Channel, blue, white and flathead catfish can be caught in Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion in the Santee Cooper lake system.
Catfish Dream Destination: South Carolina’s Santee Cooper Lakes
by Thomas J. Burrell
Why this South Carolina lake system should be your next catfishing destination.
If you’re a catfish angler looking for a new adventure, the Santee Cooper lake system in South Carolina must be at the top of your list. Not only is the area known for its picturesque scenery and family-friendly atmosphere, but it is also one of the best catfish fisheries available.
Let’s look at why the Santee Lake system should be your next destination, what types of catfish you should expect to find there and how to plan your trip.
Some Background on Santee Cooper
Santee Cooper is actually two lakes. Following the Great Depression, the Santee River was impounded, forming Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie and allowing the installation of a nearby hydroelectric station.
Today the project includes over 160,000 acres of preserved nature covering parts of five counties (Berkley, Calhoun, Clarendon, Orangeburg and Sumter). There are 450 miles of shoreline, 15,000 acres within Santee National Wildlife Refuge and 18,250 acres managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Why It’s a Catfish Dream Destination
The scenery alone makes Santee Cooper a dream destination. But for anglers, it comes down to results, and the lakes produce as many trophy catfish as they do picture-perfect sunsets.
The current world-record channel catfish, weighing 58 pounds, was caught in Lake Moultrie in 1964.
The current state-record flathead, weighing 79 pounds 4 ounces, was taken at the Santee Cooper Lake Diversion Canal in 2001.
The current state record for all-tackle blue catfish, weighing 136 pounds 6 ounces, was caught in Lake Moultrie in 2012.
There is no doubt that more record-breaking fish are lurking in the Santee Cooper waters, just waiting to be caught. The next one could be at the end of your line!
Santee Cooper is famous because it appeals to all types of anglers. Whether you want to hire a charter, fish from your boat or try your luck from shore, you have an opportunity to catch your best catfish.
Types of Catfish You Can Find
Both lakes hold year-round populations of blue, flathead, white and channel catfish. Let’s take a closer look at what to expect from each.
Blues are the most abundant species, and one that many anglers are chasing. They’re best targeted from April to October. Deep holes and drop-offs produce many, and you can expect to catch 40-pounders regularly. Gizzard shad are their preferred local delicacy, but cut-bait, worms and commercial catfish baits are also popular. Although winter’s lower temperatures produce fewer blue catfish, they can produce larger fish. This is due to the big fish being concentrated in the deeper pools and easier to locate.
Flatheads are second in terms of population and popularity. Although it’s possible to catch them year-round, the summer heat is most productive. When the bite is hot, anglers can expect to catch 20 or more fish daily, with plenty in the 40- to 50-pound range. Many guides and local anglers only get excited when flatheads exceeding 60 pounds are being landed.
White and channel catfish can be caught year-round. As the seasons change, the fish will move, following pockets of warm water and schools of baitfish. Due to the subtropical temperatures of South Carolina, the bite never really turns off. Most area guides guarantee 100 pounds of fish caught during a single trip, varying sizes depending on location. It’s almost like they are climbing the boat ladder to get to your cooler.
How to Plan Your Trip
Due to the lakes’ popularity and contribution to the local communities, plenty of resources are available to anglers who are headed to the lake system. Whether you are looking for more info on how to fish, where to stay or what to do when you are not on the lake, here’s where to find the information you need.
About the Lakes: The best sources of information are the agencies that manage the property: the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the Santee National Wildlife Refuge and the Santee Cooper Corporation.
Where to Stay: Your choices of places to stay are almost limitless, but due to the lake’s size, you will want to stay close to where you will be fishing. Check out the South Carolina Association of Visitors Bureaus or Santee Cooper Country for local accommodations.
Guide Services: If you are interested in hiring a guide to show you the ins and outs of fishing at Santee Cooper, there are plenty to choose from. Many locals spend the entire year guiding on the lakes and know where to take clients. Although you can search local classifieds, the Santee Cooper Country website maintains an updated list of the most active guides.
Activities for the Family: If not everyone in your party wants to fish, there are plenty of activities in the area that are equally interesting.
With the Santee National Wildlife Refuge and Santee State Park encompassing part of the lakes, you will have your pick of hiking trails, camping and wildlife tours.
The region has a rich history with numerous points of interest. These include the Revolutionary War battlefield at Eutaw Springs, the Elloree Heritage Museum, Smith’s Super Store and the Santee Indian Mound at Fort Watson.
There are also numerous modern attractions, including the Santee Water Park, Santee National Golf Club, Lake Marion Golf Club and Santee Cooper Country Club.
For more options, check out Santee Tourism.
How to Get There
Santee Cooper is easy to reach from almost anywhere in South Carolina. Moncks Corner and Bonneau offer easy access to Lake Moultrie. The primary access point to the north is Manning, located along SC 261 off exit 119 on I-95. That exit will take you to the town of Santee on the south shore.