It’s been a long time since I fished the Santee Cooper area lakes. Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie are world famous for mondo catfish and crappie. And they are vibrant striped and largemouth bass fisheries as well. Recently, I attended the South Carolina Outdoor Writer’s Conference, held at Black’s Fish Camp, and had the honor to fish with two iconic Santee Cooper charter guides…Capt. Leroy Suggs and Capt. Charlie King.
Each morning, I was treated to a home-cooked breakfast at Black’s restaurant while the captains prepped their boat with tackle and a livewell full of blueback herring. After a short run down the lake, we would set four to six downline rods with live baits and drift near actively working seagulls. The striper schools would show up on the sonar, and we would typically boat three or four fish before the school would break up or move on. This is the way many anglers, including me, fish for stripers. And it’s a very effective method.
Even though the calendar said October, the air temperature said July; with mid-morning temps in the mid-90’s. The water surface temperature hovered near 85 degrees. Not ideal conditions for man or fish. By the time the sun cleared the treetops, the fish went deep and the bite all but stopped. We could see fish on the sonar, but their enthusiasm to eat a herring diminished as the sun got higher.
Coincidentally, one of the sponsors of the conference was Live Target Lures, and they had put a few sample baits in each of the attendees’ goodie bags. I’ve known this company for producing super-realistic crankbaits, soft plastics and swimbaits. My bag had a Live Target Flutter Shad jigging spoon in it. When the live bait bite slowed, I figured this was as good a time as any to try out the spoon.
Upon dropping it over the side, the first thing I noticed was the erratic, fluttering descent. With 12 pound braid on a light spinning rod, I could really feel the spoon’s movement all the way down. The same applied to the jigging retrieve. You could feel the spoon when lifting the rod and when reeling it back to the surface.
On the second drop, the spoon went to the bottom…and as I lifted the rod…the line came tight. This wasn’t a subtle, shy take either. It was a noticeable thump that peeled drag. And after a gallant fight, a slot-sized striper came to the landing net. Coincidence? Blind luck? Stupid fish? All possibilities. When the third drop produced yet another fish, the other two writers on the boat, and the captain, started jigging as well. While we were all jigging spoons, we kept a couple live baits out as well. Interestingly enough, it was the spoons that consistently produced fish.
Quite honestly, this fishing strategy was contrary to tactics I would normally think to be productive. After all, why would a fish prefer a piece of plastic and metal over a juicy live bait? Then it occurred to me…the active feeding time had passed, and the stripers were hanging out in the cooler, oxygen-rich deep water until they got hungry again. Our spoons were most likely drawing a reaction strike as it fluttered past their nose…presenting both a visual and sonic impression of an easy meal. Although I couldn’t actually see what our herring were doing 40 feet below the boat; my guess is they were just hanging out as well, and didn’t present the same bite-generating action that the spoon did.
All in all, we caught over 50 fish each day, with the majority being caught on a jigging spoon. We kept a few for dinner and the rest were released to be caught another day.
I’ve always been a believer in the effectiveness of jigging spoons to catch fish throughout the entire water column. Now I’ve experienced first-hand that spoons can be a great tool to turn the bite back on…whether you fish Santee Cooper, Lanier, Clark Hill, Hartwell or any of our other impoundments.
The unique shape, action, and realistic pattern embedded in the Flutter Shad proved to out-fish frisky live herring in a head-to-head comparison. These two days of fishing convinced me that spoons will always be a “never-leave-the-dock-without-one” item in my tackle box.
Tight lines and calm seas.
Capt. Cefus McRae