The big fish have been eating on the Santee Cooper lakes recently, and last week Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reported that a nice 43-pound fish had been caught drifting cut mullet in 17 feet on Lake Moultrie. Then a few days ago Jim sent me a picture of a beautiful 53-pound fish which longtime clients John and Dolly had caught on his boat – their personal best – again drifting cut mullet in about 14-17 feet on Lake Moultrie. Before that picture was even up on the site, it was eclipsed by an even bigger one. Yesterday on Jim’s boat new clients Tim and Buddy caught a once-in-a-lifetime fish – an 80-pound blue catfish!
Yesterday morning Jim reports that a very light variable breeze made for pleasant drifting conditions in 12-15 feet of water, and they caught some nice fish in the teens and twenties – including 24, 22, 18 and 17-pound fish. Cut mullet was the bait of choice and although action was consistent it was never “hot and heavy.” Mid-afternoon a slight change in the wind allowed for a perfect, slow drift in the target area that has produced lots of 30+ pound fish recently, and the big fish bit. Fifteen minutes later Buddy boated the beast.
Before the trip even began they had discussed what to do if they caught a trophy class catfish, and everyone had agreed that they would put it back. The fish was handled very carefully and never bumped or anything akin to that, but it was hooked awkwardly in the upper mouth and when the hook was removed began to bleed significantly. They squirted water in its gills and it never revived, and so finally Jim had to make the difficult call that the fish was almost certainly not going to survive and should be kept. The only benefit of this decision was that it could be accurately weighed and measured, and back at the camp they discovered that Jim’s eye-ball estimate was accurate – the fish weighed 80 pounds and was 50 inches long!
Interestingly, the 80-pounder bit at about 3:00, approximately the same time when other large fish have been biting in the last week or two. Jim notes that the bite for smaller fish has slowed down in the last few weeks but it is obviously a great time to try for a personal best.
Overall, Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie are both within a few inches of full pool at 76.4 feet (upper lake) and 75.2 feet (lower lake), with water temperatures around 59 degrees.
Striped Bass: Good. Captain Jim Glenn reports that he has recently seen schooling activity near Taw Caw Creek off Goat Island, an area where it is typical at this time of year. Schooling fish can pop up anywhere, and it all depends on where the bait is. This time of year striper will be primarily chasing threadfin shad but could also be eating gizzard shad as well as other bait species such as juvenile American shad, blueback herring, and menhaden which move in and out of the system and also spend part or most of their life cycle in saltwater.
When striper are schooling Jim says they will often eat most anything that is thrown in front of them, such as topwater lures, spoons, jigs or even live bait. When they are not schooling on the surface anglers need to study their graphs to learn what the schools look like, and then drop down live bait, jigs, or spoons. During the winter months the birds provide useful clues about where striper will be found, and it is a particularly good time to target them since with cooler temperatures sub-keeper fish have a better mortality rate when released.
Largemouth Bass: Slow to fair. Guide Linwood Thornhill (843-509-8174) reports that a pretty good bass bite survived the first flood, but the second round of flooding seems to have really slowed the action down. It also doesn’t help the fishing that the weather can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be summer or winter. Linwood does not remember another time when it has been this warm on the Santee Cooper lakes this late in the year. Some fish are still being caught around isolated trees in 3-8 feet of water, and a few have also been caught around grass in the same depths. Zoom Trick Worms and Zoom Dead Ringers in green pumpkin have been working as well as anything, and Rattle Traps and crankbaits should also catch fish.
Crappie and Bream: Fair to good. Guide Steve English (843-729-4044) reports that fishing has slowed a bit in the lower lake, but they are still catching 20-25 crappie per day around brush. Water temperatures are so warm that fish are still relatively shallow in 8-15 feet of water. Bream fishing is a bit better in the lower lake, and around brush at about the same depth they are catching a bunch of fish. Fishing is still tough in the upper lake, and in a full day of crappie fishing recently Steve only caught five fish. That may be related to flood control in the upper lake when they opened up the gates and a ton of fish went down the old Santee River. A ton of bluegill, shellcracker, catfish, white perch and crappie are now being caught in the Santee where the bite is wide open.
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