While many folks are Christmas shopping or huddling inside in December, they’re missing one of the year’s hottest catfish bites. Santee Cooper’s catfish love cold weather, and anglers can have a field day this time of year.

Drifting is one of the top methods used by December anglers on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie; it can provide a steady bite throughout the day and can lead to catching catfish of all sizes, according to Gene Crawford, who guides out of Black’s Camp. 

“Drifting allows you to cover a lot of water quickly, and it puts your bait in deep holes, on top of ledges and everywhere in between,” said Crawford (843-209-3086). “This time of year, you can find catfish in all those places, and you’ll hit numerous spots with those features very quickly when drifting. You’re putting your bait in front of a lot of fish in a short period of time when you do it this way.”

Drift socks are an important part of drifting. They slow your drift speed, and Crawford adjusts his speed by using one to three, depending on wind and current. He deploys them off the bow of his pontoon boat, allowing him to use his outboard if necessary.

Crawford uses a modified Carolina rig on each rod setup. Known as the Santee Rig, it consists of long, skinny slinky weights that allow rigs to be pulled through the sticks and debris on the lake bottom. The rigs have leaders that range from 18 inches to 2 feet and are finished off with circle hooks in the 1/0 to 4/0 range. 

Crawford cuts the tails off baitfish, then filets them halfway to expose the blood and guts, which the catfish love. Not filleting all the way through allows the bait to wave and flop in the water, making it easier for cats to find.

After drifting through an area that is especially productive, Crawford often pulls in his drift socks, motors back to his beginning point with the help of his electronics, and drifts that same area again. 

Crawford said he catches good numbers of mostly blue catfish while drifting, and he said the vast majority are quality-sized fish. Fifteen to 35-pound fish are the norm, and he’s caught fish as big as 76 pounds this time of year while fishing this way.