When Moultrie's bass and other gamefish move extra shallow, the fishing becomes more visual, with fish relating to cypress trees, shoreline vegetation and other visible cover in sloughs and on main banks along the lake's perimeter. At other times, most of the best fishing happens offshore, and an understanding of what lies beneath the surface becomes invaluable.
February actually stands out as a "best of both worlds" time at Lake Moultrie, with bass and some crappie shallow and relating to visible cover and the catfish, stripers and more largemouths serving up good fishing away from the bank.
Kevin Davis, co-owner of Black's Camp and a veteran Santee Cooper guide, likes late winter/early spring both because of the widely varied opportunities and because fishing pressure tends to be light. Whether he's up in a slough casting plastics for largemouth bass or anchored over offshore structure with cut bait out for blue catfish, Davis anticipates good fishing and minimal company this time of the year.
Most of Davis' favorite early-season spots are at least somewhat shallow and in the vicinity of the lake's perimeter, but they go all the way around the lake. A tour of Davis' February hotspots begins at the mouth of the Diversion Canal, where the Moultrie's main water source enters, and works counterclockwise.
1 - Mouth of Diversion Canal
33 20 871N/ 80 06 070W
It makes good sense to begin at the mouth of Diversion Canal, not only because it's where many anglers enter the lake, but because it stands out as one of the finest places to catch fish of various sorts.
"You can always catch fish at the mouth of the canal, and early in the year, it's a really good place to hook into a big catfish," Davis said. "I've personally caught a few over 50 pounds from right here."
The best fishing occurs when current is flowing through the canal and pushing out across the many humps on both sides of the channel. Davis will anchor just upstream of a hump and put big chunks of cut bait on the bottom, staggering cast lengths so a couple baits rest right on top of a hump and others settle on the backside.
The mouth of the canal also produces quite a few striped bass during February as the stripers tend be just beginning their migration upstream through the Santee Cooper system, moving toward the rivers where they will eventually spawn.
2 - Flat in Front of Black's Camp
33 20 261N/80 06 359W
February always brings some warm, sunny days, and on those days, the blue catfish congregate on big, shallow flats like the one that's directly in front of Black's Camp. Davis, of course, appreciates the short boat ride to this flat, but what he appreciates most is the fast shallow-water action he sometimes finds this time of year.
"The whole area is shallow - about three to eight feet deep - but it has a lot of little ups and downs. Find the depressions, anchor a cast's distance away, and cast to them with cut bait." Davis said.
Largemouth bass regularly use of the same humps and ditches early in the year. Dragging a jig or a Carolina rig is a good way to find them.
3 - Moorfield Swamp
33 19 022N/80 07 123W
The main run through this submerged swamp provides great structure and a big range of depths in close proximity for crappie and bass as they begin moving toward shallower water early in the spring. Abundant brush placed by fishermen provides the primary cover for both the crappie and the bass.
A vertical approach works nicely for the crappie this month. Davis finds brush with his electronics, holds his boat over the brush with his trolling motor and then "counts down" jigs or minnows so he can suspend them in the tops of the brushpiles.
If he's looking for bass, Davis will keep the boat moving, normally following the edge of the swamp run and fishing both above and below the drop with a jig-and-chunk combination or a slow-rolled spinnerbait.4 -Tiny Lund's Slough
33 19 663N/80 07 925W
Stumps line both sides of this well-defined slough, which is alternatively known as Jackson's Run, and the main run is unofficially marked by posts. Tiny Lund's Slough averages about six feet deep, but the center of the lower main run has some 20-foot water, so the fish find a nice range of depths in a small area and good ledges.
Bass stage in the lower end of the run and spawn on both sides of the upper end. In the upper slough, the stumps may be out of the water, depending on the lake level. Davis said that a good approach would be to simply follow the edge of the run well up into the slough and fish stumps with a plastic worm or a square-billed crankbait. Given decent water clarity, look for bedding fish close to every visible stump in the upper end of the run, especially toward the end of the month. Crappie also use stumps in the lower end of the slough during February.
5 - Duck Pond
33 17 084N/80 09 221W
The Duck Pond actually consists of two ponds, both connected to the main lake and accessible by a single, narrow opening. Abundant cypress, varied vegetation and protection from main-lake wind and boat waves combine to provide outstanding spawning habitat for largemouth bass in the Duck Pond, and the fish are normally either staging or spawning in the ponds by February.
"It is classic spring bass fishing in there," Davis said. "You'll find a lot of grass, and when the fishing gets right, every spot that looks like it should hold a bass does hold a bass."
Because of all the shallow water and vegetation, the Duck Pond lends itself well to fishing with Texas-rigged worms and other soft-plastic offerings or to working with a spinnerbait. A jig works well for targeting fish on beds.
6 - Hatchery Humps
33 16 576N/80 03 883W
A group of humps in front of the Hatchery produces consistently good opportunities for blue catfish during early spring. Cypress stumps litter the tops of the humps and provide quality cover for the cats. Most humps top out five or 10 feet deep but have about 25 feet of water around them.
Davis typically begins by doing some searching with his graph. Numerous humps in the area have similar offerings, and the best one varies from day to day, based largely on where the most baitfish are concentrated. Therefore, Davis searches both for cats and baitfish schools before he picks a starting spot.
Davis typically anchors along one side of a hump because that allows him to place some baits right on top and stagger others down the slope into deeper water. He typically uses simple bottom rigs and baits his hooks with chunks of cut herring. If the fish don't cooperate, Davis will usually try another hump or two before leaving the area.
7 - Hog Swamp
33 15 217N/80 02 342W
Hog Swamp probably got its name from pigs of the "land" variety long before Lake Moultrie was built, but it could have been spelled Hawg Swamp and been named for the heavyweight bass this flooded swamp yields to fishermen every spring. In addition to largemouths, which stage in the lower swamp very early in the year and move gradually up it as they prepare to spawn, catfish make use of the swamp's main run, hanging both above and below the channel drop.
Abundant submerged stumps and a fairly broad range of bottom depths make Hog Swamp a good area to work with a Carolina rig, which works nicely for covering a lot of water and following bottom contours. Good choices for faster presentations include a spinnerbait and crankbait designed to roll off wood without getting hung.
Davis mostly targets catfish in the lower end of the swamp where the water is a little deeper. During February, he normally opts for a stationary approach, anchoring along the edge of the main run and putting cut bait on the bottom, with some baits above the drop and others in the deeper water.
8 - Rim Canal
33 15 053N/80 05 647W
Bass cover lines both banks of the Rim Canal, which borders the Hatchery, and February is prime time to pitch a plastic worm into that cover. The Hatchery itself is an important spawning area, so fish make heavy use of the canal before and after they spawn. Several cuts in the dike that divides the Canal and the Hatchery warrant extra careful attention.
A simple, Texas-rigged plastic worm ranks among the best lures for working cover along the edges of the Rim Canal. Davis also mentioned Senkos and crankbaits. A square-billed crankbait lends itself well to working the canal's plentiful shallow cover.
The Rim Canal also produces good catches of catfish, especially channel cats and smaller blues. Good bait choices include commercially produced dip baits and small pieces of shad and herring fished on the bottom, especially in the vicinity of the cuts.
9 - Stumpy Point
33 20 444N/80 01 444W
The name pretty well says it all. Stumpy Point is an extremely long point that runs way out into Lake Moultrie, with stumps lining the top of the structure. The exposed portion is well defined and easy to see, but it's important for fishermen to realize that the structure extends a long way out and provides a tremendous amount of good fish habitat.
Largemouths make heavy use of the top and the sides, and a bass fishermen could easily spend a couple of hours just working Stumpy Point, starting with shoreline cover and fishing it all the way to the end. Dragging a jig or a Carolina-rigged lizard or finesse worm across the top of the point allows an angler to work subtle contours, get among the stumps and cover a lot of territory. Davis also likes to work a jerkbait off the sides of Stumpy Point during February.
The end of the point, which is submerged under about 10 feet of water at normal full pool, also stand out as a good place to catch blue catfish early in the year. Again, Davis favors a stationary approach. He'll anchor over the top of the point so he can fan casts in different directions and explore a variety of depths at the same time.
10 - Powerhouse Slough
33 21 926N/80 05 594W
The combination of eelgrass, abundant stumps and a network of ditches makes Powerhouse Slough an ideal holding area for early-season bass and therefore a fun place to fish during February.
"Because the bass hide in the eelgrass, this is an ideal place to throw a Senko," Davis said. "Make long casts to stumps and any breaks in the grass, let the bait sink and watch your line."
Davis also suggested a Carolina-rigged lizard for working the bottoms of the slough's many ditches, especially toward the outer end of the slough, where the bass stage prior to the spawn. Given warm enough February days for fish to be moving onto beds, look for bass around stumps in the shallower water, farther up into the slough.
Guide Kevin Davis can be contacted at Black's Camp at 843-753-2231 or http://www.blackscamp.com/home.html.