May is one of my favorite months to fish the Santee Cooper reservoirs, and while it’s mostly because of the great fishing, it’s also because of the typically great weather. 

Much of the fishing is excellent in the shallows, especially for bass, bream and shellcrackers. Catfish and stripers may be found shallow or deep, and crappie action is excellent, with fish holding in deeper water after the spawn. 

Dave Hilton, who guides for several species at Santee, is typically working on crappie in deep water since fish have moved out of the shallows. 

“May is prime time to find crappie congregated in deep water, fishing over brush, logs and stumps,” Hilton said. “The windy weather typical of March and April usually calms considerably by May, and most days I can crappie fish very effectively. I’ll locate brush in 12 to 25 feet of water, depending on the time of the month and whether I’m fishing Lake Marion or Lake Moultrie. Moultrie crappie often will be a little deeper. The fish transition to deeper water as the month progresses.

“The warming water temperature makes crappie more aggressive, and I won’t linger long at any spot if we’re not getting bites quickly,” Hilton said. “Often, success is simply a matter of searching and finding an area that holds a wad of crappie.”

Hilton (843-870-4734) will typically use live minnows on a long rod with a sensitive tip. He will sometimes fish small jigs vertically around the brush, adding a minnow trailer if needed.

Productive canal 

Striper fishing is good in May throughout both lakes, and it’s very good in the Diversion Canal. The upper end of Lake Marion in the Wateree and Congaree river arms still harbors some big stripers. Particularly early in the month, some stripers have not yet migrated back into the main portion of the lakes. Live blueback herring is an excellent bait, but cut herring can be very productive and can add a bonus, big catfish, to the creel.

In the lower end of Lake Marion and throughout Lake Moultrie, fishing live bluebacks or gizzard shad on down-lines is the best tactic. Live bait can be effectively fished either anchored or drifting, depending if stripers are schooled tight or scattered over ledges and flats. Electronics are the key to figuring this out. Some anglers will anchor on river ledges in the lower end of Lake Marion and patiently wait for stripers to migrate through. This can be productive but requires some patience.

In the Diversion Canal, live-bait fishing from anchored boats over holes and humps is good, but these holes and rock piles can be fished with artificials, including large spoons and bucktails. Other target areas are where water enters the canal from adjacent flats, creating eddies. These are excellent places for early and late casting with bucktails, swimming minnows and even topwaters for stripers. You may even load up a hawg largemouth this month.

Catfish action is wide open for big blues, and with the water warming, flatheads are also on a strong bite. Abundant numbers of hefty channel catfish are available and are an underutilized species that provide quality action.

Richie Wimmer, a veteran catfish tournament angler, said that by May, excellent fishing still remains on the shallow flats where ample forage is found. Also, plenty of big catfish are found in deeper water of both lakes as well as in the canal.

“May is also a time when nighttime fishing is really good and using a combination of live and cut bait, it’s quite possible to catch quality blue, flathead and channel catfish on the same trip,” he said. 

Kevin Davis, who guides out of Blacks Camp on the Canal, said bream and a few big shellcracker will be in shallow water.

“Shellcrackers usually bed in March and April, but some bed on the (full) moon during May,” he said. “Shellcrackers not spawning can be caught deeper in the ditches and runs in the large flats as well as the  Diversion Canal being a prime target.”

Davis (843-312-3080) said bream bedding action is still strong in May, and working around shallow flats with crickets using a long pole or light spinning gear is a great way to find a big bed of fish.

“Bream are very aggressive on the beds now,” he said, “but even if fish are not bedding, fishermen can catch quality limits by working around the trees and weeds. It usually doesn’t take log to cull out a good limit any time during the month.” 

Davis said fishing for largemouth bass remains excellent in the shallows on both lakes. Fish typically move just a bit deeper, but they still orient on weedy cover and cypress and gum trees in slightly deeper water. 

“Getting out early is a great way to catch big bass on topwater lures such as buzzbaits,” Davis said. “Fish around weedy points, trees, stumps, logs and grass beds adjacent to old ponds and ditch runs in the flats are prime targets.”