During the winter, blue catfish, crappie and largemouth bass tend to migrate in the lakes. Capt. Kevin Davis of Blacks Fish Camp on Lake Moultrie said, "This lake is an ideal setting for blue catfish, and the blue catfish have grown to outlandish sizes in recent years. One reason is that there's a great forage base of shad in this lake. Many anglers and guides have been catching and releasing catfish that are weighing in the 80 and 90 pound range."
A catfish around 95 pounds was caught and released in December, and four more that weighed between 80 and 85 pounds were caught and released.
Capt. Dave Broome said that March might be even better.
"In March, 40- to 50-pound class fish will be the normal, with at least three or four per day," Broome said.
One of Santee Coopers newest guides, Capt. Jim Kyle, said deep water is the key.
"The deep holes are the focal points, but that is not exactly where I usually fish," he said. "The close proximity to deep water is a key to success. I like to fish along the edges of these holes where the old river channels wind through the upper the lake.
"Look for the edgelines where the river drops quickly into deep holes."
Most guides feel that if you have the deep-water access and plenty of forage, big blues are likely to be in the area. They also feel that catfish won't be alone; don't be shy about fishing for crappie, bass or stripers.
Bait selection is the key
"The bait is also critical to success," Kyle said. "Big blues eat a lot of different things, but there are some things they seem to prefer. The best all-around, consistently producing wintertime bait I've found is cut bait, specifically white perch."
Crappies tend to bite a variety of baits, while largemouth bass will start hitting topwater baits more often. Stripers are still hitting live baits being trolled slowly.
"You need to have some patience," Davis said. "If I'm not getting any activity, not even catching smaller fish or not getting small-fish tugs, then I'll seldom give a spot much more than 30 minutes. I may not move far, but I'll move."
Other guides and fishermen will make a big move up or down the lakes if things just don't look right. The key is to remember you're actually fishing, and it's important to give the fish time to bite.
While venturing out and speaking to people around the lakes, they feel that not a lot of fishermen have truly found out how great this fishery is - the spot where a few state records, as well as a world record, have been caught.
Slab slapping or bass busting
Most fishermen own a tackle box loaded with feather or hair jigs, as well as jig heads, grubs and tubes in every color combination imaginable. But once you're out on your favorite crappie fishing hole in the spring, do you know what color to reach for? Or are all of these multi-hued lures designed to please only the fisherman?
Fish do see colors. Almost all species except those living in the deepest, darkest waters see color as well as we do, if not better. The trick is in knowing what color, or combination of colors, works best for varying conditions. The time of day and the amount of sunlight or cloud cover affects the amount of light that filters down through the water column. The level of light reaching the depth where fish are determines what colors they'll see well. With luck, they'll bite!
Most anglers know that water clarity plays an important role in your choice of lure color. But the depth you're fishing also plays a part in what hues to choose. Less light filters down to 15 or even 20 feet of water, and at that depth, fish see colors differently than they can in shallower water.
Color selection is important; fish can detect reds, pinks or oranges, accounting for the large number of lures that are brightly colored. If you fish on a cloudy, overcast day or in heavily-stained water, darker colors work better. A black body with a chartreuse tail is a good choice. In muddy water, darker colors are more visible. On bright, sunny days or in clear to lightly-stained water, blue-and-white or white-and-chartreuse are combos to throw.
Crappie may prefer a bait that's dead still, with maybe a little shake here and there, or perhaps a sideways movement. Bass tend to bite while an angler is using a variable retrieve. Don't be afraid to experiment!
When I was a youngster learning to fish for crappie and bream, my grandfather taught me that versatility and patience often translates into success. If lures enticed fish, all was fine - lures is what I used. However, if lures didn't produce, it was time for another come-on, usually live bait. I learned that fish are enticed by a wide variety of lures that they nail nearly as often as do live bait. To make the most of your spring fishing outings, along with trying "something different," give these lures a try this season.
• Charlie Brewer Weedless Crappie Slider: When properly rigged, the hook point on a slider jig will be buried in the grub. While drifting, work the bait vertically beside the boat using a lift-and-drop action.
• Johnson Beetle Spin: This is an incomparable lure, a sure-fire panfish and bass bait. Snap on the spinner and use it to fish all sorts of cover and structure. The 1/32nd-ounce model is ideal for catching lots of smaller fish, no matter what their species. But when trophy fish are what you want, don't hesitate to try the larger versions, too. The fish you hook are likely to be keepers.
• Mister Twister Curlytail Grub: The undulating tail of this classic gets the attention of every fish. You can buy grubs alone or pre-rigged with jig heads or spinners. They come in three sizes ideal for crappie: the 1-inch Li'l Bit, the 2-inch Teenie and the 3-inch Meenie.
• Tiny Trap: I like fishing lipless crankbaits, and one of my favorites is the eighth-ounce Tiny Trap. I often use it when fish are suspended around deep ledges, bridge pilings, sunken islands, bluffs and isolated brushpiles.
• Minnow-tipped jighead: I recently found a new method to fish minnows, hooking them through the lips with a leadhead jig. A great idea is to use a slip bobber at different depths to place the minnow above suspended fish.
Tournaments are back
While lake levels were at record lows last year, many tournaments canceled. This year, water levels are much higher, and tournament schedules are closer to normal. Hill's Landing will hold a 2-day catfish tournament the first weekend of March. The following weekend, Cabela's will hold its annual King Kat Qualifier at Blacks Fish Camp.
Randolph's Landing will also hold its annual 2-day Spring Tournament this month.