February is an overlooked month in terms of quality fishing at Santee Cooper. Frequently changing weather causes fishing patterns to change quickly, but for anglers who adjust to cold fronts and can fish deep and shallow or adapt from a slow presentation to a fast presentation, February is a great time for quality fish.
Largemouth bass is certainly a good illustration for February fishing. They can be caught throughout both lakes, but typically, the upper end of Lake Marion — where the shallow water warms quickly — is a key area for early season bass.
Whitey Outlaw of St. Matthews works patterns in shallow water in February with excellent success. He said he frequently has to change gears in terms of presentation speeds to be successful.
“This is an awesome time of the year to take big bass in the upper part of Lake Marion,” Outlaw said. “I primarily fish the Sparkleberry Swamp area, and I have a key factors in tackle that really help me. I generally use small baits, and in this cold water, that’s the perfect fit to punch your ticket for a huge largemouth bass.
“One of my favorites is a lure that’s been around a long time but overlooked by many: the Roadrunner,” he said. “I use the 1/8-ounce size with a red head, willow-leaf blade and a Mid-South tube jig in white/chartreuse and other color patterns. The bite can be very sensitive and subtle on this small lure, especially when huge bass just suck it in, so I combine that with a Sam Heaton B’n’M spinning rod with 10-pound Vicious line. That gives me the necessary feel for light bites from big fish.
“I typically work this lure slowly around stumps, cypress and gum trees in the swamp in 2 to 5 feet of water,” Outlaw said, “but there are days after a short warm spell with sunny weather when the fish get a bit more active, and I have to work the Roadrunner faster to be successful. That’s the nature of February fishing, and to get more bites on some days, I will work it faster when conditions are right. But one thing for sure is that there are days when I get on a pattern that works, and I’ll stick with that as long as I can until something changes, and then I’ll adapt. One word to describe the secret to bass fishing success in February is adaptability.”
Largemouths are not the only fish biting in the upper end of Lake Marion this month. Andy Pack of Packs Landing (803-452-5514) said that February is also a prime time for early season crappie action in that area.
“We’re usually a few weeks ahead for shallow-water crappie fishing,” Pack said. “It’s not unusual to catch limits of crappie in shallow water around the trees, logs and stickups in the swamp, on Packs Flats and in the Low Falls areas. We’ll use small jigs or live minnows and sometimes small jigs tipped with minnows under a bobber. We’ll work these around a variety of cover until we find fish.
“The fishing is not always hot where fish are biting everywhere. Often, we have to check areas and depths looking for the right combination,” Pack said. “We adapt, but when we get on a good pattern, it produces big crappie.”
Two other species also show up in the upper end of Lake Marion this month: the first of the striped bass making the spawning migration run up the river and some good catfish action. Steve Pack, Andy’s older brother, said that the fishing for both species is not real consistent for numbers, but it is a good time of the year for some big fish.
“We can’t catch the big herring and sell them until March, so February striper fishing is done with gizzard and threadfin shad,” Pack said. “But typically, a few good-sized stripers are caught, and in 2014 we did have some heavy fish weighed in caught on shad. The really good action will crank up in March, but big-fish opportunities exist during February.
“Huge catfish are caught during February and into March using cut shad,” Pack said. “Big catfish are often caught as a by-product of striper fishing, but some fishermen will target catfish early in the year and catch some monster-sized fish. Last year, we had an 80-pound fish caught very early in the season, so there are opportunities for big fish.”
Farther down the lake, the open-water catfishing is good on Lake Marion and on Lake Moultrie. On Marion, most guides will anchor and flat-line cut bait around the boat. On Moultrie, the preferred technique is to drift-fish early in the month, but as the weather warms and short warming trends occur, the catfish will move to the shallows for short periods, especially to depressions about 5 feet deep surrounded by shallow flats in 2 to 3 feet of water. But they’ll return to deep water when the next cold front blows through.
Bass fishing is also good on lower Lake Marion and on Lake Moultrie, fishing heavy cover with a variety of bottom-bumping lures or slowly retrieve crankbaits. Crappie fishing improves, with a lot of fish stacking up around creek mouths in mid-to late February on the lower end of Lake Marion. In Lake Moultrie, the crappie will begin to scatter toward shallower brush and cover.
In summary, from shallow bass on small baits to huge catfish on big baits, February is a month for big fish, but fishermen must be quick to adapt to changing fish patterns to be consistently successful.