Bass fishing gets cranked up early on the Santee Cooper lakes, and some anglers enjoy sensational fishing weeks before spawning activity begins. Largemouths begin a serious move to relatively shallow flats, and some anglers have learned that February is an ideal time to hook up with big, prespawn bass.
Mike Cox from Bonneau, S.C., and Wyn Mullins from North Charleston, S.C., have been teaming up for years, as well as fishing on their own, targeting this prespawn bass bonanza.
Cox said the major spawn for largemouth bass typically occurs in March, but big bass make a shallow-water move in February on both Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion. He and Mullins primarily target Moultrie because of their proximity to that lake, but he said the entire ring of shallow water around the two lakes offers tremendous opportunities.
“When talking water depths for February fishing, I’m not thinking the ultra-shallow spawning sites, but we’ll find plenty of big bass moving into the 3- to 7-foot depths,” he said.
Find depth change
Mullins said a key is discerning even slight depth changes in the shallow flats.
“I look for small ditches — even depressions that are slightly deeper than the surrounding area — as places that will be the focal point bass target,” said Mullins, who explained that fish aren’t “schooled up” as in foraging on baitfish, but concentrating and stacking in specific areas.
“I’ve found many areas all around the lakes,” he said. “Once I find the underwater topographic change, I target specific cover such as stumps, logs, cypress and gum trees in that area. Without defining a specific area, we’d be randomly fishing on huge flats and catching only straggler fish. Specific areas with subtle bottom changes will hold many more bass in an area making the process much more productive, and fun.”
Mullins said February weather patterns will frequently change lure patterns and productive depths. This impacts the choice of lures depending on whether bass are holding tight to cover or more aggressive in feeding, so the right lure choice can be very flexible.
“I keep an arsenal of lures ready, and on any given day, I’ll work plastic worms rigged Texas or Carolina style, spinnerbaits and crankbaits,” Mullins said. “Some days all of these lures can be productive but typically we’ll catch the majority of fish on one pattern because of weather conditions on that day. Probably the most reliable searching lure to begin the day is a plastic worm. But my favorite days are when the bite is strong on crankbaits, because we’ll catch more fish and just as many big fish.”
Mullins said he prefers a 7-inch Zoom Trick Worm with a straight tail. Top colors include green pumpkin, watermelon and junebug.
“But I experiment daily with various colors because color can make a big difference even day-to-day,” he said. “For crankbaits, I prefer the Spro Little John MD; I vary the retrieve rate to match the depth I’m fishing. I want the lure to kick the bottom, but not dig in and plow. I don’t get in a big hurry to run the crankbait fast with the water still cold, I like to bounce it off woody objects or the bottom to produce reaction strikes. When they’re on a crankbait bite, the action can be very fast.”
Mullins said his preference in crankbait color patterns is some chartreuse for increased visibility.
“Under normal water conditions, the Cellmate color pattern and the chartreuse with a black back are favorites,” he said. “If the water is clear, I’ll use a natural shad color pattern.”
Although Mullins savors crankbaits, Cox favors spinnerbaits. He said he’ll use different colors of spinnerbaits based on water conditions, but typically, chartreuse/white is his go-to color. He’ll also typically opt for 3/8- to ½-ounce lures when fishing water in the 4- to 7-foot depths.
“I’ll target stumps, logs, trees and riprap,” he said. “I’ll fish the riprap at a 45-degree angle and work the spinnerbait to the bottom of the big rocks where the bottom flattens. This is big bass city this time of the year.”
Cox said that slow-rolling spinnerbaits can be lethal on big bass; he’ll often work the lure in that manner around riprap.
“The riprap typically has deeper water associated with it and can be the key for post-frontal conditions,” he said. “Even on post-frontal days, big bass are a realistic possibility, but the overall numbers of fish are usually down.
“I’ll fish these days because we still get a few bites and often from really big bass,” he said. “But my favorite time is after two- or three-day warming trend and fish a warm day with cloud cover just prior to another system moving in. Under these conditions, we can work a spinnerbait faster or run crankbaits effectively. The potential for big fish is very good and we’ll usually catch and release plenty of fish in the five-pound class and usually hook a few really big fish as well.”
Don’t wait for the bass spawn before getting in the game. The cold but warming water during February brings sensational big bass action to Santee Cooper.
Not just a shallow bait:
Spinnerbaits are traditionally discussed as baits worked just below the surface of the water, but they can be just as effective, maybe even more effective, when they’re fished slowly, deeper in the water column. Called “slow-rolling,” this method involves slowly turning the reel handle, allowing the bait to slide down in the water column, all the while keeping the line tight and feeling the blades rotate. The deeper you need to fish, the heavier the bait you use.