The shift to colder water temperatures and colder weather this month doesn’t put an end to fishing on Santee Cooper. For some species, the action is really heating up as the water temperature drops. Striper schooling, along with catfish catching, are both usually great. The largemouth action can be very good. Although it may be slower than the previous two months of fast-paced action, some big bass are now being caught. According to guide Marlin Ormseth of Moncks Corner, some of the most-consistent action on Lake Moultrie in December is the blue catfish bite.
"During December, we’ll catch a lot of catfish in the 5- to 10-pound class, and some big cats as well," said Ormseth (843-825-4713). "However, as the water temperature drops, the fish will continue to move to deeper water, basically following the forage. I’ll fish cut herring and mullet this time of year primarily, and (I) will typically drift fish."
Ormseth said that on Lake Moultrie, the fish will often be found deeper during the cold months than on Lake Marion.
"We’ll find fish, according to the detailed records I keep every year, in the 25- to 40-foot depth range. I’ll drift-fish multiple rods and will use planer boards to get a wide drift coverage. This enables me to fish more water effectively, which can be a real key at this time of the year. I use my graph and look for baitfish and larger fish, hopefully catfish, to be marked on the graph. When I find a hotspot, I work that area hard. Catfish are prone to move around following the shad, so it’s not uncommon to have to re-do the fish-finding process nearly every trip. With patience, this can be a really good time to stock up on some decent-sized fish for the freezer, and there’s always a good chance to hook a really big fish as well."
On Lake Marion, guide Buster Rush will begin to switch from primarily guiding for crappie to catfish.
"Early in December we may make some good crappie catches, but it’s all dependant on how cold the water gets," said Rush (803-432-5010). "Last year, the water stayed warm longer, and the crappie bit longer. They will usually be found out toward the main lake in water 12 to 22 feet deep on Lake Marion. I’ll be fishing brush piles as well as underwater logs using minnows on a tight-line rig. However, these crappies can be caught using jigs if fishermen are sensitive enough to detect the light bites that are typical at this time of the year."
Rush said the catfish bite is usually excellent on Lake Marion in December.
"Instead of drift-fishing, most of the time we’ll anchor or we’ll tie up to trees or stumps and fan-cast our baits around the boat early in the month," he said. "I’ll use small shad we catch in the cast net as well as cut herring and perch in water 18 to 30 feet deep as a general rule. Later in the month — and often into January when the water temperature drops significantly — one of the keys in Lake Marion is to follow the big schools of shad. When the water temperature drops, the big schools of shad will tighten and the blues will relate to the shad as they would a drop or ledge at other times of the year. I rely heavily on my graph during December for the catfish."
Kevin Davis at Blacks Camp said the striper action is excellent in December, with fish still surface schooling, but the live-bait action very good as well.
"It’s the best of both worlds on most days, particularly early in the month," said Davis (843-753-2231). "If the water temperature doesn’t get too cold, the topwater schooling action will be very good early and late, and the mid-day is very productive drifting live herring. Last year, this type fishing stayed very good right on into January."
Davis said the key is finding the larger, legal-sized fish. There are huge schools of fish just under the 26-inch size class that provide great fishing and catching, but finding a lot of keeper-sized fish has been a problem the past couple of years.
"We’re catching a lot of fish, most guides and fishermen who know what they’re doing are catching lots of fish," Davis said. "But the larger fish have been harder to come by. At the same time, often late-November and December is a time when we catch more large fish."
The largemouth bass action is also good according to guide Chris Heinning, who said that the lake level will typically drop some from levels earlier in the year, and largemouth transition to cover on edges of deep water, such as river or creek channels, ditches and old underwater ponds.
"For Lake Marion, fish cypress trees, docks, stumps, and rocks near four to five feet of water using crankbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms and jigs fished very slow," said Heinning (803-236-1257). "When fishing Lake Moultrie, fish the edges of any living grassbeds with Rat-L-Traps, spinnerbaits and twitch or stick-type plastic worms in four to 10 feet of water. I recommend fishermen focus fishing efforts on any wood cover near deep water like old stumps, docks, or brush with worms and jigs. The rocks found in the diversion canal rocks can hold some bass and can be caught with crankbaits and worms. If the water temperature drops fast and we’re having a cold winter, I suggest fishing the last day of a warming trend and/or in the afternoon when water temperatures have warmed the water."