McCall applied his winter tactics on Santee to tempt this nice blue. He loves fishing shallow water and the winter cats at Santee can be caught relatively shallow.
Winter Tips from Santee Cooper
by Ron Presley
Unlike many bodies of water that require anglers to fish deep, Santee Cooper produces great catfishing in shallow water even in the wintertime.
Brad McCall is no stranger to Santee Cooper. He drives over often from his home in Anderson to a place he has in Pineville, SC. He makes the trip at least once a month to fish the South Carolina impoundment for both recreational and tournament fishing. His tournament success on the popular catfish destination is well known and his catfish knowledge is much respected. His fishing experience on Santee goes back to his childhood.
“I start fishing Santee when I was a kid,” revealed McCall. “My grandparents had a place at Rocks Pond and I would spend my summers there with them. At that time I would fish the upper lake (Marion) with my dad and grandfather. We never fished the lower lake (Moultrie) back then.”
About 5 years ago McCall teamed up with Mike Durham to tournament fish. Until then he had never been on lower lake Moultrie. Given what they learned about Moultrie and the big fish they have caught there, now it’s hard to keep them off of it.
“You can fish Santee in so many different ways,” declared McCall. “You can fish shallow or deep and if you want to river fish you can drive 30 minutes and be in the Cooper River.”
Unlike many anglers who seek deep water in the wintertime temperatures, McCall likes to fish in shallow water. Exactly where he fishes will depend on water clarity, water temperature, and the size of the bait present in the area.
“I like to fish shallow this time of the year,” clarified McCall referring to wintertime fishing. “But water clarity will play a big factor in how shallow we go.”
McCall gave an example of the 2021 Black’s Camp Big Cat Shootout. The water visibility was around 7 to 8 feet which is clear for Santee in December. An adjustment in the game plan was needed under those conditions.
“When the water is that clear it’s hard to drag planner boards for big blue cats in 10-12 feet of water,” noted McCall. “It’s like hunting a big buck. When you spook them, they’re not gonna’ hang around. So we dropped back out to the 25-35 feet deep range and looked for the bait and the fish the same way we would in the shallow water.”
McCall uses his electronics to find areas that are holding big bait and scattered big fish. When the bait is busted up and it looks like it’s bigger than threadfin they figure that they are in the right area.
“We look for scattered big fish using our Humminbird Helix side scan,” instructed McCall. “We like to see fish in wolfpack’s of 5 or 6 but single scattered big fish is fine also.”
McCall says the magic number for water temperature is in the mid-50s. His experience has shown that a lot of the big bait tends to leave the 5 to 12-foot water (that’s what he calls shallow), once the water temp hits that 50-degree mark. After that he expects them to move out to the deeper 15 to 30-foot range.
“Where the bait goes so goes the big fish,” said McCall. “You can determine the size of the bait by how big the returns are on your side scan. If the returns are larger dots in smaller groups up in the water column it is more than likely crappie, large gizzard shad, bass, etc. If you are seeing large clouds of bait stuck to the bottom more than likely it will be menhaden, threadfin shad, or large groups of white perch.”
As long as the water temp is in the 50’s McCall is satisfied to pull bait a little faster. Once it gets into the high 40’s he recommends slowing down the drift. That colder water may even bring anchor fishing into play. In the spring of the year, he will anchor fish regularly.
“In the spring and fall of the year we like to anchor first thing in the morning,” informed McCall. “We will spend an hour and a half or so on the rope. We are looking for the big fish coming back off the flats from 5 feet of water or less. They are heading back to safety in the deeper water.”
“In the spring of the year we may anchor in stump fields that are around 3 to 10 feet deep and stay all day,” added McCall. “The fish in the spring are gorging on bait in the shallows before the spawn. Also, spring brings more bait into the lake. Baits like the river herring and American shad become more plentiful.”
If the water temps are cold and McCall finds a ledge with several good fish hanging around it he will abandon the boards and anchor.
“When the water gets cold we will sit on the anchor for at least 1 ½ hours,” offered McCall. “We have stayed on a ledge for half a day before in water below 50 degrees. It just depends on how often we get bit. But the 1 hour and a half rule is solid for us because more times than not it will be 1 hour 15 minutes in before we get our first bite.”
Bait size is another possible variable for many winter anglers. There is a school of thought that winter fishing can be improved by downsizing the bait. There may be some truth to that strategy, but McCall wants no part of it.
“We usually go against what most people believe when it comes to bait in the cold water,” explained McCall. “We always go big with our bait because we’re looking for a big bite and it doesn’t matter if it’s a tournament or just fishing for fun.”
“We really depend on our electronics to tell us what to do,” concluded McCall with his final advice. “The best thing for any angler who wants to be a consistent fisherman is to learn your electronics. Leave the rods stored and spend hours just riding, scanning, and learning to use the great resource that is your graph.”