Hooray for the holidays! The fish are biting!

Fishing for big blue catfish can be excellent on both Santee Cooper lakes in December.

December fishing trumps plenty of other pursuits

The rapid cooling of the water temperature in December is not a problem for several species of fish on the Santee Cooper lakes. In fact, some guides say it actually does wonders to improve the fishing.

Striped bass and catfish are major players in this month’s fishing action, but often overlooked is the very good largemouth bass fishing that’s available.

December is a month when you can still hook a hawg on any given cast, but odds are very good you will likely catch a lot of fish once your figure the pattern.

According to guide Chris Heinning of Sumter, both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie offer excellent fishing in December, and there are typical patterns these fish follow in both lakes as we enter the last month of the calendar year.

“The largemouth bass action very good, with a lot of fish being caught on a variety of lures,” Heinning said. “Of course, at either lake, you always subject to hooking a couple of big fish during the course of a day’s fishing. While the weather is cooler, the early part of December typically has some very good days for fishing — and often right on through the month in terms of comfort. But the dropping water temperature does help get the bass in identifiable areas.”

Heinning (803-236-1257) said typically, the lake level will drop some, and bass will transition to structure and cover on edges of deep water, such as river or creek channels, ditches and old underwater ponds.

“For Lake Marion, I like to fish cypress trees, docks, stumps and rocks near 4 to 5 feet of water using crankbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms and jigs fished very slowly,” Heinning said. “When fishing Lake Moultrie, fish the edges of any living grass beds with Rat-L-Traps, spinnerbaits and twitch or stick-type plastic worms in 4 to 10 feet of water. I recommend fishermen focus their efforts on any wood cover near deep water like old stumps, docks, or brush with worms and jigs.”

Heinning said that rocks found in the Diversion Canal rocks can hold some bass, which can be caught with crankbaits and worms.

“If the water temperature drops fast and we’re having a cold winter, if you can pick your days to fish, I would certainly suggest fishing the last day of a warming trend,” Heinning said. “Also, as a rule, I prefer to fish during afternoons on sunny days when water temperatures have warmed the most, particularly late in the month. We need every edge we can get when bass fishing, and this can make a big difference.”

Also providing excellent fishing are both catfish and stripers. Action can be good on both lakes, but one place in particular seems to be extremely productive for both species at the same time and place, and that’s around the Pinopolis Dam.

According to guide Truman Lyon, who at 84 years young is still actively catching stripers and catfish, some of the heaviest stripers of the year are typically taken in the area around the dam at Lake Moultrie.

“A primary reason is all the baitfish — some being menhaden — really gang up around the dam in December,” he said. “The stripers — some of the largest we catch all year — as well as some huge catfish, will be feeding. The cold water makes the bait sluggish, and it’s feast time for catfish and stripers.

“It’s not uncommon to catch plenty of both species on any given day, but you can use your graph to target stripers if you prefer. This is a time when live bait works really well, and if you want to catch some catfish, some potentially huge fish at that, just fish some cut bait along with the live bait.”

Lyon (843-729-2212) said that fish will be clustered around the schools of bait, and to target stripers, lower the bait to just above where the fish are marked on the graph. The catfish, too, will often be suspended often right in the midst of the baitfish pods, and you can drop a chunk of cut bait to the depth the bait is marked or even down just off the bottom. Like the stripers, it is big fish season for blues in December as well as catching numbers of fish.

But that’s just one area where the fishing can be excellent.

According to Capt. Alan Spence (803-983-8284), some striped bass schooling action will be on both lakes, although some of the best striper fishing will be had using live herring.

“Getting good bait can be essential to success, and sometimes it’s hard to find live blueback herring, but you can often catch some gizzard shad in the cast net and keep them alive,” he said. “Herring are great if you can find them commercially, and shad or herring make great bait for stripers and are among my favorite baits to use as cut baits for catfish the time of the year.

“The entire lower end of Lake Marion is usually good for both species. The stripers do move around a good bit. One key, and a good way to begin a day of fishing, is to watch the gulls first thing in the morning and see where they’re feeding. The gulls will find the shad that are pushed toward there surface by feeding stripers. From there, you can pinpoint their location using a graph and drop the live bait right in front of them.”

Most catfish guides on Lake Marion will mark fish on their graphs, then anchor or tie to trees or stumps and fan-cast around the boat. Most will use small shad, as well as cut herring and perch, in water that’s 15 to 35 feet deep.

About Terry Madewell 770 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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