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AHQ INSIDER Santee Cooper (SC) Spring 2020 Fishing Report – Updated February 28

  • by Jay

February 28

Santee Cooper water levels are at 76.36 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 75.01 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). The whole system is muddy, and water temperatures have dropped into the low 50s. 

When bass are able to move away from extremely dirty water that is often what they will do, but when there is no clean water to be found they have no choice but to get used to it. And figuring out how to adapt to the mud is exactly what Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that the fish are having to do right now since there is really nowhere they can go to get away. Proof that they have adapted is that some good fish are being caught, and in the most recent Sunday Showdown Series tournament first place in the three-limit tournament was 20 pounds and second place had 17. 

Because of the water conditions baits like Chatterbaits, spinnerbaits and crankbaits are the best choices right now. When temperatures were in the 60s in January fish had moved very shallow into around 2 feet of water, and they even stayed up there when temperatures dropped to around 55-58. Now that temperatures are more like 50-51 they have backed out into 4-10 feet of water, where most of the bigger fish are being caught. There are still some small fish shallow but it is rare to get one much over 2 ½ pounds. Brush and deeper stumps have been fishing well as most of the fish are related to wood right now.   

With water conditions high and muddy it won’t take much warming for fish to move up shallower again. 

In the muddy conditions crappie have been pretty finicky, but Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that before the latest cold snap anglers were having some luck long-lining the creeks for fish suspended in 12-20 feet of water. 

This month he expects fish to move into the creek channels and stage over brush piles before finally moving to the banks to spawn. Expect the best bite to be early and late once fish are shallow. 

Water conditions haven’t changed much and neither have the catfish, and Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that fish are still feeding well at night anchored in shallow water. During the day there has also been a decent anchored bite in 4-8 feet of water, and drifting in 15-35 feet has also been productive. Gizzard shad and herring have been outperforming everything else. 

There is still so much water moving through the canal that it is unfishable.

February 18

Santee Cooper water levels are at 76.39 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.73 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Surface temperatures in the lower lake are around 55 degrees, but with so much inflow the upper lake is running closer to 50. The whole system is muddy, and even though some areas are slightly cleaner it is generally not much.

To say that the Santee Cooper lakes are muddy is really an understatement, and Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that the lake are as red and muddy as he has seen them in 10-15 years. Brett reports that the key to catching bassright now is to find some slightly cleaner water, and everything he has caught in the last couple of days has been very shallow in 2-3 feet or less. These fish are already close to their spawning areas, either because it is a wave of over-eager fish or because of water conditions, and they will eat Rattle Traps or spinnerbaits.  If they won’t take those slow down and work soft plastics.

A secondary pattern is to look for fish that are chasing shad in the backs of pockets in 6-7 feet of water. This pattern is hit-or-miss because there is so much bait back there, but on some days it has been productive.  

There are also some fish related to brush piles, although most of them are in such muddy areas that the fish will not bite.

The winning bag in the most recent Sunday Showdown Series
The winning bag in the most recent Sunday Showdown Series

While he has had some fair days where they caught 15-20 crappie, overall Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that with high, muddy water the bite has been pretty tough. For right now fish seem to be fairly scattered, and the best action has been over brush 12-14 feet down in about 20-25 feet of water. When clarity improves Steve expects to head shallow and look for suspended fish 8-14 feet deep in the creeks. On colder days they may be a little deeper, and if it is warm and sunny they may move up more. 

It’s not really clear why, but recently Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that catfish on the Santee Cooper lakes have been feeding well at night anchored in shallow water. During the day there has also been a decent anchored bite in 4-8 feet of water, and drifting in 15-35 feet has also been productive. It seems that everything has moved shallower with the flooded conditions.  Gizzard shad and herring have been outperforming everything else. 

There is still so much water moving through the canal that it is unfishable.

January 24

Santee Cooper water levels are at 76.29 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.88 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Surface temperatures have dropped all the way into the low to mid-50s in some places, and there is still a ton of dirty water moving through the system.

It was always an anomaly to have almost a week in the 70s that pushed water temperatures into the 60s in January, and the cold front of the last week has been a reminder of just that fact. Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that similarly it was only a temporary situation to have bass up roaming around in the ponds chasing bait, and it could be until March that they move this shallow again. 

This week fish have gone deeper, and instead of wanting fast moving baits they are eating soft plastics and jigs fished very slowly through wood and brush. If temperatures warm back up fish could eat crankbaits and spinnerbaits again, but it seems likely that fish will stay in more like 4-8 feet of water for the foreseeable future. 

The last Sunday Showdown Series tournament on January 20 was won with a 3-fish limit of 13.4 pounds, with a big fish a little under 6 pounds.

The winning fish from last week's tournament
The winning fish from last week's tournament
While warm weather in January wasn’t completely a boon for the crappie and bream since it scattered them out, Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that the very cold spell has definitely slowed down the bite. More fish are grouping up about 18-24 feet deep around brush in the 35-foot range, but they are biting very slowly. 

The cold front has catfish on the Santee Cooper lakes on the move, and Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that most of the fish have moved deeper into 35-55 feet of water. Drifting cut bait has been the best pattern.

There is just so much water coming through the canal that it still seems virtually unfishable.

January 14

Santee Cooper water levels are at 75.83 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.47 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Surface temperatures have risen into the low 60s in some places, and the water ranges from stained to muddy.

All of this warm weather has completely changed the bass bite on Santee Cooper, and Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that even though the bite is still centered around shad with all of the warm, muddy water the fish have gotten much, much shallower. They are finding fish in 1-2 feet of water where they are following the schools of shad, and they are catching them on Chatterbaits, other fast moving lures, and even topwater baits! Fish are still heavily related to current, and they can be found from the mouths of pockets all the way to the backs.

Right now it is taking about 15 pounds to win the 3-fish limit Sunday Showdown Series tournaments which Brett hosts each Sunday afternoon out of Black’s Camp, and while there are obviously some very nice fish being caught the biggest Santee bass are not showing up yet. However, with more January days in the 70s than the 50s so far this month we are in uncharted territory as far as what to expect going forward.

A nice bag caught this Sunday on Santee

A nice bag caught this Sunday on Santee

 

As would be expected, Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that the crappie and bream are scattered because of the warm weather – which is making it hard to locate and catch good numbers of fish. While he is still catching some deep fish 18-24 feet down around brush in the 35-foot range, there are also fish being caught as shallow as 6-8 feet. Fish don’t know whether to think this is still winter or spring, and if it keeps warming up more fish will go shallow regardless of the calendar. 

Right now is a really good time to catch catfish on the Santee Cooper lakes, and Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that there are a lot of different ways to catch fish. With the warm weather there has been an excellent drift bite relatively shallow in 15-25 feet of water, and there have also been a lot of little fish caught out in 35-55 feet. At night there has been a good drifting bite in 35-45, but there are also fish that can be caught anchored shallower.

There have not been a lot of good reports from the canal, and so much water is being pulled that it is hard to fish.

December 22

Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.50 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 72.81 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Surface temperatures range from about 47 to 52, and while the lake is not yet muddy it could be getting there very soon with all the recent rains.

The bass bite has been pretty good on Santee Cooper, and Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that to this point all the fresh water flowing into the lake seems to be helping the fishing.  So far the lake has not gotten muddy, but that may be coming.  The very biggest fish do not seem to be feeding very well right now, but there have been good numbers of bass up to 5-6 pounds caught. 

The bite is still focused almost entirely on the shad, and anywhere you find shad there should be fish. Brett has been fishing most in the backs of creeks, but shad can also be found deeper too.  Brett’s target depth range has been 6-20 feet of water, with how deep you want to fish depending on how high the shad are in the water column. Crankbaits and swimbaits fished very slowly have both been working, and a jerkbait should also be effective. 

If water temperatures fall just a few more degrees then look for a shad die-off. When water temperatures are below about 47 and stay there all day then the shad begin to die, and at that point the bass can be caught on spoons, underspins, Little Georges and bucktails. <

Brett Mitchell with a nice Santee bass <
Brett Mitchell with a nice Santee bass
Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that the crappie and bream fishing has slowed down as temperatures have dropped, but they are still catching some pretty good numbers of fish. Fish have moved into the very deep brush, and he is mainly fishing 18-22 feet deep over 35-40 feet of water. Minnows have been working for the crappie and crickets for the bream. 

 

Both species will continue to bite through the winter but as it gets colder the numbers usually get worse and worse.  

The catfish bite has been pretty good on Santee, and Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that the best fishing has coming drifting very deep in 40-50 feet of water with herring. In the upper lake that generally means fishing the river channel.   A 70-plus pound fish was caught this week. 

If we have some very warm days then anchoring in 8-15 feet of water at night can become a productive pattern.

November 22

Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.29 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.07 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Morning surface temperatures are around 57 degrees.

It’s all about the bait for the next several months until spawning activity is on the minds of bass, and accordingly Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that anglers need to be following the movement of shad if they want to catch fish. The bait will move in and out of the creeks following current, and they will also be found up the rivers if there is current there. 

While fish will often be adjacent to creeks with steep banks and 8-15 feet of water, the best concentration of catchable fish is in 4-6 feet of water. Bouncing a crankbait that dives 6-8 feet off the bottom around stumps is an excellent pattern, and small swimbaits and spinnerbaits will also catch fish.

Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that the bite for both crappieand breamhas been really good. With dropping temperatures fish have moved deeper, and they are chiefly being caught fishing 16-20 feet down over brush in 25-30 feet of water. Minnows have been working for the crappie and crickets for the bream. The fall crappie bite continues to be as good as Steve has seen in years. 

Steve Collins and Wes Matthews of Greenville with some nice crappie caught with Captain Steve English

The catfish bite continues to be good on Santee, and Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that right now he is having the best luck drifting herring and white perch in 15-30 feet of water during the day. There are also fish around deeper flats and ledges, but these have mostly been smaller.

There are also fish being caught anchored in shallow water at night.

At the mouths of the canal there have been good fish caught anchored, and there have also been a few fish picked up in the canal itself. 

 

 

October 31

Santee Cooper water levels are at 73.21 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 73.17 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Morning surface temperatures are in the mid-70s but should drop with the cold front.

Santee Cooper bass fishing is a tale of feast-or-famine, and in the Carolinas Bass Challenge last week there were some monster sacks – while a lot of people didn’t catch a fish. Sometimes the same anglers struggled from the first day to the second day. 

Overall, Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that fish are behind where they are “supposed” to be at this time of year, and he has been catching fish in 6-12 feet of water. It’s usually all about the bait at this time of year, and a week or two ago it looked like the bait would be moving into the creeks. However, when temperatures warmed back up that migration stopped, and recently the best action has been coming fishing slowly with Carolina rigs and Texas rigs outside the creeks and in the mouths.  

We are on the verge of significant cooling, and when that happens bass will follow shad into the backs. They will be caught on swimbaits, crankbaits and even topwater lures in both lakes. In the backs of creeks look for wood, stumps or trees, and cover will be at a premium with water levels pretty low.  Water levels should continue to fall and if so fish will have to move to find new cover. 

Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that crappieare biting well, and they are catching some very big fish as well as lots of 1 ½ to 2 pounders. Fish are still on mid-depth brush, and even with the water down there are also some fish on shallow cover. Fishing minnows and jigs 8-16 feet down in 15-30 feet of water has been the best pattern. 

Even though water temperatures are still warm breamfishing is getting better on brush. However, as temperatures drop it should get much better.

Catfish are still spread out in the lakes, and Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that during the day he is having the best luck drifting in about 15-40 feet of water. At night the best fishing has been deeper, and anglers drifting 25-46 feet of water have had the best results. Herring and white perch have been the best baits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 18

Santee Cooper water levels are at 72.99 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 73.02 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Morning surface temperatures are in the mid-70s but should drop with the cold front.

Water levels are 2 ½ to almost 4 feet down in the Santee lakes, and combined with the cold snap Captain Brett Mitchell(803-379-7029) reports that bassfishing has gotten a little slow. However, when a fish does bite it is usually a good one. 

Fish are still shallow but they are transitioning to eating shad, and so baits like swimbaits, crankbaits and spinnerbaits are working the best. Fish have not really moved into the creeks yet but they are on their way there, and 5-6 feet has been a good depth range to look. 

Topwater lures have not been producing recently for Brett.

Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that crappiefishing has gotten even better, and fish are all over the brush in both lakes. With water levels several feet down the brush is not as deep as usual, but fish are holding about 8-14 feet down over brush in 18-25 feet of water. In the upper lake fish have been holding a little shallower, while in the lower lake they can be found on slightly deeper brush.

There are some breamon brush but really water temperatures need to get a little cooler before they stack up.

Catfish are pretty spread out on the lakes, and Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that during the day he is having the best luck drifting in about 15-25 feet of water. During the night the best fishing has been very deep, and anglers drifting 40-50 feet of water have had the best results. There are not a ton of fish in that range but the ones that are there are big. Shad can be seen flipping all over the lakes right now and it is definitely a cut shad bite.

While there are not a lot of boats fishing for catfish in the canal, there is plenty of bait there.

 

 

October 3

Santee Cooper water levels are at 73.42 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 73.36 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Morning surface temperatures are back into the 80s.

In the main body of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie the lake is clear for Santee. 

Unseasonably warm weather has delayed a further migration into the creeks, but Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that bassare still in very shallow water. Fish have moved into 1 – 1 ½ feet of water around grass, a typical early fall location. They will eat topwater lures like frogs and buzzbaits in the morning and sometimes throughout the day, and soft plastics will also work when they won’t feed on top. He suggests fishing four feet of water or less most of the time.

As temperature drop shad will move into the backs and bass will follow them, and swimbaits and crankbaits fished in shallow water in the backs of creeks will produce. Soft plastics will also catch fish around brush and trees. 

Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that crappiefishing remains pretty good, and overall fish are still pretty scattered around a variety of mid-depth brush. The best numbers of fish have been about 16-18 feet down in 25-28 feet of water.

Breamare also starting to show up well on brush in about 12-15 feet of water in both lakes.

There continue to be nice catfish caught on Santee,  but Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that the pattern has gotten deeper. During the day he is drifting in 25-35 feet of water, while at night he is drifting in 25-45 feet. Overall Moultrie seems to be fishing better and more consistently than Marion right now, and while there some really good catches in Marion it is feast-or-famine. 

Some nice fish are also being caught of the canal, mostly anchored at night. 

 

September 19

Santee Cooper water levels are at 73.94 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 73.88 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Morning surface temperatures range from about 76-80.

In the main body of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie the lake is clear for Santee. 

Although he is surprised by how quickly it happened, Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that as of this morning the basshave finally made their long-awaited fall move into very shallow water. Overall they found a strong bite, with a 7 ½ pound fish, a couple of 4-pounders, and plenty more. 

Fish have been around trees and wood in 4-5 feet of water, but they have now moved into 1 – 1 ½ feet around grass. This is a typical location to go when it first gets cool. They will eat topwater lures like frogs and buzzbaits.

Even during the day Brett suggests concentrating fishing efforts on four feet of water or less, and he says that if they won’t take a topwater then soft plastics may work.  

Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that crappiefishing remains pretty good, and he is exclusively concentrating on the upper lake. Overall fish are still pretty scattered around a variety of mid-depth brush. The best numbers of fish have been about 16-18 feet down in 25-28 feet of water. Small breamare still everywhere but the better fish have still not yet grouped up on brush. 

There continue to be nice catfish caught on Santee, and Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that he is still doing well drifting herring and perch in 30-40 feet of water at night. During the day he is finding the best success drifting in 10-30 feet of water. 

Overall the night bite remains better than the daytime bite, and at night there are also some good fish being caught anchoring shallow. 

Stevie has not heard any reports for bigger fish from the canal, but small ones can be caught there on dip baits.  

Captain Jim Glenn reports that fishing remains good, although the cool snap could change the bite. For now he has found the best bite drifting in 10-25 feet of water, but if the bite slows he suggests prospecting in 35-40 feet during the day.

 

 

 

September 13

Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.31 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.34 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Morning surface temperatures are in the low 80s.

Because of drawdown related to the storm visibility varies greatly over the lake. For example, the west side of Moultrie has been clearer than the east.

After light fishing activity before the storm,Captain Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that crappiefishing has been pretty good in both lakes this week. In the lower lake they have caught smaller numbers of fish but they have been good ones, while action in the upper lake has been a little faster. Overall fish are still pretty scattered around a variety of mid-depth brush. The best numbers of fish have been about 16-18 feet down in 25-28 feet of water. Small breamare still everywhere but the better fish have not yet grouped up on brush. 

 

Greg with a 2-pounder caught out of Lake Marion this week

 

Post-storm there continue to be some nice catfish caught on Santee, and Captain Stevie English (843-709-8138) reports that he is still doing well on a night drifting pattern in 40-45 feet of water. It continues to produce big fish. During the day he has had the best luck drifting in 15-25 feet of water. 

Overall the night bite remains better than the daytime bite, and at night there are also some good fish being caught anchoring shallow. 

They are pulling less water now than in the week and a half leading up to the storm, but anglers are still catching plenty of fish at anchor on dip baits. 

Captain Jim Glenn reports that his personal experience as well as reliable reports also indicate that fishing is strong right now, and they have been catching catfish before they can even get four rods out. He has found a good bite drifting in 9-24 feet, with the best action on the shallower end in 9-15. He is also receiving reports of big fish caught in 40+ feet, including during the day. 

There is little change in the basspattern on Santee Cooper, and Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that while fish have still not made the big push very shallow they are eating better.

The best pattern is still fishing topwater lures like frogs or buzzbaits shallow anywhere there is shade, cover or weed early and late, and then once the sun gets up pitching soft plastics to any type of cover with shade in 3 feet or more. There are also some fish around deeper cover, but Brett has found very few fish much deeper than 12 feet. Brush piles, stumps and stump beds out to 12 feet have all fished about the same, with Carolina rigs and Texas rigs the best way to fish the deeper stuff. 

 

September 5

Santee Cooper water levels are at 74.58 in Lake Marion (full pool is 76.8) and 74.97 in Lake Moultrie (full pool is 75.5). Morning surface temperatures are around 80 degrees.

Fishing activity has been very slow on the Santee Cooper lakes this week with the hurricane looming, but Captain Brett Mitchell (803-379-7029) reports that before the storm the bassbite had picked up a little bit. While fish have still not made the big push very shallow they are eating better.

The best pattern is still fishing topwater lures like frogs or buzzbaits shallow anwhere there is shade, cover or weed early or late, and then once the sun gets up pitching soft plastics to any type of cover with shade in 3 feet or more. There are also some fish around deeper cover, but Brett has found very few fish much deeper than 12 feet. Brush piles, stumps and stump beds out to 12 feet have all fished about the same, with Carolina rigs and Texas rigs the best way to fish the deeper stuff. 

Brett has also found some good fish up in the swamp recently in 2-4 feet of water.

 

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