Getting away from the bass fishing crowd may not be as distant as you think. The Santee River, below the Wilson Dam impounding Lake Marion, snakes through the coastal plain as it courses toward the confluence with the Atlantic Ocean near McClellanville, SC.
Along the way, bass fishermen can fish amazing bass habitat and have opportunities to catch largemouth bass in big numbers and trophy sizes.
Professional tournament fisherman and bass fishing guide out of Blacks Camp, Kyle Austin said by June the fishing in the Santee River is outstanding. By comparison, the fishing pressure is significantly less than on the Cooper River, the river below the Pinopolis Dam impounding Lake Moultrie.
“I see much less fishing pressure on the Santee River,” Austin said. “One reason is that during parts of the year, usually late-winter and early spring, a tremendous amount of water is often released upstream, making the river high and difficult to fish. When the river floods, bass can literally get so far from the main river that fishermen can’t reach them.
“A second reason is lack of many access ramps that can handle a lot of boats and trailers,” he said. “But it’s worth the effort to fish the Santee River.”
Austin (843-209-3726) said the river is tide-influenced and he’ll plan his trips around the tides. He strongly prefers the outgoing tide because it positions baitfish in places that attract bass to fishable targets.
“When the tide is high, water can get back into almost impenetrable cover and the baitfish and bass follow,” he said. “My favorite tide, and the one that consistently produces best, is an outgoing tide as it approaches the low. Bass load up on the edges along the river and we can effectively target them.”
Austin said several factors strongly impact success, and where anglers need to fish. At the top of his list are eddy currents.
Go to the top
“Bass are going to be around eddies and when working any area, I’m watching the current flow and always fishing the eddy side of a target,” he said. “Most of the time I’ll be working shallow cover along the shoreline. Small points and pockets will create these eddy situations.”
He said the mouths of small creeks or ditches that intersect the river are prime targets.
Because of the nature of the fishing and heavy cover, topwater lures are a great lure choice.
“Buzzbaits are excellent, as are Pop R’s and stickbaits,” he said. “Creature lures on Texas rigs are productive. And weightless flukes are a prime option when I see fish surface schooling on shad. When working topwater lures, I try to replicate shad or bream patterns.”
Austin said casting accuracy is essential because above average-sized bass will lurk in tight places. And the biggest fish will be in small slots or behind woody cover requiring precision accuracy.
He said banks that drop into slightly deeper water than surrounding areas, can be excellent anytime, but especially on the low end of a tide.
A moving target
“The outside bends of the river are good areas to find the slightly deeper-water situation. And multiple fish may concentrate into a small area,” he said. “It’s not unusual to catch several bass along a small stretch of shoreline where forage has stacked up. But when the forage-fish pattern changes, the action slows. And as the tide drops or rises, the current-flow situation is constantly changing. So bass-fishing patterns are always a moving target.
“But payback is high because when I get on the right pattern, the fishing is awesome,” he said.
Austin said because of the current flow and tidal influence, time of day is not always a huge factor. Still, he prefers to be on the river at first light, just in case the best bite is early.
“The Santee River is full of bass, and plenty of quality fish too,” Austin said. “It’s a resource that takes a bit of time to learn. But it’s well worth the effort.”
Austin said the current, eddies, water level and an inordinate amount of woody cover can all combine to confuse an angler working out a pattern.
“Analyze, but don’t overthink, the situation,” Austin said. “You’ve got to work out the patterns of course. But the bottom line is, bass just want to eat. So put your lure on his table and you’re in business.”
Several access points exist along the river. A Google search provides information on locations and facilities available. Or book Kyle Austin and learn to fish it first-hand.
Challenging and rewarding:
Fishing a tidal river like the Santee River offers challenges over lake fishing, but the rewards in terms of getting away from the crowd, and in catching numerous fish, including trophies, is worth it.