Hot weather hawgs

David Murtaugh looks for big bass in shallow water early, then works deeper flats mid morning. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

These patterns work on Santee’s summertime bass

March and April are known as prime-time shallow-water fishing months for trophy-sized Santee Cooper bass. These are the ‘hawgs’ that have made this lake famous. But once the spawn is over and summer happens, water and air temperatures climb, and bass lock into summer patterns.

Bass, including trophy fish, are still on a good bite. They’re often found in water depths that are easily and effectively fished. 

Eric Glenn is a veteran tournament fisherman and has fished both lakes Marion and Moultrie all his life. He noted several keys to success for summertime bass action, and these keys are applicable to both lakes.

Get an early start

“First, the scope of where bass are likely to be found has changed dramatically since spring,” Glenn said. “During spring, big bass scatter onto flats and back into shallow water areas to spawn. They’re not literally everywhere, but an abundant amount of shallow water has the potential to produce big fish any time of day.

“During July and throughout summer, the places where bass are consistently found are vastly reduced in quantity and sizes,” he said. “They’re now in localized areas, orienting to specific habitat. They don’t migrate to deep water and hunker down for the summer. Hot weather produces plenty of action for quality bass.”

Glenn said getting on the water before sunrise in July is best for shallow-water fishing. 

“The shallow bite doesn’t linger long, but is productive,” he said. “I’ll take advantage of this opportunity, then fish deeper as the morning progresses.”

He said his ideal setup for early-morning fishing includes a shallow ledge with woody cover that drops into a ditch or creek, providing the deep-to-shallow access route. Also, weed or weed- and wood-infested shorelines that drop into deeper water are productive, as are points extending from shallow to deep water. 

“Bass will ride a ledge into a shallow water flat. Localized brush and natural cover, such as stumps with big root systems, are ideal targets,” he said. “Bigger targets are better than small ones for attracting big, or multiple, bass. These large woody targets are attractive to forage and to other small fish that bass eat.”

“I stay on the move during hot weather,” Glenn said. “Topwater lures are very effective. And soft plastics can be lethal. Buzzbaits and spinnerbaits are productive, early-morning lures.”

Glenn said patience is paramount to success because he may fish several spots without a bite, then he’ll find areas where he’ll catch multiple bass off each target.

“I look for patterns in those cases, and I’ll work that pattern hard,” he said. “But sometimes it seems to just be a localized area where bass are more abundant.”

David Murtaugh keeps multiple rigs ready to meet ever-changing situations during hot weather. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Find the food

Another top bass guide on the lakes is David Murdaugh. He agrees the strategy changes significantly from spring to summer.

“We’ve got plenty of big bass, roaming the lakes during the summer, offering excellent fishing opportunities,” Murdaugh said. “But their patterns now depend more on food than during the spring.”

Murdaugh keys on the knowledge that bass are going to eat. With high water temperatures, their metabolic rate is elevated, so forage availability is a real key.

“During spring, most big bass are into the pre-spawn, spawning, and post-spawn modes,” he said. “They’ll eat, but finding reproduction habitat is a major player for their location during the spring. By summer, their survival depends on forage, so that’s a critical factor for how and where I target bass.”

Murdaugh (Cooper River Guide Service 843-452-9566) said he enjoys the early morning flurry to the shallows at first light. It’s an excellent time to hook quality fish. But it’s after the early morning shallow-water action when his most dependable patterns take proper form.

“I’m going to get to the lake early and fish that shallow-water, early morning bite,” he said. “But I could get to the lake at 9 o’clock in the morning and be totally confident in catching bass. Once the shallow bite ends, bass migrate to specific areas where they hold for most of the day until low-light conditions in the evening enable them to effectively forage in the shallows again.”

A Texas-rigged worm is a great option for fishing brush and drops during the summer at Santee Cooper. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Woody cover is key

Murdaugh said the lakes are loaded with woody cover that bass gravitate to during mid-day. It may be in the form of natural cover such as stumps, fallen or standing trees, logs and man-made brush and cover.

“The productive depths surprise a lot of my clients because we’re generally catching bass in the middle of the day in 8 to 12 feet of water. But we’re specifically fishing around woody cover where they can ambush prey,” he said.

Murdaugh said one scorching July trip produced all-day bass action with two clients. Their top eight fish weighed a total of 38 pounds. 

“That’s a good day anytime of the year. But these fish were all caught between 9 a.m. and 3:30 in the afternoon, in July,” he said. “We wrapped up the day with an 8+pound bass at 3:30. That’s a top-end trip, but indicative of the potential of summertime bass fishing at Santee Cooper.”

Murdaugh prefers smaller targets for his summertime fishing. He has scores of areas marked on his graph. As it is anytime of the year for bass, he said fish do tend to get on specific daily patterns, and specific areas will be more productive on a given day.

“Patterns can change daily, so it’s a daily fish-finding process,” he said. “Patterns may hold stable for multiple days, so staying on fish is also about fishing often enough to know the hot locations. Don’t get locked into the depth range of 8 to 12 feet, although that’s a dependable depth strategy for most days. If fishing is slow, I’m going to look deeper and shallower until I find the range for that day.”

Versatility in the lures is also a key element for Murdaugh. He keeps multiple lures rigged and ready, and typically works different lures on various targets. He particularly prefers to fish where depth changes occur such as along the top, or base, of a ledge, and around humps or points.

“Ditches, or creeks, that cut through shallow flats leading from shallow to deeper water are ideal travel paths for summertime bass,” he said. “Stumps, logs or brush along these places are prime ambush targets.”

The topwater frog is a great lure to begin the day on Lake Marion or Moultrie. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Pick your lures

Productive lures are highly diverse, Murdaugh said. But he’s narrowed his favorites to several reliable lures.

“Early morning fishing, I’ll certainly fish topwater lures, such as a frog or Pop-R. But mid-day, I’ll often use the drop-shot rig because it’s productive for big bass,” he said. “The Texas-rigged worm is a great bottom bumper to fish around heavy, woody cover. A spinnerbait, in 3/8 or ½ ounce, is a great bet anytime of day. The flash and vibration is highly attractive, and this lure generates aggressive bites. It’s highly effective around brush piles.”

He uses jerkbaits around brush or isolated stumps, especially if the fish are slightly shallower than normal on a given day. 

“I tell my clients if they have a specific lure that they can work with confidence, to use it, and we’ll give it a fair shot,” he said. “Summertime fishing success is so much about finding bass because they’re often willing to bite. Once we’re working the right target, I’ve seen a multitude of different lures produce quality fish. So I’ve learned to keep an open mind.”

Summertime bass fishing at Santee Cooper offers plenty of action, as well as the potential to hook trophy fish. 

With an early start, fishermen can enjoy the best of early morning action, plus a few hours of fishing deeper, specific targets and still be off the water before melting in the summer swelter. 

Big bass are feisty during hot weather, so expect fish to jump and fight hard. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Forward facing sonar

Murdaugh and Eric Glenn both rely on electronics to help them pinpoint specific locations of bass throughout the day. And that includes using forward facing sonar, a beneficial tool for fishing effectively this time of year.

“Fishermen can find good places to fish using electronics without the forward-facing sonar, but it’s a highly useful tool for me,” Glenn said. “First, as I approach a specific target, I can see if fish are on the cover. And through experience, I can usually tell if it’s a bass. When I’m fishing a target, I’ll know that if a fish is present and I think it’s a bass, I’m fishing effectively with that confidence.”

But it also enables him to consider how long to fish an area without a bite.

“I’ll watch the reaction of the fish to my lure, and if I work a couple of different lures with no apparent interest from the fish, I may opt to move on quicker than I would without that visual. If I really feel it’s a bass that’s simply not in a feeding mode, I’ll come back later. Many times, on that return effort, I’ll find an aggressive bite, and I’ll quickly catch a fish or two.” 

About Terry Madewell 812 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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