Hardcore outdoorsman are putting on their col-weather gear to continue doing what they enjoy the most. They are grabbing their insulated underwear, heavy coats and gloves to seek out some of the Lowcountry's best outdoors activities.
While many sunbathers are dreaming of warm weather or heading down to join the "snow birds" in Key West, Fla., guides like Inky Davis are still fishing Santee Cooper.
"November is my favorite months to bass fish on the Santee Cooper lakes," Davis said. "It leaves those of us that do bass fish in the fall some nice days without another boat every 100 yards."
Davis has been taking advantage of college football and hunting season to fish Santee Cooper during the fall for the past 35 years.
He said that fishermen looking to catch bass from November on should move toward shallow water or areas that are near shallow water. As the water cools down, bass will be most active in temperatures from 68 to 72 degrees.
"You will fish for these bass like you do in the spring, except there won't be any spawning," he said.
Preferred winter offerings include plastic worms, spinnerbaits, Chatt'r Baits, topwater lures, and crankbaits. Don't be afraid to try lipless crankbaits, tail spinners, and floating/diving baits. Davis likes to target any visible cover he can find: stumps, trees, grass and lily pads. Don't overlook docks, logs, and riprap, along with points and ledges.
In the cooler water, bass will star to school, so keep your eyes and ears alert for the sight and sound of schooling bass. As the water temperature dips below the 68-degree mark, you will need to slow your retrieve or go with smaller baits.
Don't overlook panfish while you are targeting bass; the cooler water also allows crappie to become more active, returning to their prespawn and spawning areas, but without the spawn.
If you want to find keeper crappie, try fishing in and around underwater structure. The Santee Cooper lakes are dense with underwater structure; you'll need a fishfinder to locate some if you're not familiar with Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. In the first place, the damming and subsequent flooding of the Santee and Cooper rivers in the 1940s left plenty of growth underwater. In addition, guides and local anglers have sunk their own structure to create their personal honey holes. Consequently, it only takes a short run by boat to find productive water. And proper placement of structure will provide for some excellent catches of crappie.
Filling your boat with the fish some anglers call "papermouths" won't be hard if you can find them - which means finding the underwater structure.
During November, striped bass can be caught by casting to schooling fish or trolling lures such as the Stretch 25, and don't overlook catfish. They'll be concentrating on the blueback herring that will be in schools all the way from Marker 25 in Lake Marion to the dam. As the weather really cools off, the weaker members of the baitfish species start to die and sink to the bottom. That's where catfish will start to forage on the baitfish. It is not uncommon to see some 50-, 60- and yes, even some 90-pound catfish caught during this period.
With the cooler weather and northeasterly winds, the average angler can find it difficult to navigate the two lakes, which is why many fishermen choose experienced guides. Many guides have pontoons with curtains and heaters to keep you warm and block out the winter wind. Most will be fishing during daylight hours.
Some fishermen are targeting catfish as trophies, choosing the release fish they have caught. One thing to remember is that catfish have a layer of slime on their skin that helps protect them from infections and parasites. If you disturb the slime, the fish could become infected, so it's best to handle them as little as possible if you are going to release them.
All fish can suffer from shock and fatigue, and it can kill them. If you are going to release a catfish, it's best not to remove them from the water at all, if that's possible. Don't squeeze the fish, because they can suffer internal injuries quite easily. Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. Or, you can use a set of needle-nose pliers to grab the hook and work it out without touching the fish.
As with any fish, if a catfish appears lethargic upon release, gently move the fish back and forth to help circulate water through the gills. This will revive the fish, and it will soon swim off. Never leave a tired fish to its own fate. If a catfish has swallowed the hook or is bleeding from its gills, its chances of survival aren't good. It is better to clip the line as close as possible and leave the hook in than to try to remove it.
Santee Cooper visitors often ask guides not only where they're catching fish, but how they decide on a bait.
Every angler has his or her own "secret recipe" for the one killer bait that works like a dream. Channel cats will eat just about anything you put down there, and like all catfish, they like anything that smells or wiggles. They'll never go after store-bought bait like they will live bait. If you're fishing during the channel catfish's spawning season in late winter - right after the first thaw - use dead fish or cut bait. Dead minnows work well, as does any kind of prepared cut bait that contains dead fish.
Why do they like dead fish? It's the rotten smell. All winter long, cats hang out in the depths, and much of their diet consists of things that die and end up on the bottom. They're used to going after dead, rotten stuff, so during the spawning season they love cut bait and dead minnows.
Most of the prepared baits you find for channel catfish have one thing in common: cheese. For some reason, channel cats love cheese, so you can always whip up your own concoction with a little cheese in it. Chicken guts and blood work well, especially chicken livers. They also like other fish like chubs and shad, and will eat their own.
Nightcrawlers, crawdads and grasshoppers work well for all species of catfish. You can find quite a few things in your kitchen that catfish will eat, including hot dogs, sausages, tuna, shrimp, and just about anything else you can imagine. Flatheads will choose live bait like bream and crappie. In the Santee Cooper lakes, it's not too hard to catch a catfish in the wintertime.
While fishing can be great during the colder months, hunting is just as productive. Higher lake levels (since the tropical storms of September) have allowed for much easier access to good hunting and fishing - making it difficult to choose between the two. That's why outdoorsmen like myself often wind up "pulling double duty."