With just a little breath of warm air from Mother Nature, several species of fish will be on the move this month Anglers pursing them will have to move and adapt to changing patterns as water temperatures warm, but the reward can be fat fish in skinny water.
If such thing as “normal” exists in weather, typical February weather will provide just enough warmth to get largemouth bass, stripers, crappie and even catfish on the move from deeper haunts toward a destination of springtime shallows. They seldom get there in February, but the process usually begins.
Leading the list for most fishermen are largemouth bass. Early in the month, action is typically sluggish, and fish are relatively deep. But with a few days of warmer weather — especially if we get a warm rain or two — the action can improve dramatically. In exceptional years, some scattered bedding action can occur, enough to warrant spending time in spawning areas and adjacent staging areas.
In most years, largemouth will make a strong push to the shallow water and may stage in a prespawn posture and often be quite aggressive. Multiple lures produce good results, with soft plastics, spinnerbaits and crankbaits leading the way. The variety of targets includes stumpy, shallow humps in flats or creeks, bends of creeks and shallow-water targets including stumps, weeds and brush.
Guide Inky Davis (803-478-7289) said he’ll fish the upper end of Lake Marion this time of year, and he’ll spend much of the latter part of the month looking for big bass moving toward the shallows.
“If some bass spawn, it is usually not many, but it’s certainly worth checking,” Davis said. “For me, a real key is to focus much of my fishing time on the prespawn areas because my experience has been that some of the largest bass of the year will make the move to these areas first. I don’t find as many big fish in shallow water as I will in March, but the top-end size of the February bass is usually exceptional. If I’m looking for a trophy fish, I begin that effort in earnest in February and carry it right on through March. A trophy bass can be caught year-round here, but late February through March certainly ranks high in terms of potential big bass.”
Stripers are another species on the move this month. The urge to spawn pulls these fish upstream instead of toward the shallows, and for many stripers, the upper end of Lake Marion and the Wateree and Congaree rivers are the destinations.
Steve Pack at Packs Landing (803-452-5514) said stripers will typically begin to reach the upper end of Lake Marion in late February, even though the best fishing for big numbers generally begins in March.
“Water flow and weather will influence the striper fishing, and the big push of stripers upstream will really turn on by early March,” Pack said. “But some really big stripers will begin moving through in February. It takes some patience, because we won’t get as many bites, but the opportunity for big stripers exists.”
Another area of current that attracts stripers is the Diversion Canal, and February will usually be very productive; it is a good time to take big fish. The water flow through the canal is typically strong during February and attracts stripers from Lake Moultrie. These stripers often linger in and around both ends of the canal, even if they later move through into Lake Marion and the rivers.
Productive techniques include fishing points and pockets along the canal’s sides and also the deep holes or high spots in middle of the canal. These holes and high spots create eddies that will often congregate stripers. Casting bucktails and soft plastics on heavy jigheads will produce along with cut or live bait, with gizzard shad being a good choice.
Crappies are also on the move, and early in February, they are caught primarily in deep water, but some will get into water less than 10 feet deep by mid-month. This is a few weeks before many anglers really target those areas, so go now and you can get an early start on shallow to mid-depth crappie fishing. Water temperature is a key, but usually by mid-month, the shallow canals and flats around Lake Moultrie are productive. The upper end of Lake Marion usually produces excellent fishing.
Catfish action in February begins as a deep-water affair, but like other species, they begin to make a strong move toward shallower water by the end of the month.
Both lakes will produce good action in deeper water early in the month, and the Diversion Canal will also produce a quality bite. When fishing the deep water in both lakes, a key is the presence of forage. Use a graph to target areas with plenty of forage along with good numbers of fish marked.
Most local experts recommend checking water deeper than 40 early in February in Lake Moultrie, while fishing a bit shallower in Lake Marion. Some big catfish will be taken in upper Lake Marion in relatively shallow water, often by anglers targeting stripers, but knowing the potential for a big catfish hookup is good. Late February fishermen will usually start hooking big cats in much shallower water.
Any of these “on-the-move” species requires patience and effort in February. Generally, they will have left their winter areas, but they won’t have reached their spawning targets. Intercept them along the way, and you can enjoy sensational fishing in the oft-overlooked month of February.