Mid-October is an explosive month for fishing at Santee Cooper, specifically for stripers and largemouth bass. A favored and productive tactic for both is employing topwater lures to provoke thrashing, explosive bites.
The striper season re-opens on Oct. 1 after a summer closure. And the pattern is usually a wide open, exciting topwater bite over schools of forage. The largemouth bass are following shad and will be schooling throughout both lakes.
Striper fishing guide Jon Mercer said the typical scenario for striper fishing when the season reopens is for fish to be schooling heavily.
“The trick is finding the stripers and schools of baitfish,” Mercer said. “The stripers move a lot during a day when searching food. And they travel long distances quickly. So the location of surface schooling action can change daily. Seagulls will feed on the shad pushed to the surface by the stripers, and they can be spotted from long distances. In fact, if no boats are running nearby, you can hear the gulls squawking when they are actively diving and feeding on shad.”
Mercer (910-724-3845; No Mercy Fishing Charters) guides out of Blacks Camp and employs multiple tactics to catch October stripers.
He said when stripers are surface schooling, topwater lures are effective, and so are jigging 1-ounce spoons. Casting bucktails is productive, and letting them sink a bit deeper, they’ll continue to catch fish for a short period after the surface action stops before stripers leave the area.
“When stripers aren’t surface schooling, I hunt them with my electronics and drift live bait,” he said. “I prefer blueback herring and I’ll lower the bait to the depth, or slightly above, where fish are marked.”
Mercer recommends getting on the water early to find fish surface feeding because conditions are typically more favorable for topwater action in low light.
Shallow for bass
The largemouth bite is excellent in October. Schooling action becomes an expected part of a day of bass fishing. Fishermen keep rods rigged with topwater lures, or heavy tail spinner lures they can cast long distances.
Bass Fishing guide and tournament pro Kyle Austin said bass are structure and shad oriented this month.
“Bass are generally shallow and are holding around various forms of woody and weedy cover in both lakes,” he said. “By October, the bite is aggressive because so many schools of shad are available. Bass will surface school for brief periods throughout the day. And anglers rigged and ready to cast lures into this surface feeding action can catch several bass in this manner during a day of fishing.”
Austin (843-209-3726) said soft plastics worked around weeds and woody cover are very effective when searching for fish that are not schooling. Also, topwater lures worked around weed points and edges, and isolated trees, are effective.
“Stay patient during October,” he said. “It’s not unusual to experience slow periods of activity, then find an area stacked with bass that’ll provide awesome action. Bass are going to stack up in areas where forage is abundant. So make that a priority during the trip.”
Hot crappie bite
The crappie bite is primarily deepwater fishing over brush, stumps, and other forms of crappie-attracting cover. October typically produces outstanding catches of super-slabs, with some pushing 3 pounds.
Kevin Davis, a longtime Santee Cooper fisherman, said October ranks high among his favorite periods of the year for slab-crappie action.
“Crappie are in a strong pattern during October and they’re locked into water depths ranging from 15- to 35-feet deep and orienting around heavy cover,” he said. “Brushpiles on both lakes are productive. I’ll tightline minnows around the top and along the sides of the brush until I get a depth pattern. Then I work that depth diligently. Fishing small jigs vertically is also effective.”
Davis said many anglers overlook the opportunity to fish the numerous public fish attractors located in both lakes.
“October is a prime time to fish these fish attractors, and many have been recently re-worked. So odds are high crappie will congregate on them,” he said. “I fish and catch crappie on them. Santee Cooper Country Tourism has maps with coordinates available on their website at www.santeecoopercountry.org.”
Slab time: October is a great month for catching some true slabs at Santee. Fish in the 3-pound range are not uncommon catches in the fall.