Water continues to pour into the Santee Cooper lakes, and despite the power company releasing water through all three discharge sites Lake Marion is at 76.6 and Lake Moultrie is at 75.1, both only a few inches below full pool.
At the same time that the lakes are experiencing massive inflows, Captain Jim Glenn (843-825-4239) reports that catfishing has been strong with most folks reporting success. Conditions are ideal for fish to spread out in the lakes and be comfortable most anywhere, and fish are feeding well from 10-40 feet of water. Smaller blue catfish continue to make up a large part of the catch, further indicating that there have been successful spawns over the past few years. At the same time some very nice fish have been caught, and on recent trips Jim’s boat has caught a mix of fish in the 30s to go with lots of fish in the 2-14 pound range. There was another day where they caught three fish over 15 pounds to go with forty under 8 pounds.
Overall, fish seem to be separated by size, but the depth ranges vary from day to day. Some days it has been apparent that bigger fish are in water depths in the teens, while fish in the 3-6 pound range have been in depths in the mid- to high-20s, and fish in the 1-2 pound range have been in more than 30 feet of water. Again these depth zones will vary from day to day, but like-sized fish seem to be schooling with like-sized fish and as noted above they are scattered over a broad depth range.
Recent windy conditions have been most conducive to drifting, but under the right conditions anchoring can also catch fish. Fresh cut mullet, cut shad, and cut perch will all work when available.
While catfish have been biting well on the bottom, striped bass are schooling on the surface. Captain Jim Glenn has mainly been fishing on Lake Moultrie in the last week where he has been seeing and catching busting fish, and so he can’t speak to schooling activity on the upper lake. However, this is the time of year where it is expected that striper will be schooling on both lakes including the area between Taw Caw, down to Randolph’s and across to Eutawville on Lake Marion. Unusually high inflows could certainly affect that range, however.
On Lake Moultrie schooling activity has been extremely widespread, and on a recent representative trip Jim chased fish in 15 or 16 feet out to 50 plus feet of water. It all depends on where the bait is, and 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.