawn crappie up to 3 pounds out in deeper water, but it’s still worth looking shallow because they are headed that way. For now fish are still scattered.
Bream will not be shallow until temperatures get in the 65-70 degree range.
On the catfish front, Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that on most days when you can get out the fishing has been good. Lately he has found a fast bite drifting cut shad in the 8-35 foot range. The bigger fish seem to be in the 8-15 foot range, while the 3-8 pound fish are in the 20-35 foot range. Wind and temperature fluctuation has hurt the bite until this week, but warm, stable weather should continue to improve it.
In the most recent bass tournament on Santee weights were down significantly, but with the warming trend this week look for a dramatic improvement as more fish come on the beds. The best pattern is fishing in 2-4 feet with soft plastics.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 75.17 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 75.07 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Water temperatures have dropped all the way back into the mid-50s. The upper lake and even part of the lower lake is still stained to dingy.
It’s been a crazy first couple of weeks of March, and with dropping water temperatures catfish have moved back out to deeper water. Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that really windy conditions have limited time on the water for most anglers, but he has observed that fish seem to be scattered. He has found fish in 10-22 feet, while other anglers have found them as deep as 35 plus feet. For now the best bet is prospecting at all depths until a steady warming trend moves fish up and turns on the shallow bite.
In striped bass news, Jim reports that striper are happy to be wherever the shad are, scattered both shallow and deep. Trolling, drifting live bait deep, or free-lining live bait near the surface can produce bites. The striper run may be beginning but is not full on yet.
On the crappie front, Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that cold weather has pushed the fish back out. With the exception of the fish that spawned in late February in the extreme warm weather, most of the crappie are still pre-spawn and holding around brush. Fishing 8-10 feet down over brush in about 20 feet of water has been the best pattern. Contingent on warming water, on the next full moon there should be a massive spawn.
Perhaps the hottest bite has been for bream, and Steve reports that bream are loaded up on the same brush as the crappie. Catching 60 or 70 big fish on crickets has not been uncommon.
Bass fishing on the Santee Cooper lakes has been something of a mystery, and some of the very best anglers that traditionally dominate in the spring have been struggling. In the most recent Carolinas Bass Challenge tournament on Saturday the top anglers Patrick and Mark Williams weighed in a very impressive 33.05 pounds, and there was one more bag over 30 pounds. However, third place dropped down to the mid-20s and the bottom of the top 10 was in the teens. Certainly impressive weights, but everyone is not catching 30 plus pounds. Two-thirds of the field (many of the best anglers in the Carolinas) had ten pounds or less, and about half of the field zeroed or chose not to weigh in. Fish are not jumping in the boat.
Overall it seems that dropping water temperatures have really hurt the bite, and while some fish have already spawned the majority of the fish that are pre-spawn have pulled back out. Water temperatures in the ponds have dropped about 15 degrees, and most of the fish are being found deeper around trees or in the canal. Look for another warming trend to improve the bite soon.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.96 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.77 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). After some cooler weather surface temperatures have dropped back down into the low 60s. The lower lake is fairly clear while the upper lake is dingy.
Catfish continue to be caught both shallow and deep, but Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that with shallow water warmer than deep water the best fishing for big fish has been in the shallows. Anchoring in 3-6 feet of water has been the best big fish pattern in both lakes, including for fish like the 50-pounder pictured below. Fish can also be caught drifting in 20-25 feet but these fish are generally smaller.
On the crappie front, Steve’s boat continues to mainly fish shallow water in 3-5 feet. Some of the fish have certainly already spawned, but they are still catching some very nice, fat pre-spawn fish. The best pattern for catching these shallow fish has been casting jigs and bringing them back with a slow retrieve.
There are also some fish staging over brush in 10-13 feet of water, and spider-rigging 4-12 feet is still producing.
Some phenomenal bass catches continue to be weighed out of the Santee lakes, and in the CATT tournament Saturday it took 36.48 pounds for the win! Second place was a mere 29.53, and there were a total of ten bags over 20 pounds. 19.28 pounds was not good enough for a check. More than half the field had 15 plus pounds.
Reports indicate that the best sacks are being caught sight-fishing, and a good percentage of the fish are already on beds. A variety of other shallow water techniques also continue to catch fish.
Bream are all over the bank.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.98 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.64 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). With a string of 80 degree days water temperatures have shot up to 64-65 degrees in the morning, and 67-68 in the afternoons. The lower lake is clear with 3+ feet of visibility, while the upper reaches of Lake Marion are dirty.
With skyrocking water temperatures tournament angler Steve Harmon reports that there are already tons of bass on the beds in the Santee lakes, although for now these are mainly smaller fish. With two full moons in March there should be a wave of fish that continue to move up over the next couple of weeks, but at this point Steve still expects the biggest spawn to be on the second March moon.
For bed fish it does not really matter what you throw – Steve says the key is a bait that you can see well to determine how the fish are reacting to it. Anything you put in front of them they will usually eat if you aggravate them enough and keep it in the sweet spot that they are trying to protect.
For shallow pre-spawn fish you can throw basically whatever you prefer, including frogs, swimbaits, and spinnerbaits. Soft plastics will also work but are slower. For deeper fish staging in ditches waiting to transition shallower plastics, spinnerbaits and swimbaits will work.
On the crappie front, Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that this is the earliest he has seen temperatures this far along, and with water temperatures this high all the species are just waiting for the moon to get right now.
Crappie continue to be caught casting at the banks, and there are minnows up shallow everywhere now. Around Angel’s Landing people are also catching fish spider-rigging in 4-12 feet of water.
While Steve has not been fishing it very much, he is still marking a lot of fish deep around brush in 15-20 feet – species uncertain.
The catfish bite has picked up this week, and Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that deep drifting and shallow anchoring have both been producing. There are a mix of sizes in all depths but more 3-10 pound fish deep.
Everyone reports seeing bluegill and shellcracker up very shallow, and bank fishermen are already having a ball with both species.
No new striped bass reports.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 75.24 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.14 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Water temperatures are as warm as 56 degrees; the lower lake is clear, the upper lake is dingy, and way up Marion is muddy.
The exciting development of crappie moving into shallow water shows no signs of going away, and Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that particularly early and late you can find fish as shallow as 4-6 feet of water – or less – in both lakes. During the day they head out to staging areas with relatively shallow/ mid-depth brush, and his boat is catching slabs like the fish pictured below 10-12 feet deep in 18-19 feet of water.
Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) is also finding crappie in shallow water, and he is still catching some fish in the backwater ponds in only a few feet.
Bass are also in a transition period and moving shallower, and tournament angler Steve Harmon reports that fish are starting to move up as temperatures warm. With the track we are on Steve expects a group of fish to spawn on the full moon around the first of March.
For right now the largest group of fish is in ditches in 4-8 feet of water from which they will transition onto spawning flats. They can be caught on plastics, spinnerbaits and swimbaits.
There is also another group of fish that will move into the back water ponds, which heat up a few degrees faster than the main lake, on days when water temperatures approach 60 degrees. These fish will take soft plastics, but they are usually a little more aggressive and so you can cover more water with faster moving baits like frogs, swimbaits and spinnerbaits.
On the catfish front, Captain Jim reports that they are also in a transition period and a migration is beginning. While there are certainly still cats to be found in very deep water, it’s getting harder to mark them and riding around the lake it is very apparent how much activity there is in shallow water.
Early and late you can catch catfish anchoring in shallow water, and there are also some fish that have moved into the backwaters in 4-6 feet of water. They are not everywhere and so you have to prospect for them. Fish can also be caught drifting shallower in the teens, and there are still fish in 20+ feet. Remember that as a survival tool not all the fish do the same thing at once.
In striped bass news, Jim reports that the deep striper pattern is still on, and there is also some schooling activity in the lower lake. However, keepers can be very hard to come by. One angler fishing herring and spoons reported catching 80 fish but only one was over the 26-inch limit.
Santee Cooper water levels are up to 74.74 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 73.97 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Water temperatures range from as cold as 47 on the main lake to 54 in some of the backwater areas, and there is muddy water coming down the lake.
The most exciting news on the Santee Cooper lakes this week is that crappie are starting to move shallower, and Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) says that they are catching some fish shallow. He even talked to one bass angler who caught three crappie very shallow on jerkbaits. Steve says there are still some crappie on deeper brush, but not like it was.
Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) has had a similar experience, and he reports that with some 60 and even 70-degree days some of the backwater ponds have gotten into the mid-50s. When that happens some of the crappie move up. After looking on open lake, deep brush to catch a few for dinner – and finding nothing – he decided to head shallow where he caught several nice crappie 1 foot deep in 2 ½ feet of water swimming a small jig. They aren’t everywhere in the shallows, but in some places they have clearly moved up.
On the catfish front, Steve and Jim both report that there continue to be some really nice catches in deep water in both lakes. One angler couldn’t keep more than two rods baited earlier this week in 54 feet of water. There are also tons of small blue cats in 35-48 feet. In striped bass news, Jim reports that striper are still suspended in deep water in both lakes. Trolling, jigging spoons, or fishing live bait will work. On warm days fish can run up as shallow as a few feet of water following bait.
In bass news, tournament angler Steve Harmon says that most of the bigger fish are still deeper in 8-12 feet of water, but on warm afternoons they will come shallow – including into the backwater areas. Crankbaits, chatterbaits, swimbaits, worms and jigs will all catch fish.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.27 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.08 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Water temperatures are around 45 or 46 degrees, and the upper lake is pretty stained and getting muddier.
It’s time to start thinking about bass on the Santee Cooper lakes again, and tournament angler Steve Harmon says that when water temperatures warm a degree or two in the late afternoon sun some fish will come up a little shallower. Most of the bigger fish are still deeper in 8-12 feet of water, but as water temperatures warm up they will continue to move shallower. Over the next month they will be transitioning from their winter hiding places and coming shallower to start to feed in the pre-spawn period. Crankbaits, chatterbaits, swimbaits, worms and jigs will all catch fish.
On the catfish front, Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that there is not much change and the bite continues to be pretty good. In addition to the deeper bite in both lakes, with rising water levels some good fish will also be caught shallow at anchor.
In striped bass news, Jim reports that striper are suspended in deep water around schools of bait in 30-55 feet of water on the lower lake. On the upper lake they will be anywhere on the river channel in flooded timber in 25-30 feet or in major creeks like Wyboo and Taw Caw. Around these deeper fish trolling, jigging spoons, or fishing live bait will work. When the water warms a little fish can run up as shallow as a few feet of water following bait.
Crappie fishing is fair right now, but Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that on warm days a few fish have been caught as shallow as 8-12 feet of water. However, with temperatures generally pretty cold a lot of the fish are still out in 30-35 feet.
Bream are pretty lethargic in the cold water.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 73.23 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 73.29 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Water temperatures range from the low-40s to 44 or 45 degrees. The upper lake is a bit dingy with the lower lake more clear.
It’s no secret that blue catfish don’t mind the cold, and Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that there is a typical cold water bite in or near schools of bait in deep water. Both suspended fish and fish on the bottom will take cut bait fished vertically at anchor or on a very slow drift.
In Lake Marion there is a good bite in timber tied off or anchored – look in the 20-30 foot range. The open water between timber and the Lake Marion dam is holding bait and catfish with frequent catches of 20+ pound blues.
With water levels falling the bite in the swamp has not been good, but with increased flow and rising water fish should move back into areas like Elliot’s, Pack’s, etc.
In crappie and bream news, Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that with temperatures the coldest they have been in three to four years he has had to cancel trips. When water temperatures are in the low 40s the shad are stunned and easy prey, so it’s just hard to get a bite from sated fish. In the last spell where temperatures warmed for three or four days crappie moved shallower into 8-12 feet to feed, and with a sustained warm spell coming this is likely to happen again.
No new bass report.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.21 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.33 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Water temperatures are up slightly and range between about 50-54 degrees. Clarity is pretty good for the Santee Cooper lakes.
The catfish bite seems to be a little off on the Santee Cooper lakes right now, which Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) says could be the result of a variety of things – or a combination of factors. For now he is finding some fish in 25-30 feet as well as some showing up in 35-40 feet, but he believes that the next cold front should likely put better numbers in 35-40 feet and improve the bite.
In crappie and bream news, Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that the bite is about the same. However, with temperatures a little warmer they seem to be a bit more scattered out and at some shallower depths than a week ago. Right now his boat is finding fish 12-20 feet deep over brush in 20-35 feet of water, with the lower lake producing much better than the upper.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.29 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.36 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Water temperatures have dropped to about 50 degrees.
It’s gotten cold on the Santee Cooper lakes, and accordingly Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that the crappie and bream bites have really slowed down. The fish are also moving deeper, and they are now hanging out on brush in the 25-35 foot range. Steve’s boat is fishing about 18-20 feet down.
On the catfish front, Steve reports that there have been some good fish caught recently. The bait is pretty deep, and the best bite recently has been drifting in 35-45 feet of water.
Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.38 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.32 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Water temperatures have dropped all the way into the mid-50s.
With dropping water temperatures the catfish bite on the Santee Cooper lakes is starting to change. Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that with cooler water it’s the time of year when all sizes of catfish can be at any depth, and so from day to day you have to find the most productive range (which can vary in different areas of these large lakes.)
Generally, Jim has found that smaller blues in the 2-6 pound range are biting well for anglers drifting in 24-28 feet. Some bigger blues can be found scattered at various depths, particularly the 12-25 foot range, but the small fish still dominate the creel. Any fresh cut bait including shad, perch, menhaden and mullet will work.
In crappie and bream news Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that in the lower lake the bite has been very good for crappie, and the fish are starting to group in 12-14 feet of water. Both bluegill and crappie are being caught around natural structure of various sorts as well as brush. Both species are ganging up in big schools as temperatures drop.
In the upper lake both crappie and bluegill are starting to move towards the river channel. On warmer days they will be found in 12-15 feet of water, and at other times they are holding on the edge of the channel in about 18 feet.