Striper fishing is back

Guide Joe Dennis expects to catch plenty of keeper striped bass when the seasons opens Oct. 1 on the Santee Cooper lakes.

October action predicted to be top-drawer

October is a great time for catching all kinds of fish on the Santee Cooper lakes, but the most anticipated day is the re-opening of the striped bass season after a four-month closure. With recent years as indicators of what’s likely to occur, striper fishing should be sensational on opening day and actually improve as the month progresses.

Guide Joe Dennis of Bonneau, primarily fishes Lake Moultrie but fishes Lake Marion as well. He said the Oct. 1 opening of striper season is to anglers what opening day of dove season is to hunters.

“The reason for the excitement level is that the weather and water patterns are such that conditions typically set up for great fishing,” Dennis said. “In addition, the lack of pressure on the fish for a prolonged period is another positive aspect.

“A variety of fishing patterns will produce when the season reopens, and both artificial lures and live bait will produce plenty of striper action,” he said. “I usually begin the month with artificial lures, in part because the fish are typically on a strong pattern where they are found in large schools. The competition for feeding is keen, so artificial lures will readily hook fish.”

Dennis (843-245-3762) said he uses his graph to find fish, typically in several types of situations.

“I find them suspended over deeper water in or around deep holes, along ledges that fall into deep water and around humps in varying depths of water,” Dennis said. “They typically will be found around these areas of changing bottom contours. It’s essential to find forage and stripers together, another reason to rely on a graph.

“A variety of lures can work, but jigging spoons are ideal, and a 1-ounce Hopkins Shorty spoon and 1-ounce Flex spoon in white are both lethal. The technique is simple; just drop the lure to the depth fish are marked and lift the spoon up and let it fall back.”

Another guide who’s been catching stripers in Santee Cooper for decades is Truman Lyon, who said artificial lures are his favorites throughout much of October.

“For the first few weeks, I’m convinced I can catch as many stripers and importantly, the larger stripers as well, using artificial lures as I can live bait,” said Lyon (843-729-2212). “Live bait such as blueback herring will certainly produce great results. Plus, as we approach the end of October, menhaden begin to filter into the lake to spawn, and they become a real attractant for the stripers. This will create a transition from jigging spoons to live bait as the more-effective and efficient striper-catching method.”

Dennis said topwater schooling can occur all through October, but as the month progresses, that action improves.

“Schooling stripers can be caught on bucktails — with white or yellow productive colors — as well as noisy topwater lures,” Dennis said. “I’ll often fish live bait on down rods late in the month as my party casts to the schooling fish. Both the artificial and live bait will usually get quick attention from the marauding stripers, and multiple hookups are common.”

In the Santee Cooper system, a striper must be 26 inches long to be legal. Many stripers caught are not of legal size and are released. Catching dozens of 21- to 26-inch fish is an awesome fishing experience. Plus, more keeper-sized stripers were in the system in the fall of 2015, and prospects are even better this season.

The process to make striper regulations more fishermen-friendly, while preserving the high quality of the fishery, has been under way for nine years, ever since the state legislature appointed members to a Santee Cooper Striped Bass Stakeholders committee.

Through the efforts of the committee, working in conjunction with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, a package was submitted to the legislature this year, but it failed to clear the legislative process, passing the House but being held up in the Senate.

Scott Lamprecht, an SCDNR biologist, said, “Although the bill cleared the House, it will have to be reintroduced next winter, since this was the second year in the legislative cycle and the table is cleared at the end of the session. The stakeholder committee will continue to meet and rework the current harvest restrictions to ensure that a sustainable striped bass population will continue, while allowing the harvest of the smaller and more abundant portion of the population.

“As with any regulation, there will be interests that are affected differently by the change; one size never fits everyone. There has been considerable sacrifice made by many of the system’s anglers to get to this point and the most-equitable change will benefit most of these anglers.

“The committee will have to make a more-concerted effort to get their message directly to their legislators,” he said. “We are still working with members who were appointed nine years ago by several legislators who no longer serve, so the importance of the committee’s message has been greatly attenuated, and since we are no longer in a crisis situation, it is easier get hung up on small details.”

Lamprecht said that while some glitches in compliance exist with the current regulations, the overall effect has been very positive.

“The population has accumulated more brood fish than we have had in decades,” he said. “The 2014 year-class was exceptional, and even last year’s flooding and this summer’s heat wave should not change the positive direction that we are headed.”

The proposed legislation allowed for a 23- to 25-inch slot limit for keeping stripers, while maintaining the three-fish creel limit. One trophy fish over 36 inches could be kept as part of the daily limit. SCDNR modeling studies show this structure would retain the benefit of the 26-inch limit, while enabling anglers to keep more fish.

The most-recent proposal would also have extended the spring fishing season until June 15. Current regulations close the season on June 1 and open it on Oct. 1.

About Terry Madewell 809 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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