Stay on top of May bass at Santee

Santee bass
Guide Brett Mitchell said that topwater action for bass can be tremendous on the Santee Cooper lakes in May. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Santee’s shad spawn kicks off a great month for surface lures.

Fishing is wide open on the Santee Cooper lakes in May, including explosive topwater fishing wide-open for frisky largemouth bass. Fishing is excellent for crappie, bream, stripers and catfish, but May consistently offers some of best topwater Santee bass action of the year.   

Guide Brett Mitchell said May offers anglers the opportunity to catch bass from dawn to dusk by fishing on multiple topwater lures.

Spawning shad

“Without a doubt, my favorite May fishing pattern is early morning topwater fishing around the spawning shad schools,” Mitchell said. “When I can get on this situation, it’s ‘golden’ in terms of potential largemouth bass action.

“The shad are spawning around weedy cover in shallow water and around shallow shoreline areas in general, and the schools are usually moving. This baitfish spawning frenzy is super attractive to bass, including big bass, and they’re ready to eat. And when I say eat, I mean it’s serious chow time.” 

Mitchell (803-379-7029), who guides out of Black’s Camp and fishes both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, said the shad bite usually only lasts for a couple of hours, and then it’s over until the next morning. But this two-hour baitfish pattern can provide incredible action.

“I typically begin using a Heddon Zara Spook or the smaller Puppy version,” he said. “The walk-the-dog action creates exciting bites and if the bite is aggressive enough, I’ll use the large bait. But if the fish are even a bit finicky, I’ll run the smaller lure. I keep up with the shad and stay on the move as they move.”

If the shad spawn action slows in one spot he’ll quickly move to other areas where he’s recently had success. This pattern occurs throughout both lakes, but only in select spots, so finding and staying on top of these productive areas is a key.

“I’ll work the shad pattern as long as it holds, but usually by 8:30 in the morning, it’s over, and I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to do it again,” he said. “But it’s not the end of productive topwater fishing on Santee Cooper in May.”

Topwater choices

Mitchell said May is the one month when he feels he can effectively fish topwater lures throughout the day, and success often comes using a diverse array of lures. 

“This may surprise some fishermen, but I’ve tracked it, and using topwater lures does not diminish the potential to catch huge bass during May; it enhances your opportunity,” he said. “Using a variety of lures including non-topwater lures may produce more bites on a given day, but I’ve found by sticking with surface lures, I’ll catch more big fish than on any other pattern during May.”

After the early morning shad bite ends, Mitchell continues to work weedy shorelines, stump flats, edges of depressions with trees or woody cover on the shallow rim — and most any natural cover and vegetation in the lake. 

“One favorite lure for this is a good buzzbait,” he said. “I can cover a lot of water with the buzzbait; it’s an ideal searching lure and extremely attractive to boss bass. Poppers are also excellent lures.”

Mitchell is a big fan of the Booyah Frog and fishes that lure with confidence throughout the day. It’s effective around grass beds and also around cypress trees. 

“I’ll often use different lures, such as the Tiny or Baby Torpedos, when (the) bite seems to be just a tad finicky,” he said. “I also love a Devil’s Horse, a long-time productive bait, because it just annoys the heck out of bass, to the point they simply have to attack. The Devil’s Horse is a great bait for big fish and exciting action.”

Floating worms are just one of many great options fortaking big bass on topwater lures in May. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Oldies but goodies

Mitchell said a few of the old, oft-forgotten lures from his youth are still excellent topwater tools when used in the right situations.

“When I was younger, I was limited in how many lures I had, but the Devil’s Horse, broke-back Rebel, Jitterbug and a floating worm were my total arsenal of topwater lures,” he said. “They were highly effective then and still are.”

He said a Jitterbug is more for open water and over stumps flats, around blowdowns and over the top of underwater cover, but it’s lethal. A floating worm can be worked right through a maze of limbs in downed trees, reaching areas otherwise difficult to fish without snagging.

Mitchell said the key is to match the right lure to the right cover and stay tuned in to what the bass want on a given day, or time of day. 

“Fishing topwater lures at Santee Cooper during May is about as good as bass fishing can get,” he said.

Terry Madewell
About Terry Madewell 711 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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