Pick your target

This month provides some of the hottest action for multiple species of fish on the Santee Cooper lakes. (Picture by Terry Madewell)

Various species of fish are in different depths and spawning modes by May, but anglers can catch almost any species they want to target. They are all in good numbers and sizes right now. Some species are primarily in post-spawn mode, such as bass and crappie. But bream and shellcrackers are in full-blown spawning mode, and catfish do what catfish do in May…they eat whatever’s not fast enough to get away.

Stripers are migrating back throughout both lakes, and will aggressively attack live bait throughout both bodies of water and the Diversion Canal.

It’s a great time to go fishing on Santee Cooper!

Stripers Abound

Stripers are widely available throughout both lakes, as well as up the Wateree and Congaree rivers, where topwater action can be excellent. Plus, stripers are found all the way to Pinopolis Dam on Lake Moultrie where live, blueback herring fished in deep water rules.

May is still a productive time to find fish in the river portion of upper Lake Marion, too, as many stripers are heading back down the rivers in post-spawn mode. The Packs and Elliots flats, and the Santee River downstream from the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree rivers is particularly productive. Live bait is still a dependable bait to entice a bite, but stripers can still be caught on cut bait. And catfish are a most-worthy by-product of spring striper fishing in the upper reaches of Lake Marion out of Pack’s Landing.

Striper action is consistently good in the Diversion Canal and throughout the deepwater areas of Lake Moultrie fishing with blueback herring.

Pop the Top

Multiple lures and patterns produce excellent post-spawn largemouth bass action, but topwater fishing explodes during May. Many of the largest bass will have spawned, but they play ‘catch-up’ on forage, and plenty of big bass opportunities exist. Buzzbaits, Pop Rs and Baby Torpedoes are prime topwater lures.

Bottom bumpers such as plastic creature baits, worms and large spinnerbaits are prime baits to tempt big bass by fishing points and stumpy flats early and late in the day. Crankbaits digging down to the 4- to 8-foot depths will be productive during the mid-day when bright skies prevail.

Panfish Paradise

Post-spawn crappie action is excellent, and the fish are typically in an active feeding mode. Plenty of slabs are still available, but most crappies are now in, or headed to, deeper water. Brush piles in 12 to 22 feet of water in both lakes are good targets for May crappie action. As the month progresses and the water warms, the fish tend to move deeper in both lakes. They prefer to hold tight to cover along drops and ledges, and manmade or natural cover will hold fish.

When you do find crappies in the mid-depths during this May migration, you can catch a sack-full of slabs quickly, but they may be elsewhere tomorrow. By late-May they’ll begin to settle into more predictable, deepwater areas.

May is also prime time for shallow water bream and shellcracker action. Bream will be bedding throughout both lakes, so hunting for beds in sand and gravel bottom areas is a good tactic. Bream don’t always bed shallow. They can be bedding in skinny water, but they’ll consistently bed down to 10 feet deep. Crickets are superb for bream and will catch shellcrackers, but if you want to target shellcrackers specifically, make redworms bait number one.

Plus, artificial lures are great for big bream whether they’re bedding or not. If you don’t find them bedding, work shallow water cover such as weedbeds, logs, cypress trees and stumpy flats. Also, many areas of extensive rip-rap are found in both lakes that create prime bream hangouts during May, especially when they are not bedding.


Catfish action is excellent in both lakes and are found in all depths of water, from very shallow to very deep. Most of the big blue catfish have been shallow, chasing abundant forage for a couple of months, and some still linger shallow during the day.

Catfishing during the nocturnal hours perks up in shallow water, when forage and catfish converge in shallow flats. Big blues, and flatheads, still feed in shallow water, especially in low light times and at night. Cut herring, shad and white perch are all excellent baits for big blues. Flathead action is also good with live offerings best for fat flatheads.

You name it:

Whether you want to target just one species, or multiple species, you have a great chance to catch it all throughout the month of May on the Santee Cooper lakes.

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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