Fishing can still be very good in January on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie despite the typical cold weather, especially for catfish and stripers. One of the best species for consistent action is catfish; more than one way of finding and catching these fish will work in January.

According to guide Kevin Davis of Blacks Camp, both lakes produce well, but his personal favorite is the lower end of Lake Moultrie.

“I like the really deep water near the dam on Lake Moultrie,” Davis said. “The key here is that there is a tremendous amount of baitfish, and that’s where the fish will be. The catfish, in particular, will be hanging around the big schools of forage that includes menhaden as well as shad.

“One of my favorite ways to catch these big, blue catfish and stay on top of the fast-paced action is to actually use my big motor to help me stay in contact with the huge balls of baitfish,” he said. “As the bait moves, I can follow with my graph, and there usually some birds diving on the shad. Often, the shad will be near the surface down to 30 or 40 feet deep. The key to success here is to stay right over the bait, use it as the actual structure you’re fishing and lower your bait down to the depth where the bottom of the bait is marked. 

“For example, if the bait is marked from near the surface to 30 feet deep, but you’re in 50 feet of water, you need to be fishing straight under the boat in 30 feet of water. This is also the one time of the year when I use a straight-shank hook instead of the circle hook. The circle hook is great for drift fishing, but here I use a 2-ounce sinker to keep my line straight down and use a live or cut gizzard shad — menhaden if you can catch them — or cut herring. Make no mistake about it, this is big-fish time.”

Davis (843-312-3080) said that this is certainly his favorite time of the year to catch big catfish, and he encourages everyone to practice catch-and-release on the big fish.

Buster Rush guides on Lake Marion and also finds the catfishing very good this month.

“Late in December into January, when the water temperature drops significantly, one of the keys in Lake Marion is to follow the big schools of shad,” Rush said. “With the stumps and trees, we can’t be running as fast as they do on (Lake Moultrie), but the bait and catfish are scattered all over the lower end of the lake. When the water temperature drops, the big schools of shad will tighten, and the blue catfish will relate to the shad just as they would a drop or ledge at other times of the year. I rely heavily on my graph during January for the catfish.”

Rush (803-432-5010) said that if he is using threadfin shad, he’ll use multiple small baits on a single hook; if he’s using larger baits, then one big chunk of cut bait will work.

“Some days we’ll catch a lot of catfish, but overall, it’s a good time of the year to catch some really big fish,” he said. “Another key in addition to the graph is the presence of birds such as cormorants, gulls and loons. They will follow the bait, and if you fish where they are found, you’ll likely be where there’s plenty of bait, then you basically need to pinpoint the shad and tie up to a tree or stump and put out several lines. I’ll use both straight down lines as well as some flat lines cast out from the boat.”

Rush said the shad and catfish move around on Lake Marion just as they do on Lake Moultrie. He said he may have to move several times a day to stay on top of good action.

According to Davis, the water temperature certainly drops in January, but the striper fishing actually stays very good, especially in Lake Moultrie’s deepest water. He said some will be caught in the deep holes and channels of Lake Marion as well.

“As is the case with the catfish, this is a great time of the year to catch big stripers,” Davis said. “I catch some fishing live menhaden but also have outstanding success using really large artificial swim baits. I use 7- to 9-inch swimbaits with good success in both lakes. I prefer a ¾-ounce jighead and lures such as the Berkeley Powerbaits and most soft swimbaits with big curlytails or paddletails will work. Also, big Roadrunners will produce a lot of quality stripers. The fish are still often in schools, but they are not surface schooling as much. I cast the heavy baits into big schools of forage and fish marked on the graph and also where I see birds diving. In fact, when I see pelicans diving on the lower end of Lake Moultrie in January, I know they’re after menhaden, and that’s where the big stripers will be.”

Largemouth bass can be caught, according to local guides, but the action does slow as the water gets near the low point of the year. Some good fish can be caught in the deeper water in the major creeks and along the creek ledges in Lake Marion and in deeper holes in Lake Moultrie. Don’t expect a lot of bites, but as with the catfish and stripers, it can be a good time to hook quality fish.

Overall, crappie fishing is slow in January, but in the very upper end of Lake Marion, with good water conditions, the crappie action will begin to produce by the end of the month according to Andy Pack (803- 452-5514) at Packs Landing.