While the Santee Cooper lakes might be the crown jewels of the South when it comes to catching slab crappie, it was the Santee River that gave up a 4-pound trophy to Jeff Sanford of Sumter last Thursday, Jan. 28.

Sanford was fishing with guide Joe Dennis of J Hook Charters in Bonneau, who normally fishes the lakes in the winter in January and February as they move from deep to shallow water. But Dennis (843-245-3762) decided they needed to fish the river, which was beginning to recede after recent flooding.

“It doesn’t flood every year, but when it does, the fish bite,” he said. “In the river, we’re fishing debris and log jams caught on the bottom from the flood. Crappie love to stay in and around that cover. I’m also looking for deeper water that’s got a standing treetop in it, not horizontal, but vertical. Deep water with big trees by it can be a good place too. They’ll have roots going out into the river that are exposed by erosion.”

Sanford’s prize came from an area that was 23 to 24 feet deep, with crappie suspended anywhere from 5 feet off the bottom to 10 to 12 feet below the surface.

Dangling a 1/16-ounce chartreuse jighead baited with a live minnow just above cover, Sanford felt a timid bite that turned into a pile of weight. Realizing he had a good fish, Sanford took his time and played it on the light tackle. After a solid minute that seemed like an eternity, he finally saw the fish.

“He couldn’t believe how big it was,” Dennis said. “I had promised him a 3 pounder, so when it came up and rolled, I told him that he had a 3-pounder plus. When we got him in, he was amazed. It tipped the scales right at 4 pounds.  About 30 minutes later, my other client, Max Goodson, caught a 3 ½-pounder.

“They were amazed at how quick we caught our limit,” Dennis said. “By 11 o’clock, we were done, with 60 fish. If the fish weren’t a pound, we threw them back.”