Everything bites at Santee during May

Guide Kyle Austin said May bass fishing is highly productive for quantity and quality fish. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

May brings prime weather conditions and excellent fishing for several species of fish at Santee Cooper. Fishing action occurs from very shallow to deep water depending on the species. 

Bream action perks up with good bluegill and shellcracker fishing in shallow water. Bass action remains good in the shallows with fish moving back toward the cypress and gum trees and holding in water slightly deeper than the spawning areas. Striper action is typically excellent with fish now caught throughout both lakes.

Shellcracker Action is Strong

Shellcrackers typically spawn earlier than bluegills on the Santee Cooper lakes and these huge panfish offer some sensational fishing in late April and May. Weather and water temperature are important, but with the right conditions, shellcrackers will get into shallow water and bed. 

The Santee Cooper lakes have a world-class population of shellcrackers, including big fish.

Most anglers targeting shellcrackers use worms as bait, however they can be caught on crickets.  

Shellcrackers often bed in ultra-shallow water early in the season. So working edges of weeds, grass and any form of natural cover on hard bottom substrate such as sand or gravel is a good option. More specifically, target the small pockets and openings along these areas.  

Bluegill are also found in the shallows during May and with the full moon being mid-month this year, good bedding action may occur for both bream and shellcrackers.

Crickets are the best live bait for bream. But for sheer fun, anglers working small Beetle Spin lures around shallow water cover with ultra-light equipment can make excellent catches. 

Mayfly hatches often occur this month, so those are natural hotspots for bream of all sizes. It’s a great opportunity for getting youngsters hooked on fishing.

Bass on the trees

Largemouth bass have been in the forefront since mid-February and with the bulk of the spawn now complete, the favored bass targets have changed.

Kyle Austin, a tournament professional and bass fishing guide, said his favored patterns at this time of the year are still in shallow water.

“I’ll start most days in shallow water, usually 2 to 3 feet deep working grass beds early with topwater lures,” Austin said. “I’ll use Pop-Rs and frog-type baits looking for active bass.”

Austin (843-209-3726) said one key to the fishing is to be around baitfish in the shallows.

“Usually, we have a shad spawn around this time and also some bream will be bedding,” he said. “These shallow-water food opportunities get bass into the shallows and feeding in low-light times of the day. And big bass will certainly eat big bream.”

Senkos are also good bets

Austin said later in the morning he’ll back off this shallow water pattern and he’ll fish isolated cypress and gum trees with weightless Senkos and similar baits.

“I’ll fish as much wood as possible,” he said. “If I’m working a clump of trees I’ll cast past the target and work it back, keeping it as close to the wood and covering as much of the area as possible on each cast. Simply casting it straight into the tree only covers a small area. It can work, certainly. But at this time of the year make each cast cover as much as you can.”

The best opportunity to catch a true trophy bass, a 10-pound class fish, may have been earlier during the spawn. But Austin said it’s still an excellent time to hook trophy fish. 

“Big bass are caught this month. And the numbers of quality fish caught are excellent during May,” he said. “The weather is typically awesome. And it’s a fun and exciting time for bass fishing.”

Stripers on live bait

Going up the ladder of incrementally larger fish and fishing deeper water, striper action is excellent throughout the lakes. 

On the lower end of Lake Marion and in Lake Moultrie, live bait around the deeper drops and ledges offers great striper catching opportunities. In addition, the Diversion Canal offers flurries of excellent activity when good current flow exists, with live bait, as well as bucktails, cast around underwater rock piles.

Leroy Suggs (910-995-1168) is a full-time striper guide who targets this species year-round. Suggs said live bait, especially blueback herring, is hard to beat during May.

“We get into some dependable striper patterns in deep water at this time of the year and it’s an excellent time to catch limits of keeper stripers in short order,” Suggs said. “Plus, we’ll typically enjoy plenty of catch and release opportunities.”

In the upper reaches of Lake Marion, stripers are also caught in good numbers as the late spawners are heading back down the river. Pack’s Landing is an ideal place to find good striper action using live herring as bait both in the river and the adjacent flats.

About Terry Madewell 805 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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