South Carolina’s fall striper hotspots

The quality of fish is typically excellent during November. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

November provides some of the most fun striper fishing of the year

November produces excellent topwater striper schooling at many South Carolina lakes with the size of stripers trending toward quality fish.

We’ve detailed striper fishing on four South Carolina waters with patterns and tactics employed by guides that produce consistent success including Lake Hartwell, Santee Cooper, Lake Wateree, and Lake Murray. 

Lake Hartwell 

The schooling action on Lake Hartwell can be sensational, and the topwater fishing turns on early in November. And by mid-month it’s in overdrive.

Fishing guide Chip Hamilton said fall action at Lake Hartwell ranks among his favorite times of the year.

“First, it’s exciting fishing with big schools of stripers and hybrids blowing forage out of the water,” he said. “Schools range from small groups of fish in an isolated area to a huge cove full of topwater frenzied fish. It’s a great time for hooking quality fish because shad become easy targets for huge stripers.”

Hamilton (864-304-9011) said the pattern for the fish has now morphed from the late-summer trend where most of the fish were concentrated in the Savannah River area in the lower sector of the lake.

“With cooling water temperatures, the oxygen situation becomes stable lakewide. So stripers move throughout the lake,” he said. “We still find them in the lower end and up both feeder rivers. Anglers can now discover areas with excellent schooling action without much competition, if they’ll put in a little scouting time.”

Lure them up

Hamilton said his favorite baits for the schooling fish include the Sebile, Sammy, and the Pulse or Scrounger jigs. The Pulse jig is not literally a topwater, it’s a lead head with a fluke body that’s fished just under the surface, but drives stripers wild. The Sebile Magic Swimmer is a proven bait for Hamilton. He said white is the perfect all-around color for him, but chrome is great on bright, sunny days. The Lucky Craft Sammy, worked in ‘walk the dog’ manner, is another top lure.  

Although the fish are schooling on the surface, Hamilton said the bottom depth where they’re found varies significantly during the fall.

Striper action is great in SC during the fall months. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

“Unlike other times of the year when stripers school on top, the bottom depth now may only be 10 or 15 feet deep. But it can occur over 100 feet of water,” he said. “It’s all about the location of the forage.”

Later in the season, as water temperatures cool, the schooling action slows, but the live bait action improves.

“Schooling action will be great for a few consecutive days, then it shuts down overnight,” Hamilton said. “On those days I’ll often find fish in a 35- to 40-foot depth pattern and around shoals and points. In this case, jigging spoons, such as Little Cleo’s and Hopkins, work great.”

Downlines with live herring are also productive. Plus, the schooling action returns occasionally and may be productive for several days. But by late-November, the live bait and jigging patterns dominate.

“Typically, the week around Thanksgiving produces excellent fishing. I’ll fish every day, except Thanksgiving,” Hamilton said. “The fishing is usually great around points, ridges, and humps. Live blueback herring on downlines is a great option. Jigging spoons are now the preferred artificial lure choice.”

On Lake Hartwell, the limit is 10 striped or hybrid bass, or a combination of those daily, and only three may be over 26 inches in total length.

Capt. Jon Mercer catches some very healthy stripers at Santee during November. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Santee Cooper

The fall fishing at Santee Cooper, both lakes Marion and Moultrie, is wide open, with stripers caught via topwater schooling and drifting live bait.

Capt. Jon Mercer (No Mercy Fishing with Capt. Jon) said November provides some of the best striper fishing of the year.

“By November, the water has cooled enough that shad are congregated into big pods and the stripers push them to the surface and maul them,” Mercer said. “We enjoy some great fishing at various times of the year. But this ranks as some of the most exciting action. Stripers of all sizes are breaking on the surface and can be taken on multiple lures.”

Mercer (910-734-3845) said one of his favored tactics is to get on a school of stripers, then cast and retrieve bucktails through the fish-feeding melee.

“It’s not uncommon to have multiple hookups in this type of fishing. And the action is wild,” he said. “Even though we’ll have lots of catch-and-release sized fish, this is a prime time to catch lots of slot-limit keepers for eating. I’ll vertically jig Berry’s spoons in this situation and work the area beneath the schooling fish to target the larger stripers.”

Mercer said the fishing is great on both lakes Moultrie and Marion, but he’ll primarily fish Moultrie because of fewer trees and stumps in the main lake.

Stay on the move

Mercer said he’ll usually rely on seagulls to help him pinpoint the exact target.

“Stripers are constantly moving. So no single place to catch stripers exists,” he said. “But gulls can be seen and heard diving on schools of bait that stripers have pushed to the surface for long distances. I’ll watch and listen for gull activity. And while early and late in the day are prime time, the schooling action occurs throughout the day.”

Mercer said when the fish are not surface schooling, or between flurries of topwater activity, he’ll drift live, blueback herring suspended at depths where he’s marking fish on the graph. 

Mercer said even when drifting, his head is figuratively on a swivel searching for schooling fish. The schooling and drifting patterns are effective well into December. 

Santee Cooper has a striper creel limit of three fish per person and a slot limit for keeping stripers between 23 to 25 inches, and one striper can be over 26 inches. Fish between 25 and 26 inches are not legal (aka the No-Fry-Zone) and must be released. 

Striper fishing is excellent when using artificals in schooling fish or live bait fishing for suspended stripers. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Lake Murray 

Capt. Mike Gault, (Time to Fish Guide Service) said the fall striper fishing at Lake Murray is excellent.

“The fishing in November varies from summer patterns, and instead of downlines fished directly above a school of stripers, we’re pulling planer boards, as well as freelines,” he said. “Stripers are in a pattern of migrating up the lake and can literally be found anywhere from the middle of the lake, around Dreher Island, to the Little and Big Saluda River areas and beyond.”

Gault (864-426-0709), a retired SCDNR Game Warden, said he’ll fish six planer boards with three off each side of the boat, as well as two freelines out of the back.

“During November the fishing patterns can vary significantly. We may be pulling lines in relatively shallow water in creeks and flats, or perhaps fishing for suspended fish in the river channel,” he said. “Plus, the gulls are here and they’ll help with the fish-locating process. Some schooling action is common.”

Gault said his bread-and-butter tactic is using blueback herring on the planer board and freeline rigs. But this month, he’ll also use gizzard shad.

“Anytime the water temperature is under 80 degrees at Lake Murray, the freeline fishing is productive,” he said. “I’ll employ freelines throughout the year. But when the water temp gets back into the 70s, the stripers won’t hesitate to move up from deeper water to hit freelined baits.” 

Gault said he’ll pull the planer boards and freelines from 0.5 to 0.8 miles per hour until he determines the speed for the day he’s fishing.

On Lake Murray, and the middle reach of the Saluda River, Oct. 1 through May 31, it is unlawful to possess more than five striped bass a day and to possess a striped bass less than 21 inches in total length. 

Capt. Jason Wolfe with a brace of Lake Wateree stripers caught using a topwater lure. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Lake Wateree

By November, Lake Wateree’s schooling stripers can’t hide from the shad-savvy seagulls patrolling the lake.

Striper and catfish guide Capt. Jason Wolfe (Wolfe’s Guide Service) said seagulls are a key to finding topwater action. Wolfe guides on multiple lakes, but invests a lot of time on Lake Wateree during the fall. And the stripers make the time invested worthwhile.

“The fishing action is wild and plenty of stripers are found throughout the lake,” Wolfe said. “I’ll get out early because the odds of topwater schooling is best early. But by November the action continues throughout the day. Cloudy days are sensational.”

Stripers will school throughout the lake. But prime action can be found from the lower end, near the dam, up to the Lake Wateree State Park area. 

“Time and effort spent scouting helps fishermen find schooling fish. But look for several boats going wide-open toward a bunch of squawking seagulls and you’re in the game,” he said.

Wolfe (803-487-3690) employs a variety of lures and gives the stripers what they prefer on a given day. He’ll use “walk the dog” type topwater lures, bucktails, jigging spoons and swim baits.

“Some days several lures will produce stripers. Other days, they’re more selective,” Wolfe said. 

He also employs live bait for use when fish are not actively schooling.

Lake Wateree has a generous creel limit of 10 stripers per person with no size restrictions year-round. 

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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