Cool catches

Decorated Summerville angler Patrick Walters prefers Lake Marion for bass and striper fishing.

The fall season is ideal for both fishermen and fish. With some relief from the heat and slightly lower water temperatures, conditions are right for catching a variety of species inshore, nearshore, offshore and in freshwater. September and October are spectacular months for anglers, as fish like the fall weather as much as those pursuing them.

The most popular destination for freshwater anglers in the Lowcountry is Santee Cooper, comprised of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie connected by the Diversion Canal.

Summerville angler and 2015 Fishing League Worldwide College National Champion Patrick Walters prefers Lake Marion for bass and striper fishing due to its shallower depths. The cooler water means fish are moving around more often, which in turn impacts how their digestive systems are working. The colder the water, the hungrier the fish and the more you need to master judging water temperatures in order to be successful.

Looking to put on weight for the upcoming winter, largemouth bass are eating everything they can and chasing forage more aggressively. Any protein-packed morsel that zips by their face is often too tempting to pass up.

“I use sonar to find the bait pockets and chase the shad,” Walters said. “The fish are more scattered this time of year, so you have to power fish.”

As baitfish and bass return to heavy cover in the shallows, anglers should look for grass, trees and docks. Hollow-bodied frogs are great on lily pads, which are abundant through much of Santee’s surface area. Walters also recommends half-ounce Rat-L-Trap lures, spinner baits, crankbaits and jigs. If you aren’t having success fishing for largemouth, don’t forget that striper season opens on Oct. 1 after a four-month summer closure.

With the start of hunting season, anglers can also look forward to fewer people on the water. “The biggest mistake I see other anglers making is fishing too slow,” Walters said. “If the fish aren’t hitting, I won’t stay in the same stretch for more than 30 minutes.”

Fall anglers can also take advantage of even better crappie fishing than the already excellent summer months by targeting deep brush. The average size of the fish, as well as the numbers, will pick up starting in September. Both Lake Marion and Moultrie, along with the Goose Creek Reservoir, will produce plenty of crappie.

Of course, we can’t talk about fishing Santee Cooper without mentioning catfish. As the forage species begin to grow, catfish cluster around them. For large catfish, September and early October are generally very good months. For Lake Moultrie and the canal, your best bet is drift-fishing, but for Lake Marion, you’ll want to drop anchor.

To catch huge catfish, consider fishing at night during the fall months. Having grown up catfishing at Santee, I’ll use herring, shad or perch that I caught earlier in the day as bait. Though I haven’t had much success with it lately, I have reeled in some sizable channel cats using chicken livers or stink bait.

Regardless of what freshwater species you’re fishing for, you should always be conscious of staying out of sight. Fish have better eyesight than they get credit for. Water levels drop in the fall, and the water gets clearer, so staying out of sight becomes a top priority.

For saltwater anglers, shrimp and baitfish are abundant. October is a good month for all species of saltwater fish, but it’s a particularly great time to catch bull redfish. Like their freshwater counterparts, saltwater fish are really aggressive this time of year.

“It’s fun to be able to fish loud,” said Mike Illig, owner of Avid Angling Fishing Charters.

A fisherman all of his life and a charter captain for nearly a decade, Illig looks forward to the fall fishing season. “I like to fish oyster points for redfish, or pop corks and cast artificials for trout inshore,” he said. “For nearshore, I really like to surf fish for bull reds. It is a great time of year to fish outside the breakers by boat or cast from the beach with surf rods.”

The inshore waters are full of baitfish, and the gamefish know they need to fatten up while they can. Some are preparing to move offshore for the winter, but even those that will stay inshore know that the abundance of bait won’t last forever. Motivated to feed while they can, fish are eager to bite, which makes for better fishing.

Like much of the year in the Lowcountry, the weather can be unpredictable through the fall. Anglers should invest in rain gear and boots to not only keep them more comfortable as it gets colder, but also to potentially save their life.

Illig is often responsible for other anglers who aren’t necessarily as experienced on the water and stresses the importance of safety. “Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) are essential if you’re going out in the ocean,” he said. “I also carry a handheld radio, keep my phone in a waterproof case and carry additional flares.”

The bottom line is that Lowcountry anglers have access to some of the best fishing in the country. Whether you prefer freshwater, inshore, nearshore or offshore, the fall months are when you should be on the water. TL