September is a transition month on South Carolina’s Santee Cooper lakes, and while some fishing patterns remain basically the same from August, some begin to change. Over the course of the next few weeks, more will begin to change as the annual crop of shad grows larger and more species will begin to find and devour this highly favored forage.

We’re starting a stretch run that lasts more than two months and offers truly exciting and productive fishing. Topwater schooling action really jump-starts my fall fishing; it’s a special day on the water when fish are aggressively smacking shad on the surface. Whether it’s one or two largemouths or scores of fish — depending on the species — it’s just fall fishing at its finest. 

As the weather cools and water temperatures begin to drop, we’ll see a return to more shallow-water action, with topwater action for largemouth bass being at the top of the list.

Stripers will begin to school more consistently this month, and the only downside to that is the season won’t open until Oct. 1, so we can’t chase them. But we can observe and learn where the big schools of fish are working late in the month to prep for October. 

Largemouths school more as September progresses, and schooling action typically doesn’t peak until October, but it’s plenty enjoyable as it builds along the way. A side benefit of topwater schooling is that a lot of forage is found shallow, so topwater fishing in general is much more productive.

Even the deepwater species are revving up.

Crappie fishing is already very good around deep brush, but it gets better as the average size of fish increases and numbers go up. Both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie will produce plenty of slab crappie this month.

Buster Rush guides for crappie and catfish and primarily focuses his efforts on Lake Marion. He rates September as one of his favorite months for big crappie.

“September kicks off what is usually a couple months of the most-consistent crappie fishing of the year for big crappie,” he said. “Typically, the fishing is already good, but with slightly cooler weather, it does seem to push productivity to the next level. It’s also easier on anglers to fish longer hours. I’ll typically find crappie in depths ranging from 12 to 24 feet of water on Lake Marion. Most of the crappie will be holding at the top or around the edges of the sunken brush, and tight-lining minnows is the best tactic.”  

Kevin Davis of Blacks Camp said crappie fishing is also good on Lake Moultrie.

“I fish both lakes, and I find the crappies are a little deeper on average in Lake Moultrie than in Lake Marion, so it helps to know you’ve got to fish a bit deeper. But both lakes will produce plenty of crappie.

Davis (843-312-3080) said crappies are locked into the deep-water pattern of holding on brush and other woody cover around humps and drops, and they are very predictable. 

“They’ve had the summer to grow, and I catch a lot of big crappie during September and on into the fall,” he said. “I usually tight-line minnows, but small jigs will work as well if the angler is adept at using them. I also like a Roadrunner with a small spinner for fall fishing.”

Davis said productive depths vary at Lake Moultrie, ranging from 15 to 40 feet.

“Patterns will change as sunlight penetration changes,” he said. “Even extended periods of cloud cover will have an impact, and less light usually means shallower fish.”

Catfishing also shifts into another gear as September progresses and more and bigger catfish are caught. As the year-class of forage fish continues to grow and cluster into larger schools, blue catfish in particular begin to cluster around them. Catfish are going to be around something to eat, and it gets easier to spot pods of forage in September.

Davis and Rush said September is excellent for lots of catfish.

“Excellent fishing exists in both lakes,” Davis said. “Most of the fishing on Lake Moultrie will be drift-fishing, or on calm days, fishermen will use their electric motors to slow-troll over humps and drops. The catfish are still deep, and productive depths will vary from 20 to 45 feet during the daytime. The catfish will be shallower at night.”

On Lake Marion, according to Rush (803-432-5010), most fishermen anchor and fan-cast bottom rigs around their boats because of all the underwater woody cover.

“Because of so many snags, relatively few open areas in the main body of the lake are conducive to drift-fishing, but if you know some spots, drifting is a good technique,” he said. “The best baits — whether anchored or drifting — are usually cut shad, bream or white perch for the blues and live or fresh cut bait for the flatheads.”

Fishing in the upper end of Lake Marion surges for several species, according to Steve Pack at Packs Landing

“As weather and water temperatures begin to change, forage begins to make a major move into the shallows,” Pack said. “When this occurs, we’ll see a lot more surface schooling, and fishing in shallow water around cover perks up. This is the time of year when fishermen again begin to catch a lot of fish, including quality fish.” 

Pack (803-452-5514) said good fishing for catfish, bream and in largemouth bass is the norm in the upper end of Lake Marion, and it will improve as October approaches. Catfish action can get really good both in the flats and up the Wateree or the Congaree rivers.