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Known together as the Santee Cooper lakes (formally the Santee Cooper Hydroelectric and Navigation Project), Lakes Marion and Moultrie are located in the outer coastal plain to the southeast of South Carolina between the cities of Columbia and Charleston. The lakes are joined by the 6 ½ mile long Diversion Canal to form a system with 160,000 acres of water and 450 miles of shoreline spanning parts of 5 South Carolina counties – Berkeley, Calhoun, Clarendon, Orangeburg and Sumter. From 1939 to 1942 the lakes were created in a hydroelectric project by the South Carolina Public Service Authority, commonly known as “Santee Cooper.” The lakes vary from shallow swamps at the upper end of both lakes (but most famously Lake Marion) to the vastness of Lake Moultrie –14 miles across at its widest point and appearing to be a great, open bowl. Under the surface there is the reality of varying contour in both lakes.
Popular species targeted by Santee Cooper anglers include largemouth bass, a recovering population of striped bass, white and black crappie, bream (most notably shellcracker and bluegill), and several species of catfish. While open to debate, the case can easily be made that the Santee Cooper lakes are the premier freshwater fishery in South Carolina. In most major species categories the lakes have produced state or even-world record class fish. The co-state record largemouth bass was caught out of Lake Marion (16-2 caught in 1949), until 1993 the world record freshwater striped bass came from Santee Cooper (55 pounds), the state record white crappie came from Lake Moultrie (5-0 caught in 1957), and the state record shellcracker (5-7.5 caught in 1998) came from the Diversion Canal. Among catfish the current world record channel catfish was caught in Lake Moultrie (58 pounds caught in 1964) and the current state record flathead was caught in the Diversion Canal (79-4 caught in 2001). The current state record blue catfish (109-4 caught in 1991) was caught in the Tailrace Canal below Santee Cooper and held the world record until 1996.
As would be expected to support so many trophy-caliber fisheries, the Santee Cooper lakes have an extensive forage base. The five major bait species in the lakes are gizzard shad, threadfin shad, American shad, blueback herring, and menhaden, which immigrate and emigrate from the lakes based on seasonal patterns. Mullet are also present at times.
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