With winter upon us and cold weather as harsh and brittle as a dried twig, most outdoors-minded people are enjoying warm, cozy fireplaces, while the true fishermen are challenging the cold.

Putting on their cold-weather survival gear and attaching the enclosures around the cockpit of their boats, they continue doing what they do the best: catching catfish on the Santee Cooper lakes.

Forget about insulated underwear, heavy coats and gloves, these good ol' boys are warm-blooded creatures taking on the bitter, northeast winds and Mother Nature with a fury.

In cold weather, the only catfish that takes a break from active feeding is the flathead. Many of them will spend the winter in large groups, in deep, stump-covered areas such as the "dead forest." Blue and channel catfish seem to really turn on, paying plenty of attention to the massive groups of baitfish that Santee Cooper supports.

Capt. Brad Browder has been fishing Santee Cooper for over 20 years; he said if you're looking for wintertime catfish, you should move into shallow water or areas close to the shallows close the full moon. As the water and the weather are cooling, catfish will be most active in bigger groups.

Browder said, "The congregation of fish allow the water to be a little warmer; the more fish or the larger the congregation, the warmer the area will be."

Browder doesn't go for the boat curtains and portable heaters. He's a traditionalist. "The luxury items tend to make people lazy, and they don't fish like they should, so by (me) remaining traditional and less modern, my clients tend to catch more, which in turn is told to others, giving me a much better winter than my friends who choose modern methods."

Menhaden, mullet and blueback herring are all prime wintertime bait. Don't be afraid to throw out a shad or two. The preferred method continues to be drifting.

Browder recommends that you get your bait down to a depth that is "just below the schools of bait.

"This will simulate the dying baitfish that the bigger blues will forage on, creating a more likely chance of a 90- or even 100-pound blue."

To find the sweet spots, fishermen will need to know how to read the depthfinder properly. If you are not familiar with the Santee Cooper lakes, consider using a fishfinder to help find schools of baitfish. Often, you will find schools of baitfish so large that they appear endless, stretching from the Diversion Canal completely to the lock system on Lake Moultrie and from the safe passage to the dam on Lake Marion.

Waiting just below this large group of bait are the fish you're looking for, waiting to gorge themselves on anything that may sink into their area. In the cold water, the fish hardly move, gaining massive amounts of weight. But don't be fooled; all of these are not catfish. You will also find large longnose gar, stripers and even a few bowfin. In every case, you will surely find some excellent line-burning, rod-bending action.

Don't overlook other species in the winter. There's plenty of undergrowth from recent low lake levels, and guides and other local fishermen have sunk plenty conveniently-placed brushpiles, creating excellent fishing holes. Crappie spend the winter months preparing for their early spring spawn. While the females are in the deep warmer water, the males are slowly entering creek channels, looking for the safe passages that will turn into major highways for the spring spawn. Consequently, it only takes a short run to find productive water. And proper placement of structure will provide for some excellent catches of crappie.

Floating a live minnow under a cork around deep brushpiles is a great technique, especially in the winter.

Two big crappie highlighted my 2008 fishing season. Although I didn't break my personal records of 47.2 pounds for a blue catfish or 25.3 pounds for a flathead, I did catch a beautiful, 4½-pound crappie, and my 3-year-old grandson caught his first fish, a 3¾-pound crappie.

This 'n' that

Deer season is winding down, finishing up on Jan. 1, but there's no reason to leave the woods this month. The rut has stopped, and bucks who ranged far and wide, looking for a "quality" mate will return to their home ranges.

He is back, primarily looking for the food he has ignored since October. He will sniff around, often finding a stranger in his area, eventually chasing away the younger buck and settling down.

During this period of fighting and resettling, the big buck will be distracted, giving you one last shot for an excellent and possible record-breaking harvest.

Many hunters feel that December is the best time to hunt, since bugs, snakes or alligators are usually missing in action. But December can bring other factors that can have a negative effect on a hunter, including one that will cause much discomfort.

Yes, we will have rain, but did you forget it would be freezing rain? The kind of rain that sticks to you bones. The type that once it hits your bare skin it feels like hundreds of bee stinking at the same time. And did I forget to mention it would be cold?

Ice will make it tough to climb into your tree stand. Occasionally, we will have a December snowfall, which certainly changes the situation. Both make for cold days. But, if you have scouted properly, you will not be in your stand for too long.

Despite deer season ending on New Year's Day, a lot of hunters won't store their dog boxes until after the Grand American Coon Hunting Festival the second Saturday of January in Orangeburg.

But, we will hold to store our dog boxes until after the Grand American Coon Hunting Festival that will be held in Orangeburg as it does every year the second Saturday of January.