Fish are hungry and preparing to spawn at Santee

Capt. David Hilton said February is a great time to catch Santee’s biggest slabs. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Numerous species are preparing to spawn at Santee

February fishing is on the upswing as the basic trend of rising water temperature puts several species of fish on the move. The passage of cold fronts slows fishing action down for brief periods. But overall, February is prime time to catch trophy fish at Santee.

Crappie, largemouth bass and stripers are active with the big spawning fish of these species beginning to follow the innate instinct to reproduce. And this makes them more susceptible to being caught.

Super slabs on the pre-spawn pattern

Pre-spawn and spawning activity for crappies lasts from February well into late March and April. But many of the largest crappie taken each year are caught during February. Experts say the biggest crappie are among the first to spawn. So now’s the time to get in on the action.

Guide Dave Hilton said he’ll work brush piles and other woody cover at a variety of depths with live minnows or jigs and minnows on a tight-line rig.

Crappie move a lot during February and productive depths change frequently,” he said. “It’s not a simple process of fish gradually getting into shallower water until they spawn. They don’t all spawn at the same time. Droves of crappie come and go and depths change constantly. One brush pile may produce limits today and the next time the action is slow.”

Hilton (843-870-4734) said the public artificial fish attractors placed in both lakes are great places to find crappie this month.

Another productive method is long-line trolling in the creeks and major coves of both lakes. The long-line trolling process enables anglers to cover a lot of water pulling jigs of different sizes and colors until a daily pattern is determined.  

Troll along the edge lines of drops in the creek as well as the open, deeper water. Crappies often suspend at mid-depths over deep water and long-line trolling is a prime method to catch these fish.

This is an often-overlooked method to catch slab crappie during February and March.      

Big Santee bass on the prowl

Bass make a major move in February, especially late in the month. Water temperature is a key to this movement but they’ll be trending toward the shallow water. 

Productive lures will morph from slow and deep lures to shallow water baits such as spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, bottom bumpers and shallow-running crankbaits. 

The stump- and tree-infested water found throughout the upper end of Lake Marion and all-around Lake Moultrie offer a variety of targets. This month, these areas are beginning to produce excellent results.  

The basic pattern by mid to late month is a pre-spawn pattern. And if water conditions are right, some of the biggest bass in the lake may get into shallow water spawning territory. Those that don’t will be staging close to make a big push during March.

This is a great time to take a trophy bass. Get on these big bass now and follow them throughout March as they spread to shallow water targets in greater numbers.

Seeking current

Striped bass make a move as the urge to spawn surges. The upper end of Lake Marion is a target because stripers seek moving water for the spawning process instead of shallow water like some other species. 

Steve Pack at Packs Landing (803-452-5514) said stripers begin to arrive in the upper portion of the lake in February, but not in the big numbers seen during the peak spawning run during March and April.

“Most years we’ll get some big stripers moving upstream in February,” he said. “Patience is important. The striper bite is slower in terms of numbers of fish than later on. But the potential to take trophy fish is good using cut bait on the bottom around points and sandbars in the main river.”

And that’s not the only area stripers congregate at Santee Cooper. The Diversion Canal connecting the two lakes is also a prime target.

Capt. Leroy Suggs guides for stripers year-round. He said the current in the Diversion Canal is a natural attractant for stripers during February.

“Stripers move out of the deeper water and are attracted to the current in and around the Canal,” he said. “Normally we have plenty of current during February and throughout the spring.”

Suggs said fishing targets include holes or drops in the Canal along with points, pockets and underwater objects that create eddy currents.

Suggs (910-995-1168) said bucktails are great to work the shallows around points and pockets. Live blueback herring is his choice to fish around deep holes and underwater objects. 

It’s time to go

Whether targeting crappie, bass or stripers, go now to catch trophy fish from these species.

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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