Santee Cooper’s December smorgasbord

Bull bream are caught from deep water in December with fast-action and big numbers common. (Picture by Terry Madewell)

December weather cools the air temperature but not the fishing success on the Santee Cooper lakes. The year-ending month ranks high for multiple species to provide excellent fishing.

Numerous options can make decisions difficult and while planning a fishing trip with Stacey Weatherford from Moncks Corner, a life-long Santee Cooper angler, we went pro and con on the best options.

Weatherford solved it by suggesting we fish for multiple species on the trip and see how that scenario played.

“I’ll bring the rigs and we’ll start with small fish and work our progression to big fish,” he said. “If we want to focus on a specific target, we can do that at any point during the day.”

Bulls and slabs

Bream fishing for bedding fish is the reason landings are full of johnboat trailers during the spring. But when cool weather sets in, bream fishing pressure tapers.

“After bed-fishing ends many anglers think bream fishing is finished,” Weatherford said. “But that’s not the case. December can serve up some of the fastest and most productive bream fishing of the year.”

When targeting bream Weatherford prefers brush at the base of open water ledges, in water depths ranging from 15 to 36 feet deep. He’ll place a lot of his own bream brush piles, but he said the public fish attractors located around the lake are effective in concentrating big bream.

“The bream bite is usually aggressive. And while crickets are my preferred bait, on some days, I literally have to thread redworms on the hook because the big bream will steal crickets as the bait drops to the target depth,” he said. “They have to work harder to steal my worm, so I take both baits.”

Weatherford positions the boat directly above the target and vertically tightlines with spinning gear loaded with 10-pound test line, with a couple of split shots about 8 inches above a No. 4 wire hook.

“After a few minutes of fishing, bream usually move shallower in the water column and are often only 5 to 8 feet under the boat,” Weatherford said. “It’s ridiculously good fishing because it’s like having huge bream in a cricket-eating competition right under the boat. This is the scenario where you want to bring a youngster to fish.”

Weatherford said the deep-water brush attracts crappies but he typically doesn’t find these fish loaded on the same brush as the bream.

“They are certainly found together at times, but the best scenario for me is to find bull bream on one brush pile and slab crappies on another.

“I generally expect to find crappie deeper and on different brush,” he said. “By December, when you find the crappie, the slabs often congregate and we can occasionally catch multiple fish from a single brush pile.”

Weatherford tightlines live minnows, or a jig and minnow combo, under the boat at the depth crappie are graphed.

Striper and Catfish

Catfish are good options at Santee all year long, and anglers catch plenty of them in December. (Picture by Terry Madewell)

After working the deep brush for the panfish species, Weatherford said it’s time to feast on larger and more aggressive predators including stripers and catfish.

“Striper action is sweet in December, with topwater schooling and live bait fishing for deep, suspended fish both excellent tactics,” he said.

He scans the lake for seagull activity as these birds often betray the location of feeding stripers. If they school on a calm morning, you can hear them a long distance away.

Topwater lures are worked in schooling fish and produce savage bites, as do flutter spoons, bucktail jigs and large Roadrunners.

“If the fish aren’t schooling, drop live, blueback herring to the depth fish are marked on the graph as the backup plan,” Weatherford said.

He’ll often drift fish for stripers in areas where scattered schools are marked. But when he locates a general area where stripers are stacked like pancakes, he’ll anchor.

After the stripers, we finished the day drifting for catfish in deep water with Santee Rigs. A variety of baits are productive, but left-over herring are generally too tempting for big catfish to ignore. Since our first stop was on brush for bream, we saved some bream, and the always-willing-to-bite white perch, as potential cut bait options.

Weatherford prefers to drift deep water for December catfish, typically from 20 to 45 feet deep. And he primarily fishes ledges in this deep water.

“My plan is to be fishing up and down ledges connecting shallower to deeper water,” he said. “The ledges with significant depth changes are ideal because this provides catfish a wide option of depth preferences. We can get on some strong catfish patterns this month.”

For more information on Santee Cooper December fishing, contact Santee Cooper Country at https://www.santeecoopercountry.org.


Mix it up:

Many anglers pigeon-hole themselves into fishing for one certain species all day long. But with cold-weather uncertainties, it’s a good idea this month to hit the water prepared to try several different species, which can lead to some very fun fishing.

About Terry Madewell 756 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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