Don’t wait for spring; catch Santee’s panfish now

Guide Joe Dennis of Father and Son Outdoors loves fishing for panfish this time of year on Santee Cooper’s Lake Moultrie.

Santee panfish won’t wait for spring to start biting

For most panfish anglers, January can be a tough time. But while waiting for spring to catch their fish is a normal thought, the truth is, crappie and bream are biting in January just as hot as they will come May. 

That’s especially true on the Santee Cooper lakes.

The trick, said guide Joe Dennis of Father and Son Outdoors, is finding them deep on brush piles.

“They certainly are not shallow like they will be in the spring, but these fish are stacked up in big numbers on brush piles in water as deep as 40 feet. These fish are thick and healthy, and they are feeding just fine this time of year,” he said.

Dennis said crappie and bream are mixed in with each other on these brush piles. He catches plenty of bream on the same minnows he’s using for crappie. But he also takes crickets along if he can find them, which can be difficult this time of year.

Use long poles and fish straight down

Dennis (843-245-3762) uses 14-foot long B’n’M poles with up to 10-pound Slime Line mono. He uses No. 4 Rockport Rattler jigheads and will often use a 1/2-ounce egg sinker about 3 feet above the jighead. That helps him present the jighead in a vertical fashion.

“If you find a brush pile in 40 feet of water, sometimes the fish are hanging out around the top of that brush pile,” Dennis said. “So you want to present your bait just slightly above them. Sometimes you have to experiment a little until you start getting consistent bites. Once you get on them, you can often catch a limit quickly. Sometimes you’ll pick up a dozen at one brush pile, then they’ll stop biting. Just move on to another brush pile when that happens.” 

For those brush piles that look loaded with fish, but don’t produce bites, Dennis said to keep them in mind, move on to another bush pile, and come back later in the day.

“Sometimes, even when the fish are there, they just aren’t in the mood to feed,” he said. “But they’ll feed at some point during the day. It’s always a good idea to go back to those. Sometimes the bite is red hot as soon as you return.” 

Dennis does most of his panfishing this time of year out of Canal Lakes Resort, then heads to deep water in Lake Moultrie, the “lower lake.” He said Bell’s Marina is a good choice for anglers wanting to try the upper lake, Lake Marion.

Brian Cope
About Brian Cope 1554 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina.

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