Guide Buster Rush (803-432-5010) said July is a prime time for big crappie on the upper lake.
"The spawn and shallow-water fishing is over, the fish have moved back to the deeper water and we can now count on finding them around the deeper brush," Rush said. "In Lake Marion, we'll find a lot of fish in the 12- to 16-foot depth range, usually at the top of the brush or woody cover. Often, the water may be about 20 foot deep or even slightly deeper on the bottom where we fish, but the brush will usually stick up several feet above the bottom. Near the top of the brush and around the edge is where I find most of my crappie.
"I use tight-line rigs and minnows as bait; however, an experienced angler using jigs will be able to score well casting small jigs and working them around the cover," Rush said. "This is a strong and productive pattern for most of the summer and the biggest issue is usually the heat. We've had good crappie spawns in recent years, and there's lots of hefty crappie in the lakes right now. July is a good time to catch a limit of quality fish on Lake Marion."
The same good crappie fishing goes for Lake Moultrie anglers according to guide Kevin Davis at Blacks Camp.
"The biggest difference I know of between lakes Marion and Moultrie - and I fish them both - is the depth where the crappie are caught on Lake Moultrie," Davis said. "The crappie just generally hold a bit deeper on Moultrie. I fish both places if the wind will let me; I'll fish Moultrie because I can usually get on a better quality of fish, but really both lakes are exceptional during July.
"And a note worth remembering is that you do not have to be on the lake at dawn to be successful. You can beat the heat going early, but really once the sun gets up a bit the crappie often tend to orient even tighter to the cover, making them easier to find and catch later in the morning. The temperature may be hotter, but sometimes the fishing is more productive as well."
Davis (843-753-2231) also said one of the prime fisheries during July will be catfish.
"On Lake Moultrie, most of the catfishing will be drift-fishing along the ridges and deeper water, often 30 to 40 feet deep. Cut bait, including herring, shad, perch and bream, are all productive."
On Lake Marion, Rush also guides for catfish, and it is his other summertime specialty. He said some areas can be drift-fished, but he'll usually anchor because of all of the underwater snags.
"The entire summer is great for catfishing, and I'll often fish early mornings or late afternoons, particularly if I'm trying to catch some big flatheads," he said. "I'll use live bait for flatheads, but most of my effort will be focused on the more-abundant blue catfish, so typically, cut bait will be used. But I will mix up what I use until I determine a good bite pattern on any given day. I'll fish the edges of drops and humps and sometimes into the deeper holes looking for big fish. I do rely on my graph to help me pinpoint not only big fish, but forage in the area as well."
Some fishermen on either lake will use lights at night and anchor up for good crappie fishing. Most of the time, they will anchor in 20 to 30 feet of water, but often the fish will be taken in the 10- to 20-foot depth range. Usually, the fish will not be caught right on the bottom when fishing under the lights at night. Also, both the white and green lights have popular followings among local crappie anglers, and both seem to produce good numbers of fish. So there does not seem to be a favored light color at Santee Cooper.
Plenty of largemouth are caught on both lakes, with heavy cover and shallow water the keys to success. Early morning action can be good using topwater lures, and bottom-bumpers rule during the day in slightly deeper water. It's not unusual to find several bass in a small, general area, so most anglers suggest moving and fishing until you catch a couple of good fish, then work that area hard.
Bream and shellcracker can still be caught on both lakes throughout July, and some anglers will also find some decent bed-fishing, but overall, July is more of a hunt-and-peck type fishery for bream and shellcracker. Use red worms for shellcrackers and crickets for bream and work around the cypress trees, logs, stumps and weedy cover until you find fish. Fish that general area until the action slows, then repeat the process. It's still very reasonable to expect to catch a good limit of panfish, you're just likely to have to move around a good bit more to find them during July