November may be the best month to catch big bass at Lake Marion that almost no one knows about. The overall fishing for quality and quantity is outstanding, and the Santee Cooper lake is surprisingly underfished during the month of Thanksgiving.
The lack of fishermen may be due in part to other cherished outdoor events such as hunting opportunities for deer, dove and late in the month, small game. But it’s also true not many people realize how potentially productive this fishing can be.
Guide Inky Davis of Manning considers November prime time to catch a big bass, and while he fishes both Santee Cooper lakes, he’ll focus his November attention on Lake Marion.
“I can’t say the big bass potential is better during November than February and March, because those spring fish are heavy with roe,” Davis said. “But November bass are also heavy, healthy fish that have been swarming through shad schools and gorging for months. The cooling weather puts an abundance of shad in the same shallow-water environment that largemouths prefer. This makes an absolute dynamite combination for fishermen hoping to score on big bass in shallow water. That’s why I love Lake Marion in November.
“Cooling water temperatures, up to a point, do seem to trigger these bass to feed more aggressively, and this is a time of year when forage is abundant,” Davis said. “The topwater schooling action is still very good early in November, and while that slowly tapers off, it can occur throughout the month, depending on the weather and how quickly the water cools.”
Davis fishes different types of cover to find a day’s most-productive pattern.
“Bass move a good bit during the fall and will change patterns depending on the rise or fall of water level, temperature changes and, of course, following forage,” Davis said. “One way I keep up with the fish is to cover a lot of territory. Typically, a good pattern will produce fish quickly during November. If I don’t find fish fast, I change my strategy in a big way.
“For example, if I had been successful fishing shallow water on the flats and the bite stops, I may switch to fishing isolated cover near deep holes such as tree-line edges that drop into deeper water,” he said. “Another good pattern is to work heavy cover adjacent to deeper runs of water in the swamp area of the upper end of the lake. From the Jacks Creek area all the way up both sides of the lake to well above Pack’s Flats, many such situations can be found.”
Cover such as cypress trees, floating heart with openings and pockets, and lily pads are other potentially good targets,” Davis said. “All of these can be very good from shallow water on a flat or on a shallow edge close to a drop that falls into 10 feet of water.”
Davis fishes all sorts of lures. He likes a 5-inch finesse worm in redbug, larger worms in watermelon and reds, black/blue Senkos, shad-colored crankbaits to fish around isolated cypress trees, and white or chartreuse spinnerbaits. He will always keep a large, swimming minnow and heavy tailspinner tied on for long-range casting to schooling fish.
Davis will fish quickly when searching, paying attention to his surroundings and looking for signs of baitfish or other aquatic life in an area. Seeing or hearing a single fish thrashing shad on the surface is a giveaway that he’s in a potentially good area.
“Usually when I find ample forage and catch a couple of bass, I’ll stay in that general area working out a specific pattern,” he said. “This is time of year we can catch and release a lot bass and still have the opportunity to hook a hawg. I rate November among the best times of the year at Lake Marion for both quality and quantity of largemouth.”
Locating schools of bass that aren’t actively feeding on the surface has the potential to provide some of November’s best fishing.
Davis added that some of the potentially best fishing in November can be locating schools of bass that are not actively feeding on the surface.
“Fishing a point or around the edge of cover that drops into slightly deeper water are great places to find a large school of bass,” he said. “Occasionally, I’ll cast to a target and immediately get a savage strike. As soon as I get the fish boated, I cast again and often I will hook up immediately, and often so will every member of my party. The key is to make another cast or two before moving on. While this doesn’t happen often, it’s not uncommon for it to occur at least during once most days.
“Plus, they’re not just smaller fish. If I let my lure get little deeper, odds are good to hook a big fish,” he said. “One trip in November, fishing by myself, I found five schools of bass and boated and released 74 fish. They averaged from two to about six pounds each. And I have caught much larger fish in these schools. I love topwater schooling bass, but these schools can be a hidden treasure if you take advantage of the opportunity.
Guide Chris Heinning of Sumter said Lake Marion produces excellent bass this month and into December, but they follow typical patterns late into November.
Heinning said bass will transition to cover on edges of deep water, such as river or creek channels, ditches and old underwater ponds as the temperature drops.
“I like to fish cypress trees, docks, stumps and rocks near 4 to 5 feet of water using crankbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms and jigs fished slowly,” said Heinning, who said that rocks found in the Diversion Canal can hold some big bass that will hit crankbaits and plastic worms.
“If the water temperature drops fast and we’re having a cold November, if you can pick your days to fish, I would certainly suggest fishing the last day of a warming trend as we get later in the year,” Heinning said. “I prefer to fish during afternoons on sunny days when water temperatures have warmed the most. We need every edge we can get when bass fishing, and slightly warmer water can make a big difference.”
Inky Davis said that a lot of the same basic techniques he uses in the upper end of Lake Marion will work further down the lake, but other techniques work well in the larger, more open sector of the lake.
Kevin Davis, who guides out of Blacks Camp on the Diversion Canal and fishes both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, has one tactic that is absolutely awesome for November: fishing brush piles he’s put in Lake Marion primarily for crappie fishing.
“In the lower end of Lake Marion, I have a lot of brush piles that at normal water levels are in 10 feet of water, give or take a couple feet,” he said. “But when the lake is drawn down in the fall — or simply low due to lack of rain — a lot of my brush will actually be in 5 to 7 feet of water. This is an absolutely ideal depth for bass this time of year, and we catch some monster bass off the brush.”
Kevin Davis targets brush with two specific techniques. He’ll use a shaky head rig, cast to the middle of the brush and let his worm sit for 20 seconds or longer before beginning to slowly move the lure through the cover. He’ll also fish a ¼- to ½-ounce Rockport Rattler jig with a soft-plastic trailer and work it around the base of the brush. He’ll usually do both before moving from one brush pile to the next.
“Another pattern that works very well is to locate an area where shad are packed in the creeks or coves and work any docks or woody cover with small crankbaits,” he said. “This technique will produce a lot of bass, as well as some really big fish, and (it) actually gets better as the weather gets colder.
“With the typical fantastic fall weather and great bass fishing throughout the lake, November is an overlooked big bass bonanza,” he said.
It’s not too late to get in on the action this year.
HOW TO GET THERE — Access to various destinations around Lake Marion is easy. On the north side, Manning is a prime destination. Take Exit 119 off I-95 and SC 261 east. On the South side, the town of Santee is at mid-lake. Take Exit 98 off I-95 and SC 6 to the Diversion Canal area.
WHEN TO GO — November is the peak of fall bass fishing due to cooling water temperatures, which pushes bass and baitfish into the shallows. The action can begin in late October and last into December, depending on the weather.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Some topwater schooling action can be expected through November, so keep lures tied on that can be cast long distances. Probe shallow areas close to deep water holding baitfish with a variety of lures. Bass will also orient to brush piles in 4 or 5 feet of water.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Inky Davis, 803-472-7289; Chris Heinning, 803-236-1257; Andy Pack, 803-452-5512. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.