At a time of year when some anglers begin to cool off on crappie fishing, the slabs are figuratively “on fire” at Santee Cooper’s Lake Moultrie.

Whitey Outlaw, a veteran tournament crappie pro from St. Matthews has been hammering slabs recently on his home lake.

“I fish all over the country in tournaments, and the crappie fishing at Lake Moultrie right now for big fish ranks as some of the best anywhere,” Outlaw said. “We’re fishing out of Blacks Camp at the end of the Diversion Canal and are catching lots of crappie but more importantly, numerous huge fish. In one half-day trip, we had several over 3 pounds, and many of the rest were pushing 2 pounds. Right now is the time to go if you want to catch big crappie. An actual 3-pound crappie is huge anyplace.”

Outlaw said the primary pattern has been deep brush that he can mark on his graph. He said using the right baits has been a key to his success.

“I use a Hummingbird 1199 with sidescan and downscan capability to help identify targets with fish and then set up where we can work into the wind and fish the top and edges of the brush or other cover,” he said. “Right now, the crappies are aggressive and biting without having to get deep into the cover. Also, there is an ongoing program to upgrade a lot of the existing underwater public-fishing spots at Santee Cooper. Several of these have been finished, and we also caught a lot of our big crappie on these sites. They are doing a great job of refurbishing these sites, and the (location) of these sites are listed on (the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’) website, so anyone with a good graph can go straight to them.”

Outlaw said that depending on the kind of structure being fished, the key depths are 25 to 34 feet.

“We are fishing, vertical and the lures we’re using are a key to our success,” he said. “We are using a 1/8-ounce Rockport Rattler jighead with a pink tube jig tipped with a medium shiner minnow. We also had good success with a similar (size) Roadrunner jig tipped with a minnow. The Roadrunners adds a bit of flash with a small willow-leaf blade that seems to help attract the fish in this cold weather and water.

“Our basic tactic is to catch fish suspended just over and alongside the brush or the fish attractors, and we drop lines down on B‘n’M crappie poles to a depth just above the target. Even though the fish bite is great, it’s typical of the subtle bite of a crappie, and the sensitive rods are a key to detecting bites, particularly on huge crappie. If we don’t catch fish quickly at a given depth, we’ll drop the baits another couple of feet until we hit the right depth. Once we got the depth right, the action is awesome. Typically, we’ll catch several slabs from each location, and it doesn’t take long to fill up a cooler of slabs when the fishing is that good and the fish are so big.”

Outlaw said his background as a tournament angler helped him by using the sidescan feature on his depth finder to find the brush and cover and the downscan feature to stay right on top of the fish.

“We could see when the fish were not present, and when they were gone, so were we,” Outlaw said.” We didn’t sit on unproductive areas because there are too many good places right now.

“We also found that we could catch fish early and late in low-light conditions, but for us, the prime time was from 9:30 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon,” Outlaw said. “During this time, especially on bright days, the fish are going to be pulled to the cover, making them easier to target and catch.”