There are plenty of things going on right now for Lowcountry outdoorsmen. Deer season remains open for several more weeks, and the final segment of duck season reopens Dec. 12. But often overlooked is some outstanding bass fishing, and the places to go are the Santee Cooper lakes and the Cooper River.
"Fishing (in December) is really, really good if you get a warm spell. They will feed and nobody else is out there to catch them," said Bradford Beavers of Summerville, who finished 12th overall in the FLW Pro Circuit angler of the year standings in 2019.
"It's a good time to be on the water if you can put up with the cold, if you dress right. You've pretty much got it to yourself."
Patrick Walters, also a Summerville resident who finished third in the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series rookie of the year standings, agrees and said winter is one of his favorite times to fish.
"When the Christmas shopping picks up, so does the wintertime bite," Walters said. "My favorite time to fish in general is the end of November, December and January because nobody is on the water. There's not a lot of tournament pressure. You catch bigger fish. The quality of fish increases in the wintertime."
If you want numbers, Walters said, the Cooper River can be more productive. If you're after quality fish, he likes to head to the Santee Cooper lakes and targets upper Lake Marion. Beavers said if he's fun fishing in the wintertime that he also heads to Lake Marion.
"Santee Cooper is my favorite lake in the country, hands down. But I love to fish the Cooper River as well in the wintertime," Walters said. "Early in the winter, I fish around a lot of current. In late fall and early winter, they're keying in heavily on shad. I look for deep water or an area that's almost like a funnel, where the lake bottlenecks down. I love to fish up (the lake) towards the swamp.
"I usually try to catch them in an intersection, not necessarily in the river or main current because they want to be out of the current a little bit. But they want to be close to deep water."
Walters said a crankbait is his go-to lure in the winter months, although he might flip a jig to wood if the action slows down. He also likes to fish a lipless crankbait like a Rat-L-Trap. He starts the season with shad-colored lures but switches to crawdad colors as the water gets colder.
Walters said bass tend to bunch up in the wintertime, and, once you locate them, you can catch five or six from the same spot. And that's why he likes the crankbait. It allows him to cover a lot of water faster and is one of the best lures to trigger a bite.
"A Rapala DT6 is my favorite. It has great versatility. You can throw it far, it's buoyant. It deflects off cover well. And it has that tight wobble. It doesn't startle the fish as much and creates a reaction strike. It puts a lot of fish in the boat," he said.
Beavers said February is his favorite month to fish, but he also likes to duck hunt and usually takes a break from bass fishing in December and January.
"But the truth is, winter is a really good time to fish because there aren't meany people out there," Beavers said. "You have the lake to yourself. Everybody's deer hunting, duck hunting, the whole nine yards.
"You'll catch fewer fish on the lake (versus the Cooper River) but when you do catch one, it's going to be a better quality fish overall," Beavers added. "If you're looking for a day when you can catch 20 or better, your better bet is on the river."
Beavers said in winter on the river that he would fish the grass lines at the mouths of creeks and rice fields.
"No matter what time of year, it revolves around current and the tides. I would definitely have a Rapala Shad Rap tied on. Shad Rap is a killer wintertime lure. And I would have a Zman Chatterbait if I'm fishing around grass. It's hard to beat a spinnerbait in the winter, too," Beavers said. He also uses the crawdad color and the black back with silver foil sides.
"If I'm fishing the lake, I'd probably take away the Chatterbait and throw the jig a lot. A jig is a very good bait of choice on our lakes, Beavers continued.
He really likes Lake Marion because it has more defined creek channels. Beavers said you can follow the contour lines because there are trees on the edge of creek channels.
Dressing for the occasion also is important. Winter temperatures vary widely in the Lowcountry, and both pros agree you should be prepared.
"I wear all my duck hunting clothes when I go fishing in the winter," Beavers said. "You definitely want a pair of long johns. I learned a few years ago: it doesn't matter if it's July, you never leave the house if you're traveling without long johns.
"I wear a pair of leather slip-on boots, and if it's raining I'll wear a pair of muck boots. I wear a Gill rainsuit. I never had a legitimate rainsuit until this year. It was unbelievable how well it blocked the wind from getting through your clothes. It was night and day difference."
Beavers said he doesn't like wearing gloves, but he'll wear the biggest pair of ski gloves he owns if it's really cold.
"I'll use Glacier gloves. You can pull off the finger tips so you can tie knots," he said. "It's hard to cast when it's cold. One of the biggest challenge in really cold weather is when the guides start to ice up. The line can't flow freely through the guides and you start backlashing. It makes for a tough day."
Walters said something all wintertime bass fishermen should do is invest in a quality rainsuit.
"I wear a Stormr Strykr. It's a neoprene suit, almost like wearing waders," Walters said. "It's best to layer up. You can always take stuff off. Bringing the right clothes is definitely the biggest thing.
"And it's about having fun, too. There's nothing going on seriously so don't go out there and kill yourself and freeze to death."
Walters said he will be fishing both the Bassmaster Elite Series and the Eastern Open division this year. His season starts Jan. 15 with an Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida with his first Elite Series tournament starting Feb. 6 on the St. John's River, also in Florida.
Beavers is fishing the FLW Pro Circuit with his first tournament starting Jan. 23 on Sam Rayburn in Texas.