Joe Dennis with Santee Cooper Charters in Bonneau has been mauling slab crappie in shallow water at Lake Moultrie for the past couple of weeks. That wouldn’t be big news in March, but in January, that’s something special for fishermen.

Dennis, however, said a similar bite happens every year if you know where to go and what to do.

“It’s a very reliable pattern and one I look forward to every year,” Dennis said. “The crappies are moving in from the big lake to the shallow water in a prespawn, staging phase and we’re consistently catching them in six feet of water – and sometimes less.

“The key is to work the natural, shallow-water cover such as blow downs, stumps, logs or any woody cover that drops into that depth of water. Depressions, ditches or anything that leads from the big lake to shallow cover is a key.”

Dennis (843-245-3762) prefers a 1/32-ounce jighead with a small, chartreuse/glitter curlytail grub.

“I use the very light jig because I don’t want it to drop to the bottom, I want it to sink slowly and actually be effective on the fall,” he said. “I keep my line taut so I can watch or feel for any twitch or change in the jig that might indicate a bite.

“The bite is often subtle, so I use a high visibility yellow line, I ‘line watch’, and if it twitches, goes slack for moment or anything different occurs, I set the hook. Often I don’t even feel the bite, I know by watching the line or just get a gut feeling that something has changed. Often, a slab has sucked the jig in, and there’s only a moment to react with a hookset.”

Dennis also uses minnows on rigs with slip floats to work around the cover, and he also fishes lines vertically beside his boat as he slips around the woody cover.

“Shallow-water crappies are spooky in this cold weather, so I use 4-pound line to stay in stealth mode,” he said. “I stay away from the target structure, casting long range to avoid spooking fish. But the fish are there now, and the great fishing should just get better over the next few weeks.

“On cloudy days, we’ve often been getting limits by mid-day,” Dennis said. “On bright, sunny days, it often takes longer. A real key to success is patience and to keep working productive areas. We’ll often catch several quickly, then the action slows, and then (you) hit another hot spot. While the majority of the crappies are being caught on jigs, we are catching some on the minnow rigs as well; I give them as many options as I can.

“We’re also catching some huge bream on the jigs and occasionally some hefty largemouth bass on the minnows and jigs. It’s not unusual to have a limit of 20 crappie with another 10 big bream added as well since 30 fish is the legal limit for panfish.”