Stacey Weatherford and Kevin Davis heft a stringer of slab crappie, many caught
from a public fish attractor, accessible to any angler (Photo: Terry Madewell)
Santee Cooper Destination
by Terry Madewell
Two huge South Carolina lakes, laden with woody and weedy crappie-attracting cover, linked as a single fishing-unit via a 7-mile-long Diversion Canal, should sound like a crappie-fishing Mecca. And that does, indeed, describe the Santee Cooper lakes. And right now ranks as prime time to enjoy this fabulous crappie resource.
The Santee Cooper lakes consist of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, lying in the coastal plain of South Carolina. Together they offer anglers 171,000 acres of prime, highly-diversified, crappie-fishing water.
Longtime Santee-Cooper anglers, Kevin Davis and Stacey Weatherford, veteran crappie-catching experts, both fish out of Blacks Camp situated on the Diversion Canal running between the lakes, provides direct access either way you want to go.
Davis lives in Cross, SC and is a former crappie-fishing guide. He said this time of year is ordinarily a deep-water fishing situation, but the size of the crappie caught is extraordinary.
“No magic formula, or special lure, is needed to catch slab crappie from the Santee Cooper lakes in during November, but you do need a gameplan,” Davis said. “The lakes are chock-full of crappie cover, and fall fish are fat from abundant forage, but fish are not literally found around every stump or tree. The fishing character of the two lakes is quite different and provides diverse pattern options for anglers. It’s not uncommon to catch crappie weighing two-pounds, and occasionally considerably larger.”
Davis said Lake Moultrie was cleared of trees in the main lake area before being inundated. But the process was expedited for Lake Marion because of the need for power generation for the World War II effort. Much of Lake Marion was not cleared, leaving standing trees throughout the lake and huge swamps in the upper end.
Deep-Thinking for November Crappie
Davis said his November fishing efforts center around deep-water cover. He targets woody cover at the base of ledges, depressions, along natural ditches, at the ends of underwater points and the mouths of underwater creeks.
“Catching crappie right now is not complicated, but it requires fishermen to be more mobile than other times of the year,” he said. “Crappie get into tight clusters in specific areas during November but when we find them, they’re usually abundant and aggressive.”
Stacey Weatherford, from Moncks Corner, SC, is a lifelong Santee Cooper angler and is a panfish addict with slab crappie and bull bream his favored year-round targets.
“Electronics are a key for me when targeting deep water crappie,” he said. “In addition to down- and side-scan features to locate fishing targets, I use forward-facing sonar and that tool has elevated my crappie fishing productivity to the next level.”
Weatherford said if he doesn’t mark fish using the forward-facing sonar feature, he’ll move on to another target knowing he’s not leaving fish behind.
“It speeds up the fish-finding process and adds to the crappie caught, so I can cull small fish and keep larger crappie,” he said. “If I mark fish that I believe are crappie, but don’t catch them, I’ll return later in the trip and often find they’re on an aggressive bite. Patience, and timing, is crucial.”
Weatherford said on some days he’ll catch limits (20/person) fishing a couple of places, but on most days, he enjoys steady action and catches multiple fish on several spots.
“No magic formula, or special lure, is needed to catch slab crappie from the Santee Cooper lakes during November, but you do need a gameplan.” Kevin Davis.
“Depth is crucial and changes during the day from the low light of morning to mid-day, on a bright day,” he said. “I’m always changing jig sizes and colors. I’m a big fan of the Bobby Garland Baby Shad, especially in the Blue Thunder color pattern, on a 1/16-ounce jighead at this time of the year. Live minnows, fished vertically, also produce quality crappie.”
“Productive depths vary because the lakes are so big and diverse in depth and cover, but most of my November fishing will be in water 20-to-40-feet deep,” he said. “Crappie tend to orient to the top of the cover and along the side, so the depth I fish varies with individual targets. I’ll use my graph to determine the depth fish are holding and the position of crappie relation to the brush, logs, trees, or stumps and I target that depth.”
Davis said when fishing a minnow-only rig he’ll use a number 4 hook and attach a number three split shot eight-inches above the bait, enabling him to fish the rig vertically.
“A fall crappie bite can be subtle and if the split shot is placed further up the line we’ll often not see or feel the bite,” he said. “Little things make a big difference in the fall.”
Davis said numerous public fish attractors have been placed in both lakes and the structures are well maintained, and were refurbished in 2023. They’re marked by buoys and produce excellent crappie action in November.
“Stacey and I often fish together and we utilize these fish attractors,” Davis said. “Anglers visiting for the first time can get an advantage on the crappie-finding process by fishing these targets.”
Davis said a Santee Cooper map and legend, including latitude and longitude coordinates, is available for the public fish attractors.
While In the Area
Jane Powell, Executive Director of the Santee Cooper Country Tourist Information Center, said many fishermen opt to hire a crappie fishing guide on their first trip.
“A guide helps anglers not only get a handle on current, productive fishing patterns, but to learn their way around the lakes,” she said.
Powell said for specific crappie fishing guide information check the Santee Cooper Country Tourism guide listing.
“In addition to fishing, the 5-County area around the lakes offer many exciting adventures and activities for visitors, included non-fishing guided group tours of the lakes,” Powell said. “Accommodations, restaurant information, along with many other Santee Cooper oriented opportunities, are listed in our Santee Cooper Country Visitors Guide.”
The fertile waters of Santee Cooper produced the South Carolina state record black Crappie, weighing 5 pounds. The system also holds the state record for largemouth bass at 16 pounds; shellcracker at 5 pounds, 7 ½ ounces (a former world record); current world record channel catfish at 58 pounds; and state record blue catfish at 113.8 pounds.
South Carolina fishing license information and purchase options can be obtained online with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C. has been an outdoor communicator for more than 45 years. He holds a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager. He’s passionate about sharing outdoor adventures with others.