It’s winter, but spring fishing isn’t far away at Santee
Despite the winter weather typically associated with February, the trend for improved fishing brings tangible results in February to the Santee Cooper lakes. February on Santee usually begins with largemouth bass and crappie in a sluggish “can-be-caught” mode. But by the middle to the end of the month, some early, prespawn movement occurs.
Adapt for Success
Largemouth bass action is not red hot early in the month. But it can be an excellent time to hook trophy fish. Stevie Pack at Pack’s Landing said that in a typical winter, bass in the upper end of Lake Marion are usually a couple of weeks ahead of fish in the lower end of the lake and in Lake Moultrie.
“Bass fishermen do well with bottom-bumping baits by fishing trees and stumps along the edges of deeper swamp runs as well as in moderate depths in the open water flats around stumps, logs and trees,” Pack said. “The bite may not be fast-paced, but is generally consistent.”
Working spinnerbaits and crankbaits around wooden and weedy cover is also effective. But the retrieve needs to be slower in the colder water. Another tip is to use smaller baits in the upper end of the lake this time of year. Big bass are more willing to chow down on smaller baits in February.
Live bait is good for bass and crappie
“Also, fishing live shiners around wooden cover in February produces some really big bass,” he said.
Crappie fishing in the upper end can actually be very good, depending on the severity of the winter and the water temperature, according to Pack (803-452-5514).
“It’s not unusual to see some good results from crappie even in late January and through February,” he said. “You’ll catch crappie by working minnows or jigs around shallow cover adjacent to deeper holes in the upper end of the lake. When a front passes through we may have to back off to fishing brush or other woody cover in 10 to 12 feet deep.”
“The trick is to adapt to prevailing conditions,” Pack said. “Water temperature, color and amount of current will dictate where fish are found. But typically, bass and crappie fishing is good and improving in February.”
No magical day exists when fishing action begins to morph from winter to early spring patterns. Guide Brett Mitchell said sometime around the middle of February, a positive change occurs.
“I’m on the water a lot. And at some point, a change in the overall trend of bass fishing action occurs in February,” he said. “In some years when water conditions are right, we’ll have prespawn activity by late in the month. But even without that, more big bass start making moves toward shallower water.
Mitchell (803-379-7029) said one of the keys to success is to be forward-thinking in the cold weather of February.
“We’re still usually fishing in cold weather in February. But overall, the trend is usually a slowly warming water temperature,” he said. “I certainly fish the 6- to 10-foot depth range where much of the action occurs in January. But I’ll also start checking shallower areas as well.”
Big bass will bite this month
Mitchell said multiple targets hold bass during February, but in and around depressions, wooden cover and rocks are prime targets. February is an overlooked time for big bass.
“Big bass are on the move this month,” he said. “Don’t let the cold keep you off the water. Bass are prepping for the typical March move into the shallows. They’re just staging a bit deeper right now.”
Mitchell said the transition to shallower water in February is not usually dramatic unless the area has experienced an unusually warm winter.
“But the overall pattern is moving forward toward the prespawn and spawn. And by occasionally checking areas more typically associated with early March, I begin to pick up a few bass. And they’re usually quality fish,” he said.
Troll for prespawn slabs
Guide Stevie English said when water conditions get right during the early spring, he’ll long-line troll for crappie. It’s an often-overlooked tactic on the Santee Cooper lakes.
“With all the cover and standing trees, the options for long-line trolling are limited to some extent. But a number of places do set up well for this tactic,” he said.
Conditions must be right, but crappie will get into a prespawn pattern of staging in slightly deeper water before the spawn and some open-water areas such as stump-filled flats. The edges of drops can also be excellent.
English (843-709-8138) will troll multiple rigs with jigs varying in size from 1/64- to 1/8-ounce, usually tipped with a minnow. He experiments with different colors and varies the speed until he finds the right combination.