Veteran guide Dave Hilton from Ridgeville, S.C., has long cherished the opportunity to catch multiple species of fish at Santee Cooper. During November, the striper and catfish action is exceptional on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, so Hilton set out to learn how to double-dip.
“Stripers and catfish are typically on a great bite right now, among the best of the year for both species,” he said. “Instead of targeting only one, I learned how to catch both on the same trip at the same time.”
Hilton (843-870-4734) said his technique relies on location. Plenty of places exist on both lakes for catching stripers or catfish, but the options for finding both in the same proximity are few.
“Electronics play a huge role,” he said. “I’ve guided for 27 years and have identified areas where I can reasonably expect to catch either species, and I’m targeting drops, humps and deep holes. By drift-fishing, I can utilize the wind direction to help me get the right drift pattern. Before beginning, I’ll check to ensure ample forage and targeted species are along the route.”
Hilton makes long drifts that take his pontoon boat over diverse bottom contours, covering striper or catfish targets. Typically, his parties catch stripers over some locations and catfish at others.
“But we’ll also drift over areas with unique underwater features that attract both species,” he said. “One example is a high spot right along the edge of a drop. When that occurs, we can get real busy, real quick, with a big cat or two and multiple stripers.”
Thus, he said, chaos can be a good thing.
In terms of rigs, Hilton’s setup would make a spider jealous, with all the protrusions from his boat in terms of rod numbers, angles and directions. He employs multiple catfish drift rigs out of the back of the boat with rods held at a 45-degree angle.
“With rods up, the rod tips bounce more, and I feel it gives the bait a more lifelike appearance, leading to aggressive bites,” said Hilton, who uses a variety of baits; gizzard shad, blueback herring and white perch are favored.
Because he often fishes the stump- and tree-laden bottom of Lake Marion, his tackle is suited for the snaggy lake floor. He employs the typical Santee rig, but often with 100-pound main line.
His striper setup employs multiple rigs that are set flat on the sides of his boat in his duo version of the Driftmaster rod holder. This version is designed to hold rods at two angles; he sets the catfish rods at the “up” angle and the striper rigs parallel to the water.
He prefers 7½-foot rods with a much-lighter tip action, and the medium-light “striper” action Ugly Stik is one of his rod choices. He uses 15-pound line with a 1- to 2-ounce sinker above an 18-inch leader.
His favorite striper bait is live blueback herring, but a gizzard shad the size of a dollar bill or slightly smaller is excellent. He hooks live baits through the nose when drift fishing.
“The biggest concern is a striper will often tap the bait before inhaling it,’ Hilton said. “To avoid premature hooksets, I tell my fishermen the striper just licked that herring; chill and give him a few seconds to swallow it.”
During November, Hilton will fish 25 to 30 feet deep on Lake Marion and often down to 40 feet on Lake Moultrie. For stripers, he’ll watch his graph adjust to where fish are suspended in the water column.
“For best results, I drift fairly slow, staying in the 0.3 to 0.5 miles per hour range using drift socks as necessary,” he said.
Hilton said a typical catch for the day will be a full 120-quart cooler.
“This is real fishing, so no guarantees, but usually it depends on the size of the catfish and stripers as to how many fish it takes, but that’s my goal,” he said.
“Typically, 20 to 30 stripers and 15 to 20 catfish or more per day are caught. We boat a lot of 15- to 20-pound catfish, and 30 to 40-pound catfish are realistic.”
Doing the Hilton “Double-Dip” simply enhances the odds of catching catfish and stripers on the same trip and Hilton said for best results he simply keeps faith in the big-picture process.
“I use the PP&S rule,” he said. “Patience and persistence sprinkled with at least some skill leads to doubling on striper and catfish success.”