Many outdoorsmen are in the woods during November, and with the deer rut in full swing, that’s a logical choice. Plus, some small-game hunting seasons open this month, and that ranks high for many hunters. But don’t overlook the fishing on the Santee Cooper lakes. As the weather cools, the bite is strong for several species of fish, plus, the potential is exceptional for big specimens.

In recent years, November has earned the reputation of being a prime time to take huge blue catfish, along with slab crappie in limit numbers, big largemouth bass in shallow water and improved size on the stripers as the fall season progresses.

Prespawn blue catfish certainly offer a tremendous opportunity to hook colossal catfish, but the truth is, November is extremely productive for big catfish, perhaps just a good. Defining “big” may vary on lakes you fish, but the number of 60- to 90-pound blue catfish trends upward in November.

Kevin Davis at Blacks Camp on the Diversion Canal said some big flatheads are also caught, but the opportunity to hook a really huge catfish is better if you target blue catfish.

“During November, things occur that get big catfish on the move,” Davis said. “The lakes are full of forage, and with the water temperatures dropping at a steady clip, the forage stays on the move, keeping catfish on the move.”

Davis said most of the big blue catfish are taken by drift-fishing over deep water; he recommends a drift rate of around one-half mile per hour. This enables anglers to cover enough water to present the bait to a big catfish as well as be slow enough to provoke a strike.

“The real key can often be the bait used; that can be one of several options, and these big cats often seem to prefer different baits,” he said. “The overall favorites include big chunks of cut mullet as well as whole or cut white perch, gizzard shad and herring. Some days, any of the above will produce, but on other days, fish seem to be more selective. I’ll use a variety to begin and refine it based on the bites.”

Davis said that excellent numbers of smaller fish can be caught this month, and these fish may be shallower than where big catfish are found.

“Depths vary from Lake Marion to Lake Moultrie, with the big catfish usually being a bit deeper in Lake Moultrie,” he said. “On Lake Moultrie, it possible to get into good numbers of fish with a few quality catfish in water less than 30 feet deep, but the really huge blue catfish seems to prefer deeper water. Nothing is rock solid, but the deeper water generally will produce the best potential for huge fish, but the shallow-water bite will be more productive for numbers of eating-sized fish. But either way, the fishing is great.”

From late October through mid-December, it’s slab time on both lakes. They are holding from mid-depths to deep water but are quite active and aggressive.

Top targets include brush piles and standing timber on Lake Marion in depths ranging from 12 to 20 feet. The best offerings are using live minnows fished on a tight-line as well as jigs — and also small jigs with a minnow trailer. The best tactic is to mark the brush on the graph and then fish a tight-line vertically over the brush and around the edges. 

Some anglers prefer to anchor away from the target, marking it with a floating marker off to the side, and cast jigs. Allow the jig to sink, using a countdown method, to get the proper depth — just above the brush — and slowly retrieve. The addition of a live minnow can often make a positive difference on the number of fish caught.   

On Lake Moultrie, most crappie targets are brush piles in 15 to 35 feet of water. The same techniques described for Lake Marion work, with the productive brush usually being a little deeper. 

On both lakes, a number of recently refurbished fish attractors are very productive for fall and early-winter crappie action and produced plenty of slabs last fall. Find the coordinates at http://www.dnr.sc.gov/fish/fishattract/fishattr.html.

Finally, the largemouth bass action is excellent in November for both quality and quantity of fish. 

The bass are likely on a variety of patterns, depending on which lake you fish. But bass will be on a strong, shad-eating pattern from mid-October until December, so that’s an obvious place to begin. In the upper end of Lake Marion, from the I-95 bridge and upstream, guide Inky Davis said the shad pattern is strong in shallow water.  

“Crankbaits, tailspinners and the trusty plastic worm are all very productive,” he said. “This time of year, fishing is productive all day, and a really big fish can load on any time. Be rigged and ready for bass exploding on shad for topwater schooling action.”

Davis said bass will usually be holding a bit deeper, often along the edges of drops and off long points on the lower end.

On Lake Moultrie, much of the shallow ring of water around the lake will be productive; Davis said to key on old ditch or creek runs in otherwise shallow flats, along the woody cover around depressions that drop into slightly deeper water.

“November is an excellent time to hook some really big bass as well as catch and release double-digits of chunky bass on many days,” Davis said.