Fish are biting in the Santee Cooper lakes, but we’re at the time of year when some of the best hunting in South Carolina takes place as well. The very popular alligator season will attract a lot of attention from those with alligator tags on and around the lakes, which are divided into two distinct areas, both known for producing huge alligators.

Deer season opened in some areas around the lakes in August, and by September, all areas around Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie are open for gun hunting. Still-hunting or dog-hunting for deer is extremely popular, and full-time fishermen will notice a change in fishing pressure.

Also, dove season opens on Sept. 5, and it’s hard to imagine any part of the state having more dedicated dove hunters than this one. Dove fields are considered almost sacred, and opening weekend of dove season sometimes outranks deer in terms of popularity. But deer season last for months and gets better in October and November. We’re limited on the time available for shooting doves.

Check the SCDNR website (www.dnr.sc.gov) for managed dove fields in the area. Dove-hunting clubs dot the region and often, specific dove hunts are advertized in local newspapers, as well as other publications. Although most landowners who plant dove fields are experienced and know how to prepare them to be productive but completely legal, it does remain the responsibility of the hunter to ensure there is no bait where they hunt.

On the fishing front, a lot of action is reported on several species of fish. September is certainly an excellent month for deep-water crappie; guide Steve English said it is a very productive month for fishing deep brush with either live bait or jigs.

“I’m fishing both the lower end of Lake Marion and all of Lake Moultrie, targeting deep-water brush for excellent crappie action,” English said. “I typically find the fish in the 20- to 35-foot depth range this time of year on Lake Moultrie and a bit shallower on Lake Marion. The technique is to work over and around the sides of brush with tight-line minnow rigs or cast small jigs on ultralight tackle. During September, I can often get on a spot and catch a large number of fish from the same area — and this is very good time of the year to catch some slabs.”

English (843-729-4044) said that another bonus fishery exists that a lot of angler miss, and that’s bream on these same deepwater structures.

“At this time of year, I’ll usually carry crickets with me, and often, big bream will be stacked on these place. My clients can catch heavy limits of these hard-fighting fish,” he said. “Some brush piles are loaded with crappie, while some are covered up with bream, especially in Lake Moultrie. Fish the crickets on a tight line just above the brush as you would a minnow. It’s simply and great action.”

The crappie and big, bull bream are also found in big numbers around the fish attractors that Santee Cooper, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the Santee Cooper Country Tourism Commission are refurbishing. They provide excellent fishing for both bream and crappie, and the coordinates are easy to get off the SCDNR website. If you’ve got GPS, either hand-held or on your graph, you can find these hotspots with no problem.

Largemouth bass fishing improves on both lakes this month as the weather cools slightly. Bass have been in fairly shallow water through the summer, clinging to heavy cover, and that’s still the best area, but now the fish are getting a bit more active, and topwater schooling is becoming more consistent.

Fishing Texas- and Carolina-rigged worms around grass and weeds, especially points and pockets along an edge that drops into 5 feet of water, is a good starting point. Swimming-minnow baits cast around objects and worked shallow are excellent, and of course, any time fish surface-feed get that lure in there quickly. Keep one rig with a heavy lure you can cast a long distance to quickly hit breaking fish. 

The surface activity typically improves as September weather continues to cool, but early in the month it’s very important to get the lure on them quickly, as the action often is short-lived. As the month continues, the topwater activity improves, and the fish stay on the surface longer.

Some of the best schooling action will be found on the upper end of Lake Marion, from Jack’s Creek up through the Packs Landing area. But the entire system will have improved topwater action this month, and it usually improves as the month progresses and into October for some of the best of the year.

Catfish action is good on both lakes and in the Wateree and Congaree rivers at the upper end of the lake. Deep-water drift fishing in Lake Moultrie and on the lower end of Lake Marion where underwater cover allows a reasonable drift produces very good action. Lake Marion is also excellent for anchor fishing, especially for big flatheads by day and night. September and into October produces some of the best flathead action of the year, especially for big catfish. 

Live perch, shiners and even fresh cut bait will get the big flatheads, and cut bait is best for the big blues. Remember, the limit on blue catfish is 25 per person, including no more than two measuring 32 inches or longer.