With cooler weather settling in, most fish species are locked into winter patterns, but that doesn't mean the fishing has cooled off. In fact, the fish on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie get red hot for some species this month, and the action will last until after the first of the year.

The early part of December is typically filled with lots of striper activity - and excellent surface-schooling activity - according to a number of fishermen and guides. As the month progresses, the fishing for what is often referred to as 'Christmas catfish' heats up as well. With water temperatures dropping, the shad begin to congregate into big pods, and both stripers and catfish will key on these forage fish.

The old adage of "Find the forage, and you'll find the fish" is never more true than in December on the Santee Cooper lakes. In fact, many fishermen rely almost completely on the location of forage, not concerned about the depth or bottom structure that's beneath the shad.

With the striper fishing making a big comeback, a lot of fishermen will be targeting these fish. Typically, the early part of December brings some of the best schooling of the entire fall season.

Long-time guide Truman Lyon (866-631-6801) said the striper fishing begins to peak as the schools of shad begin to really bunch up.

"Before the water temperature gets too cold, the striper will herd these scattered pods of shad into big groups and push them to the surface for easy pickings," Lyon said. "The topwater action can been heard a long way off on a calm day, and if it's windy, you can usually see the gulls circling and diving to show you where the action is. Casting bucktails, swimming-minnow lures and topwaters will usually produce quick results.

"However, drifting live bait over these areas after the fish stop surface feeding is a great way to add quality fish to the boat. A lot of fishermen miss out on this action."

Water temperature is a key factor, and sometimes, late in the month or in January, the action will slow, but the catfishing will go from good to great almost overnight. Guide Buster Rush (803-432-5010) the fishing for the catfish usually gets excellent by early-to-mid-December.

"The catfish focus on the pods of shad, and as the water temperature drops, the catfish begin to orient to the shad schools," Rush said. "It is at this point of the season when the catfish become very predictable in terms of where to fish. Our best strategy is to motor along looking for big clouds of baitfish on our graph, and you'll actually often see the predator fish along the edges of the big schools.

"We'll set up right there and fan-cast multiple rods around the boat. If we don't get some bites pretty quick, we'll move again and repeat the process until we do get into some biting fish.

"Some fishermen talk about finding the huge schools of shad all concentrated in one big glob, but I actually prefer to find an area where there are several bunches of smaller pods of shad. This usually means these shad have been broken up from a big school for some reason and that reason is likely a bunch of blue catfish feeding on them."

The largemouth bass action is also good according to Inky Davis (803-478-7289), who guides on both lakes but mostly on Lake Marion. He said that the December patterns can change quite a bit, but the fish will often still be found in relatively shallow water.

"The key in December is to move around a lot, fishing different cover and depths until you find a pattern for the day," Davis said. "I've made some excellent catches in December, and it's a good month for quality fish. However, fishermen do need to slow down the presentation a bit, work the bait slower and sometimes along the edges of deeper water. But it can be a very good time to get a big fish bite as well as catching numbers of fish.

"During December, I'll often fish area the entire lake system. Much of my fishing early in the fall ins in the upper part of Lake Marion, and that's still a good spot, but I've found plenty of good fishing in Wyboo and Potato Creeks in recent (Decembers). Plus, the fishing pressure for largemouth drops a good bit at this time of the year."