Record rains produce big crappie in Santee

Jeff Sanford of Sumter caught this 4-pound crappie in the Santee River with Capt. Joe Dennis of J Hook Charters.

Anglers looking for a silver lining in the rain clouds that have covered South Carolina of late might find it in the Santee River.

On Jan. 28, guide Joe Dennis of J Hook Charters in Bonneau (843-245-3762) led two clients from Sumter to personal best crappie. Jeff Sanford boated a trophy 4-pound crappie and 30 minutes later Max Goodson caught a 3½-pounder. Those fish highlighted a day when all three anglers caught their limit.

“It was not just one big one, but two big ones, the biggest crappie either one had caught in their life,” Dennis said. “If the fish didn’t weigh a pound, we threw them back.”

The fish were taken with a 1/16-ounce chartreuse jighead and live minnow fished on 4-pound test line just above cover in 20-plus feet of water.

“When the Santee River floods, it fills up with fish. From December to now I’ve been fishing the Santee River, taking advantage of the flooding. When the floodwaters go down after a couple of weeks, the crappie fishing isn’t as spectacular as it is now. It goes from 110 to 20 as far as rating it,” he said.

“Right now people are catching crappie off the bank. And when you’re catching them off the bank, they are really thick.”

Dennis said he keys on logjams and vertical structure in at least 10 feet of water, using his depth finder to find the structure in the middle of the river. But you also can find a lot of structure that is visible along the banks. He also keeps an eye on Santee Cooper’s schedule of releasing water and expects the river fishing to be good for several days. But when the river waters aren’t being flooded the fishing slows.

“In the lakes, the crappie will be staging on grass and underwater structure like stumps and standing trees. And as it gets warmer, they’ll move to the stumps to lay their eggs and nest,” Dennis said. He said from April through November the crappie will come from deep brush piles in 16 to 30 feet of water.

Dennis is a professional photographer as well as a fishing guide who not only works the lakes and rivers but also fishes saltwater from the South Santee River to the Stono River.

“I’m 46 years old and been fishing the lake since I was 6 years old or even earlier,” he said. “My daddy taught me so much, but my mentor is Truman Lyon. He taught me a lot about stripers and fishing in general.”