April: the shallow month at Santee

Santee shallow
Panfish action is awesome in April on the Santee Cooper lakes, with plenty of shallow cover available. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Bass, crappie, panfish are great targets this month

April ushers in awesome shallow-water fishing for several high-profile species in the Santee Cooper lakes, and the odds of hooking fat fish in skinny water are extremely high.

On the skinny water diet menu are huge largemouth bass, typically the first big rush of shellcrackers and bream to shallow bedding areas and slab crappie caught from the shallows to mid-depths.

Bass Bite is Strong

The excellent skinny water bass bite that began in March continues through April, with fish now typically found in prespawn, spawn and post-spawn phases. Specific spots for each may differ, but the basic pattern is that the majority of the fat bass are in skinny water.

Chatterbaits, bottom-bumpers, spinnerbaits and crankbaits are all effective depending on the specific target and depth fished. And don’t limit your search to just wood or weed cover, as some big fish bass will relate to the rocks along the long stretches of riprap in both lakes. Fish these rocks shallow at first — crankbaits are excellent — but one exception to the shallow-water rule can be huge bass holding slightly deeper at the base of these stretches of riprap. Bottom-bumping lures and big spinnerbaits can rule that world.

Not all riprap is created equal. Target areas where the rocks turn, creating a bend, as well as area where the water is even slightly deeper than the surrounding areas.

Shallow panfish

April is a very active month for panfish on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, with shellcrackers and bream making a major move to the shallows for spawning. Hardcore shellcracker anglers usually catch some quality fish in March in warm winters, but with the next full moon early, on April 8, this bodes well for a mass movement to the shallows for huge shellcrackers and bream.

The tactics are simple, fun and highly effective. Fish shallow cover, including cypress trees, weedbeds, logs, stumps — essentially anything that holds still — in water from very skinny down to 5 feet.

Most experts use a 10- to 12-foot, lightweight pole and swing, flip or sling-shot the bait to targets. Often, small openings in weedbeds and around cypress and gum trees hold multiple huge bream or shellcrackers. The basic pattern is to get in the right depth of water in areas with a firm bottom substrate and start fishing every nook and cranny.

Guide Steve English said April is prime time to target Santee Cooper’s slab crappie as they finish spawning and head back to deep water. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Stay on the move until you find fish. When you catch a big panfish, work that area hard before moving on.

Light spinning gear will work, but some of the best targets may be difficult to reach with this tackle because of the thick cover these big panfish prefer. But you can still usually catch plenty of fish.

If you’re targeting shellcrackers, live redworms are the best bait, and you’ll catch plenty of big bream along the way. Crickets excel for bream, but if you catch a shellcracker on a cricket, work that area with redworms as well. A good rule of thumb is to carry both.

Slabs still strong

Crappie action is strong in April, and these fish are on the move. Some yummy leftovers from late arrivals for shallow-water crappie spawning offer anglers the opportunity to feast on this species in the shallows, particularly early in April with an early full moon.

Guide Stevie English (843-709-8138) said some days, it requires a good bit of searching to find these often highly mobile fish, but plenty of huge crappies are still available.

“I may try long-line trolling in some areas early in the month, but also the brush piles near drops and ledges attract crappie in big numbers during April,” English said.

“When long-ling trolling, I’ll work fairly shallow water along the edges of channels and drops, pulling small jigs — some with minnow trailers, some just small jigs,” he said. “This is a strong pattern earlier in the year, but it can still produce during April.

English said another dependable pattern is fishing woody cover at 8- to 12-foot depths as papermouths begin their trek back to deeper water.

“Fishing the brush is often a game of patience, and sometimes we catch several fish on multiple brush piles,” he said. “It’s just as likely we’ll fish a couple spots and hit one that’s loaded with fish, and the action is crazy good. During April, it works either way. The crappie action is very good, it may take a bit of searching to find the right spot.”

Santee Cooper’s abundant shallow-water wonderland is your ticket to be at the right place at the right time for great skinny-water fishing. Go now.

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Terry Madewell
About Terry Madewell 719 Articles
Award-winning writer and photographer Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C., has been an outdoors writer for more than 30 years. He has a degree in wildlife and fisheries management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager.

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