The cooler weather of December does little to slow the fishing activity on the Santee Cooper lakes. Catfish, crappie, stripers and largemouth bass will be biting. Successful patterns certainly change, but in some cases, the fish-catching perks up, especially if anglers retreat to deeper water. Other species simply require a change in location and slowing down the retrieve a bit.
Stripers typically provide good fishing with live bait; fishing for suspended stripers is very effective, and early and late in the day, topwater schooling action still produces, especially early in the month.
If you need more, late-season deer hunting around the lakes offers good opportunities, and waterfowl hunting season is wide open.
Crappie fishing typically becomes very dependable during December if anglers focus on deep water and brush or woody cover.
Guide Kevin Davis of Blacks Camp (843-753-2231) said the productive depths may vary from 20 to 40 feet, depending on the weather and water temperature.
“I like this time of year because crappie become quite predictable, and generally, the water temperature is such (that) the bite is still good,” Davis said. “I’ll tight-line live minnows on most trips, but I also like a small jig tipped with a live minnow as the water temperature drops. I generally fish vertically over the deep cover.”
On Lake Marion, guide Buster Rush (803-432-5010) generally begin switching from for crappie to catfish at some point in December, but the crappie action can be very good.
“We’ll still have good crappie fishing in late-November into December on Lake Marion,” he said. “I keep my options open, because when I find the crappie stacked up on brush at this time of year, we make excellent catches.”
Rush said the best depths usually fall into the 12- to 22-foot range. He’ll fish brush piles as well as underwater logs or stumps using minnows on a tight-line rig. However, these fish can be caught on jigs if fishermen can detect the light bites that are typical in December.
Blue cats on the prowl
Rush said the catfish bite is typically excellent on Lake Marion in December, and the bite is usually best on blues, but some channel or flatheads are still caught.
In December, Rush drift-fishes less, opting instead to anchor or tie to trees or stumps and fan-cast baits around his boat. His preferred bait is small shad caught using a cast net, as well as cut blueback herring and white perch. As a general rule, he’ll target water 18 to 25 feet deep.
“Late in the month, we often have phenomenal action because, as the water temperature drops, the big schools of shad will tighten, and the blues will relate to the shad as they would a drop or ledge at other times of the year,” Rush said. “I rely heavily on my graph during December for the catfish.”
The same basic pattern is good on Lake Moultrie, but drift-fishing is very popular and effective because of the open water and less standing timber in deep water where catfish are usually found.
Davis said striper action is productive in December, with fish consistently schooling at the surface. But fishing live bait often provides the most-consistent results.
“If the water temperature doesn’t get too cold, the topwater schooling action will be very good early and late using jigs with plastic trailers or bucktails, and the mid-day is productive drifting live herring.”
The key, Davis said, is finding the larger, legal-sized fish. Huge schools of fish just under the 26-inch size minimum provide great fishing and catching, but finding a lot of keeper-sized fish has been an issue.
“The larger fish are harder to come by, but during December, we usually catch more large stripers,” he said.
Largemouth bass are certainly a good option on both lakes, and while the entire month can be good, the early part of December can be very productive in shallow water.
Guide Brett Mitchell said the cooling waters can present a real opportunity for bass fishermen.
“The bass will tighten up into smaller, specific areas, but the positive news is that when we get on the fish, it’s not unusual to catch multiple fish from a small area,” said Mitchell (www.fishingwithbrett.com), who primarily keys on shad when searching for largemouth.
Fish may not be schooling as much as they were in October and November, but they still relate to shad. Mitchell uses a variety of lures and focus on 5 to 12 feet of water. One favored lure is a crankbait in a shad pattern, but other lures, including jigs and plastic trailers and spinnerbaits, will also produce.
Deer hunting in December will be a dramatic change from November, with the rut having wound down. With deer moving to a post-rut pattern, many hunters switch to small game or back to fishing, both good choices around Santee Cooper. But hard-core deer hunters still enjoy productive hunting until the season ends on January 1, 2018.
The deer movements do dwindle, and patience and perseverance are keys. Many hunters have learned that late-season food plots with plenty of “green” forage are deer magnets. Also, hunting very early and staying in the stand until all visibility is gone are additional keys to success.
Waterfowl hunting is very popular during December, and the cooler weather usually has plenty of waterfowl passing through the lakes.