Fishing on Santee Cooper: What You Need to Know
Fishing on Santee Cooper: What You Need to Know
May 25, 2020 | 9 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 9 minutes

The Santee Cooper lake system includes not one, but two lakes, inlcuding South Carolina’s “Inland Sea” and the state’s third-largest lake. So it’s no surprise that fishing on Santee Cooper is among the best in the state.

From the Wateree River, across the flats of Lake Marion, to the open waters of Lake Moultrie and beyond, the fishing is exceptional. That’s why it’s the number-one stop for freshwater anglers in the “Palmetto State.”

A photo of Lake Marion with the trees sticking out of the water.

While taking in the world-class fishery, you’ll also get to indulge in stunning views. Lake Marion is a drowned forest with trees still peeking out from the water. This adds a real sense of mystery when fishing, especially at dawn or dusk. And the added bonus? The roots are full of nutrients that attract a range of exciting fish.

The lakes’ shores are fully equipped for tourism, too. Come along year-round and there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained. Explore the Congaree National Park, Santee State Park, or any special wildlife areas, and you’re in for a treat! 

What can I catch while fishing on Santee Cooper?

Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, there’s always something for you in Lakes Marion and Moultrie. In fact, on the same trip, you can target that trophy catch and help the kids reel in their first-ever fish. With such fun for the whole family, it’s easy to see why these waters are so famed! 

Catfish

A young angler holding a large Catfish while fishing on Santee Cooper.

One fish reigns supreme in the Santee Cooper lakes, and that’s Catfish. Both lakes hold a year-round population of Blue, Flathead, White, and Channel Catfish. That’s why catfishing here is often ranked among the best in the country

Hit up the deep waters of Lake Marion or Moultrie in summer, and you can expect plenty of 20-pounders. If you’re lucky, you could even write your name into the history books and land a 40 lb monster. Does that sound like wishful thinking? Well, the world’s largest Channel Catfish was caught here way back in 1964. We think it’s about time someone broke the record!

Bass

The catfishing here is so good, in fact, that Santee Cooper Bass fishing often gets overlooked. But don’t you miss out on the incredible fishing on offer!

A man and a boy with a Striped Bass on a boat on Santee Cooper

The local Striper population fell victim to over-fishing in the mid and late 20th century, but they’re now heavily protected with strict seasons. You won’t be able to fish for any of these beauties in the summer months. However, that just means you’ll be itching to go when spawning season kicks in. Come in spring or when the fall run takes place, and get your hands on these beasts.

Another forgotten gem of these lakes is Largemouth Bass. This is one of the nation’s favorite freshwater fish, and the lakes have plenty of these bad boys on offer. Lake Marion is home to the state-record Largemouth Bass, so you’ll have the chance to go for a trophy-sized catch. Meanwhile, you can target them year-round in Lake Moultrie too. 

Crappie

A woman holding a Crappie on land after fishing on Santee Cooper

We told you that there was something for the whole family when fishing in Santee Cooper, and Crappie just proves that.

The lakes boast a healthy number of Black and White Crappie, and they’re another fish that you can target year-round. Growing to larger-than-usual sizes, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a dish big enough to cook up this popular “Panfish” at the end of the day.

These small, delicious fish are the quintessential first catch for any angler. Get to grips with a rod and reel as you cast for them. And you can take up to 20 of these beauties home with you, too. Come and fill your cooler with these delicious creatures!

How to Fish on Santee Cooper

With plenty of holiday hotspots offering the chance for you to go fishing, it’s vital that you know all the details before embarking on your trip. Read on to find out how we think you can get the most out of these waters. 

With a Chartered Guide

A group of male anglers with Catfish caught while fishing on Santee Cooper.

Whether on your own or in a group, a charter is usually regarded as the best way to go fishing. With a professional guide, you’ll get to the sweet spots with ease, and may even reach some secluded spots that nobody else knows about. On board, you’ll find all the gear you need, including bait or lures. So if you’re coming from out of town, you won’t need to bring anything yourself.

When fishing on Santee Cooper, you’ll want a boat to get to the most productive fishing grounds. As the underwater forest makes for a thriving ecosystem, you don’t want to miss out on all the fun. Head to the heart of the lakes and fish the deep waters where the Stripers go in winter, the Largemouth hide in summer, and the Catfish love to feed year-round. 

Aboard Your Own Boat

A lone fly fisherman on a boar casting while fishing on Santee Cooper

If you’re a keen boater, then there’s nothing stopping you from renting a boat or bringing your own vessel. Enjoy the freedom of exploring the lake at your own leisure, as you take the day at your own speed. Spend as long or as little as you’d like on the water, and try to fill the boat with some delicious fish.

Be aware, though, the underwater trees and stumps can make for hazardous boating conditions. First-timers should watch out for some unexpected bumps along the way. Don’t just take our word for it, listen to the advice of Santee Cooper electric and water company before you go out on your own. 

On Foot or From Shore

A lone angler fishing from a bench alongside Lake Moultrie.
(Flickr, Allan Ferguson, CC BY 2.0)

When most people think of fishing, they imagine sitting by the side of the lake with someone close and relaxing as they cast away. Fishing from shore gives you exactly that opportunity. Bring a chair and cooler, along with your best pal, and kick back with a day of fishing.

However, as the biggest prizes in Santee Cooper are further out in the middle of the lakes, fishing from shore is not a popular choice around here. If you do fancy going out on foot, your best bet is to hit the canal between the two lakes. Come in spring for the Striper bite, or target Largemouth Bass in the shallows in Spring. 

Where to Go Fishing on Santee Cooper

While there’s not really a wrong place to go, these more than 160,000 acres of water have a lot to offer and we want to make sure you make the most of it. Where’s best to cast your line? Where’s best for families? Read on and find out some of the lakes’ top secrets.

Lake Marion

Santee State Park

A photo of Lake Marion and its channel leading to Lake Moultrie.
(Flickr, DaveyBorden, CC BY-ND 2.0)

The synonymous state park that engulfs South Carolina’s “inland sea” is truly a thing of beauty. Base yourself out of Santee itself and you can enjoy anything from a camping adventure to a deluxe holiday. Everything here is built for tourism, so take advantage of some of the finest hospitality on offer in Santee Cooper.

Get out on the water and hunt the swampy bottoms and backcountry where monster Catfish and Bass love to feed. Or, stay onshore and hit up the Santee-Cooper Country Club for a round of golf, or just take in the wonders of the green forest against the contrast of the azure lake. 

Summerton

A grou of young children holding a Ctfish while fishing out of Summerton

Operating as a retreat for plantation owners in its early days, Summerton is still a place for relaxation. This sleepy town is a great base for all your vacation needs. When it comes to fishing, you’re close to some of Lake Marion’s best fishing grounds. Explore the flooded cypress forest which is a haven for all kinds of fish year-round. 

Based just 8 miles from the northern lake’s shores, Summerton not only offers you the chance to get out onto the water, but it’s also far enough away for you to engage in other sports. Camping is popular for families, with plenty opting to go hunting or for a round of golf. Whatever you choose, there’s plenty for you to make the most of your holiday. 

Lake Moultrie

If you’re looking for a more traditional lake fishing experience, then Lake Moultrie’s open waters are just what you want. The smaller lake still offers some swampy spots, but the waters get deeper quicker. Target the same fish without worrying about bumping into the trees beneath you.

Cross

A photo of Lake Moultrie looking towards the hills behind.
(Flickr, Allan Ferguson, CC BY 2.0)

The tiny village of Cross may seem like a strange location to include on our list, but it’s a hotspot for boaters due to its public ramp. Anglers looking to explore north Lake Moultrie and the canal will be hard-pressed to find a better spot.

Hit the canal that joins the lakes for Stripers in Spring, or explore the numerous ditches out in the heart of the lake year-round for Bass and Crappie.

Pinopolis 

Two anglers pulling in a fish out of Pinopolis.

The town of Pinopolis is located on a peninsula on Lake Moultrie. A popular spot for locals employed by the nearby Santee-Cooper electric and water company, it’s arguably one of the best starting points for fishing on Lake Moultrie.

Indulge in the stunning surroundings of the towering pine trees around the lake, or head out onto the heart of the lake and get your fill of Catfish, Bass, and delicious Panfish. 

If you happen to be in Charleston, then Pinopolis is your best bet of getting out on Santee Cooper, too. Just 36 miles from the city, it’s a great place for you to escape the hustle and bustle and get back to nature.

Santee Cooper Fishing Seasons

With South Carolina’s subtropical climate, there’s never a bad time to come fishing on Santee Cooper. Whenever you visit, you’re in for a thrilling day of fishing, with plenty of fish biting at the end of your line.

Indeed, while not a hub for fishing tournaments, the lake does play host to regular touring events. These can range from Striper hunting in spring, to catfishing in winter. Keep an eye on FLW Fishing and Bassmaster’s schedules, and you could be in with a shot of fishing with the pros. 

The one thing you should be aware of is the closed Striped Bass season. It’s forbidden to target these beauties from June 1 through September 30. But don’t worry, there’s plenty more action throughout the summer, with plenty of activities on offer around the lakes, too. Find all the latest bag limits here.

Everyone over the age of 16 will also need a South Carolina fishing license before going fishing on Santee Cooper. These differ for residents and non-residents, with discounts for military personnel, too. Find out which one you need and grab yours online here

Why Santee Cooper?

Still haven’t made up your mind about going fishing on Santee Cooper? Let’s just recap why Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie are the places to be if you’re looking for a freshwater fishing trip in South Carolina.

  • Monster Catfish: These bottom-dwelling creatures are a delight to target wherever you are, but here they grow to incredible sizes. Don’t forget that the world-record Channel Catfish came from Lake Marion.
  • Freshwater Striped Bass: Take advantage of the rare chance to go after some tough-fighting Stripers that have never even tasted saltwater. You simply won’t find such an opportunity elsewhere!
  • The underwater forest: We’ve talked plenty about the nutrients of this lake, but the flooded forest offers more than just great fishing. Marvel at the beauty of the trees sticking out of the water on Lake Marion, as you go fishing like never before.
  • Fun for the whole family: While you target monster Catfish or Bass, the kids can land their first Panfish. Don’t miss out on the whole host of activities around the lake, with warm weather year-round!

Whatever you’re looking for from your freshwater fishing adventure, Santee Cooper has it – and more! The remote lakes are surrounded by stunning scenery, giving you the perfect getaway. What more could you want from your fishing trip?

Have you ever gone fishing on Santee Cooper? Drop us a line in the comments and let us know how it went. We’d love to hear from you! 

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Comments (4)
  • Donna

    May 10, 2020

    I have traveled to Santee Cooper lakes and rivers several times and had good luck every time. Never left with out at least 100 pounds of cat fish. My biggest catch was a 78 pd blue. It took me like 45 minutes to get that giant in. I caught it in the river down past Harry’s campgrounds. Caught some nice size black crappies to. We drive like 12 hours one way to come to this beautiful place. We hope to have many more vacation there in the future.

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      Rhys

      May 11, 2020

      Hi Donna,

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your experiences with us! It sounds like you’ve had some great times in Santee Cooper!

      Tight lines,

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      Mike

      May 22, 2020

      What is the smallest size motor you would take out I see people on kyaks but everyone says not our 5 hp for around the banks

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      Rhys

      May 22, 2020

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for reading and good question. I know personally of a few boaters who go out on the lake with a 200 HP engine, so you should have no trouble with a 5 HP one.

      Tight lines,

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