I can’t think of any Christmas gift an avid angler would appreciate more than a chance to get out on the water during the busy holiday season. If you can find the time, many opportunities await, whether your passion is freshwater or saltwater.
Fishing for striped bass, catfish, walleye and walleye is good in Santee Cooper lakes, while Charleston’s creeks and docks offer saltwater enthusiasts good opportunities to catch trout, redfish and sheepshead , says Captain Joe Dennis of Captain J Hook Charters.
Santee Cooper Lakes may not be as well known today as other lakes for landlocked bass, but it all started here in the 1940s.
Striped bass are anadromous species that migrate from salt water to fresh water to spawn. When the dams that formed Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion were completed, stripers were trapped in freshwater, but they adapted and thrived. SC Department of Natural Resources biologists developed a technique to artificially spawn striped bass and eventually shared the larvae to help stock inland reservoirs in numerous states.
There was a decline in the Santee Cooper striped bass population, with differing opinions on what caused the drop in numbers. But in 2008 fishing guides, landing operators and other interested parties pushed for changes in the regulations in hopes that fishing would improve.
Today, anglers fishing the Santee River system can only keep three largemouth bass measuring 23 to 25 inches between Oct. 1 and June 15; striper season is closed June 16-30. Within the three-fish daily limit, anglers may keep one fish that measures more than 26 inches. And striper fishing is definitely on the rise.
“I’ve been catching stripers deep, 40 to 50 feet deep, fishing the (submerged) creeks in the lower (Moultrie) lake,” Dennis said.
He said he’s using walleye and live herring for bait and fishing the baits on Carolina rigs “maybe 5 or 6 feet off the bottom, because that’s where the big fish are.” He fishes Catch The Fever Striper Stealth rods with 15-pound main line and rigs them Carolina-style.
“The water is so clear and the fish can see the line, so I’ve gone to 10-pound fluorocarbon for my leader, about four feet away from the lead. The stripers are a little shy in this clear water . . ,” he said.
Dennis said streams can be located with Navionic maps displayed on the fish finder.
“I’m looking for fish or bait or both on my electronics, just working places I know the stripers are. If you find the bait, the fish aren’t far away,” Dennis said. “When I get them up, I’ll cut up my little Thump’Em Up fishing box to take them to the boat.”
Dennis said anglers are catching catfish in the same areas as stripers.
“We’re fishing pretty much the same way with the same rigs but different baits. I prefer blue herring to catfish,” he said.
Dennis said they are also being caught in good numbers, and he often goes on combo trips this time of year, catching all of these species.
For crappie, he recommends casting small rigs or a tight liner with live fish over brush piles in 25 to 35 feet of water.
Dennis said he was hooking up on the brush piles, using red worms, crickets or small pieces of shrimp for the bream.
The veteran guide works both freshwater and saltwater, and said saltwater fishing is good in December for anglers targeting trout, redfish and sheepshead.
“They’re catching a lot of big trout on the docks, big brown trout,” Dennis said. “Fish right on the rocks or as close to the rocks as possible. Your best bet will be live shrimp on a Carolina rig or a cork or cork slide. You can also fish for trout with mudfish or mullets, if you can find – them or use soft plastics in various colors. But live bait will be your best bet.”
With the drop in water temperature, redfish are rising in the creeks. Your best technique, again, is live shrimp or mudfish fished with corks or soft plastic.
Dennis also suggested trying dock rocks for sheep, using fiddler crabs, clams or live shrimp.
• Dennis co-hosts Father and Son Outdoors TV, which airs on the Pursuit Channel and also airs locally Sundays at 11:30 a.m. on WCBD-TV. He said Father and Son Outdoors TV has a new time slot on Pursuit and will air at 7 a.m. on Thursday mornings, immediately following Jimmy Houston Outdoors, and again at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays the evening.