April is one of the most eagerly anticipated months on the Santee Cooper lakes, and with good reason. A lot of popular fish are biting extremely well, and a lot of them are moving to shallow water.  Action on both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie is excellent for a wide variety of species.

Jaime Courtney has owned and operated Hill’s Landing on the Diversion Canal for nearly 12 years, and in addition, he guided for 16 years before that. He said to think shallow this month.

“One of the really popular species that move to the shallows in April is crappie,” Courtney said. “While the shallow-water bass fishing is good, we had some bass-fishing groups staying here actually change over last year from good bass fishing to the outstanding crappie fishing right in the middle of their trip. They bought some light tackle here and started caching crappie like crazy. 

“In April, typically, the crappie will be caught in two to seven feet of water around the grass, trees and other cover. It’s a great time of the year to catch limits of slab crappie. Most of the crappie will be caught on live minnows, although jigs and Beetle Spins will also produce. But for best results, I suggest using live minnows and working the shallows until you find some crappie. Then work that spot until the action slows then move on with the crappie searching process.”

Courtney (843-753-2731) said that bass fishing is also excellent in April, with a lot of fish moving in to spawn.

“Largemouth bass are typically caught around a lot of different shallow-water cover during April,” he said. “Weeds, brush, trees and pads are all good places. Some spawning fish will be taken, plus a lot of bass will be back in the shallow water. Most bass fishermen move around checking different areas, with various types of plastic worms being top choices for most fishermen”.

Courtney said one of the favorite species for a lot of anglers out of Hill’s Landing is the shellcrackers. He said the average size of these fish is sensational, and they’ll usually be bedding around the full moon.

“Some shellcrackers are caught in the Diversion Canal if we don’t have a whole lot of current,” he said. “Generally, the best bet is to fish around the full moon back in the shallow flats on both Marion and Moultrie. The shellcrackers love to get back into the weeds, and often, you have to get back to the very shallow edges. Often, if there’s an open pocket back in the weeds, you’ll find them there. 

“The amazing thing is that it’s not real unusual for fishermen to catch limits of shellcrackers averaging close to two pounds each. That’s hard to beat anywhere. But there are a lot of fish in the 1- to 2-pound class, and we’ll usually see some each year in the 3-pound and even pushing 4-pound class fish on occasion. 

“Shellcrackers prefer worms, and either light spinning tackle or long poles are excellent for this type fishing. Some fishermen will use the long poles to drop worms back into the holes in weeds and far back into shallow pockets.”

Courtney said one more species will make a big run to the shallow water in both Lake Moultrie and the lower end of Lake Marion, and that’s catfish.

“This is the time of year I tell fishermen out of Hill’s to look for catfish in shallow water,” Courtney said. “Most of the fish will be blue cats, but some flatheads and channels will be caught. The best baits are the big river herring, cut up fresh. Fish the flats, and give them 20 to 30 minutes to bite, and then move  to another area and often you don’t have to move far; even a hundred yards might be enough. Usually two to three feet is about right, but on some days, it’s best to find a spot where you can cast shallow on one side of the boat and into a slightly deeper ditch or creek on the other; give the cats a bit of a variety in depths. But a big blue in very shallow water is some extremely exciting fishing. I do tell fishermen it’s best to anchor both ends of the boat real well and point the boat into the wind so it will stay stationary, especially if it’s windy. That way you can keep the lines tight on the rods and detect the bites better.”

April is also striper time, and a lot of the stripers have moved up the river into the upper end of Lake Marion. Steve Pack at Packs Landing said April is typically the peak.

“During April, we’ve got stripers going upriver to spawn and some making their way back down the river, depending on the time of month you fish,” Pack said. “Typically, a lot of stripers will spawn on the April moon. What that means is fishermen need to use both cut and live bait. Stripers moving upriver before spawning seem to prefer cut herring, while post-spawn fish often prefer live herring. But really, either is good bait, whether they are coming or going.”

“Fishing the river is good; the inside points close to deeper water are prime places. Plus, if there’s ample current, the flats are very good,” he said. “Fishing in that manner for stripers is also the best way to catch big catfish so you get a two-for-one,” he said.

Pack (803-452-5514) said April is usually the peak month for shellcracker bedding, and some of the biggest shellcrackers of the year are taken in the flats and up into the Santee swamp during April.