February fishing on the Santee Cooper lakes can be likened to the calm before the storm, except the winds of change are already blowing a bit of a breeze. This month, patterns typically change for the better when several popular species begin the transition from winter patterns to prespawn, shallow-water migrations. For largemouth bass, stripers, catfish and crappie, February offers good opportunities.

According to guide Inky Davis, one big move is by the largemouth bass.

"Much depends on water temperature, but as (it) begins to move upward, the big bass get into a pre-spawn mode, and we'll begin to catch some really big fish," said Davis (803-478-7289). "Typically, the later in the month, the better the overall fishing will be for both size and numbers of largemouth. Plus, the fish will begin to get more active, and we can start using a variety of lures to catch bass."

Davis said that the occasional warmer days with lots of sun this month will impact the fishing in a positive way.

"The shallow water will begin to warm, and we'll have a steady movement of largemouth bass toward the shallow water," Davis said. "They don't make a move en masse during early February, and they generally don't begin to spawn in earnest until March, but there will be some very good bass fishing in the 3- to 5-foot depth range in both lakes, Marion and Moultrie, in late February. However, if the water temperature does jump up to 59 degrees or into low the 60s, there is a good possibility of finding some bedding fish in late February. But bedding or not, when they get into the shallows in late February, it's time to catch some trophy largemouth."

Davis likes to use a variety of lures, and February is a great time to try different lures and patterns.

"Patterns are constantly changing, and one of my favorite lures is a crankbait, because I can cover a lot of water and water depths quickly, and that's one of the keys at this time of the year," he said. "I'll try different retrieves such as steady cranking, stop-and-go and very slow to determine what pattern is best on any given day. Other lures that work well this time of the year are soft plastics (and) swimming minnow-type crankbaits in a shad color. If the water is dingy, chartreuse can be excellent."

Davis said it's good to fish near deeper water, but not necessarily in deep water.

"The fish are in transition, so a cold front can push them back to deeper water quickly and temper the more aggressive bites we'll have during those warm periods" he said. "February bass fishing will require a good bit of experimenting at different depths and patterns, but the quality of fish that can potentially be caught make it more than worthwhile."

Linwood Thornhill, who guides out of Blacks Camp (843-753-2231), said fishing is feast-or-famine for some species in February, but it can produce excellent results for fishermen targeting catfish.

"One of the more-consistent fisheries during February will be catfishing," Thornhill said. "The fishing is primarily for the big blues; they will be found throughout Lake Moultrie and on the lower end of Lake Marion. Typically, they will begin the month in deep water, around the large baitfish schools along the drops and ledges and near Pinopolis Dam in Lake Moultrie. But by late in the month - and certainly during March - the catfish will begin to migrate toward the shallows and will offer exceptional shallow-water action. Water temperature is the key, but expect a movement from deep water toward the shallower water as the month progresses. But during most of February, the most consistent fishing will be on the deep-water pattern."

Striper action is usually slower in February because of cold water and because fish are getting ready for the upstream migration to spawn, but some good-sized fish can be caught.

Guide Don Drose will often troll deep-diving lures along the ledges in the large creeks as well as on in the main lake.

"As is generally the case with stripers, look for the baitfish in your targeted area," said Drose (803-478-2536). "Wyboo Creek is often productive in February, as are some of the other large creeks, if they're loaded up with shad. I'll troll lures that dig down to about 16 feet and work the channel ledges and drops. This can be a good time of the year to catch a big striper, right before they begin to migrate up the river for the spawn."

The crappie action in both lakes is fair, but it will typically transition into better fishing as February progresses. Some of the better fishing often occurs in the upper end of Lake Marion. In addition, crappie will begin to move to the mouths of the larger creeks on the lower end of Lake Marion. Live minnows and small jigs will produce good crappie drifted through these areas. Also, targeting your fishing in 20 to 30 feet of water over brush in Lake Moultrie will produce roe-laden slabs. Not a lot of crappie are usually caught, but some slabs are certainly there for the taking.