Besides trees putting on new leaves and birds chirping, spring brings the spawn to Santee Cooper. It's this time of the year that the bees are not the only buzz on the lakes - and few people knows this better than Inky Davis.
Davis has been fishing Santee for many years, searching "shallow flats and coves," looking for bass around virtually every bit of "grass, lily pads, stumps, logs, docks, boat ramps, cypress and tupelo trees, willow and button bushes," he can find. He said that to be successful, you must be willing to "use a lot of different lures until you find the one that the bass wants to hit."
Davis said April is a great month for bass fishermen on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, as fish are in all three phases of the spawn: before, during and after.
When he's working the shallows in his bass boat, Davis pays close attention to anything he sees that looks out of place.
"You want to cast at any movement; it could be a bass on or near a bed that you can't see or a bass that might be ready to eat," he said.
"You may cast into these areas and also see a lot of fry scattering. This usually this means there will be bigger bass nearby either wanting to protect the fry or eat them, so again, cast away."
For fishermen who want to target bream and crappie, there's good news: the fishing is great in April.
Most crappie are caught using minnows during this "hot" season. The spring spawn is the first time of the year that crappie will show up in full force, travelling from deeper water into the shallows to warm up and spawn. When a female crappie deposits her eggs, she'll head back to deep water.
Bream are also ready to move shallow, although their spawn will be a little later than crappie. And bream tend to spawn in big groups, which is why you'll see shallow flats that are dotted with dish-shaped depressions; those are beds the bream have made to spawn. Another difference is, when a female bream spawns, she'll stay in the vicinity to protect the fry.
Panfish are relatively easy to target; they can be found around docks, piers and brushpiles, and they are shallow to super shallow. Two really good lures to use are Beetle Spins and Roostertails. From my experiences during the spring spawning period, "shallow" can mean anything from five to 10 feet deep. "Super shallow" is a place that a boat can barely get into - a foot to five feet deep.
It's hard to talk about spring fishing and not include catfish. Spring is the season to catch large catfish, which will even be shallow. In the Santee Cooper lakes, there will be a percentage of all species of fish that will spawn during the first "wave" and others that usually spawn in two more groups. That's a cycle that even affects catfish.
With the higher lake levels we've had this year, we could be gearing up to be one of the best spawns in years. Kevin Davis, who owns Black's Camp, feels like the low water levels and drought of 2007 will play a big role.
"The drought has allowed thousands of acres to be covered with beneficial vegetation, and as a result, we are predicting a boom in fish population," Davis said.
Capt. Darryl Smith feels like a good spring fishing season will help the economy around the lakes. When visiting fishermen learn from local guides and local fishermen how to better fish Santee Cooper, that "puts heads in beds, in restaurants, in gas stations, and buying sports equipment."
That's one reason he doesn't mind dispensing advice to fishermen, even those that don't take trips with him.
"My job is to help put people on fish, whether they are with me or not," he said.
On Feb. 23, the Santee Cooper community lost a giant.
Capt. John Sellars, who guided on the lakes for 30 years, passed away. He was once called one of the five best catfishermen in the world by Sports Afield magazine. Many of us referred to him as "Big John."
He was a Korean War veteran, a member of the VFW and Action Wildlife, and he was a well-respected member of the community in Cross, his hometown. He was 77 years old, and all of us will surely miss this "gentle giant."