The Best of Times
By Ron Presley
Year Around Crappie on Santee Cooper
Southern anglers have a right to get excited about spring crappie fishing. Great fishing expectations begin early in Florida and work their way north into the southern reaches of the nation. Anglers from Florida to South Carolina are dreaming about big springtime slabs.
One of those anglers is Matt Outlaw and he has a fondness for springtime fishing.
“The number one reason that I love the spring is that the fish are moving shallow,” asserts Outlaw. “I love to fish shallow. The fish gang up in numbers and good size crappie can be caught.”
Outlaw cut his leader biting teeth on Santee Cooper where he catches crappie all year long. “It’s my lake and I love it,” commented Outlaw. “By the same token it kicks my butt sometimes. Santee is just so big and it has so much to offer. There are live trees, there are dead trees, deep water, shallow water and you have open water.”
“You also have thick swamps filled with cypress trees like you see in Louisiana,” continued Outlaw. “I like to invite people up to fish with me in May. I can take them up in the swamp. You will see some stuff you never saw before in your life. You may even hear some banjo music playing in the distance. You get to thinking about it and it can kind of stress you out in terms of how many places you have to go check to find the fish.”
The challenge of Santee Cooper has made Outlaw a better angler. “If you can master Santee you can master any lake in the country,” declared Outlaw. “That is the good thing about Santee. It offers everything and it will challenge you and your favorite crappie catching technique.”
Many crappie anglers argue that vertical jigging is their favorite way to just have fun catching crappie and Outlaw is no different. “Vertical jigging is my favorite when it comes to just having fun. I love fishing grass mats, especially green grass mats. I just pull up on a big grass mat, find me a hole and drop it in there. If he is there he will knock the snot out of it. They are very aggressive bites. Sometimes, when the mats are really thick you have to dig a hole in there. It doesn’t seem to spook the fish they will bite just after you dig the hole.”
“You do need to know what to look for,” continued Outlaw. “It is hard to explain, but after years of experience you can just look at the mats and tell which ones hold crappie and which ones don’t.” Outlaw carries a piece of 12-foot electrical conduit with a 90-degree bend in the end to dig the holes in the mat.
When it comes to catching fish in numbers Outlaw chooses pushing. “I like tight lining because it is versatile and works everywhere and at any time of the year,” explained Outlaw. He has developed a system for starting off each day regardless of how the fishing was the day before.
“I use the same technique everywhere I go,” said Outlaw. “It has worked pretty well for me. In reality every day is a new day. Even though you caught em’ somewhere yesterday it can be different today or even later in the same day.”
Outlaw starts his morning routine by setting his B’n’M poles in Driftmaster Rod Holders at different depths. “They are staggered,” instructed Outlaw. “One deep the next one shallow, one deep the next one shallow. You have to figure out exactly where the fish are setting in the water column. Once I find that target depth I will set all the poles at that depth. By target depth I mean where I am catching the most quality fish, not just the most fish.”
During that experimentation with depth, some poles will have jigheads, some straight minnows, some a combination of both. “I am also experimenting with colors. It is trial and error until you find out what they want. If it came down to only having one color it would be chartreuse. You can catch fish in clear water or muddy water on chartreuse just about anytime of the year.”
If an overnight rain muddies the water it requires a response. “Water clarity can change overnight,” said Outlaw. “I will change colors more often in muddy water until I find what they want. I am trying to get the fish’s attention.”
To change colors he often goes to his hand tied jigs. He lifts a pole and clips off an existing jig with his teeth and adds a new one. Outlaw has a box of jigs on hand that he ties himself. “There are all different sizes and colors,” explained Outlaw. “I can make any color combination I want. When the bite is slow, changing color is one thing that you can do to change up and maybe make something happen.”
Outlaw identifies speed as another important factor in spider rigging. “I am normally running in the range of .3 to .5 mph,” offered Outlaw. “That’s my go-to speed range, the speed I like to stay at. However, like everything else it is a variable that you have to experiment with. Sometimes you want to cover more water and you will need to speed up. Put a heavier weight on to keep the presentation vertical when you do. When the fish are way high in the water column you can speed up and catch plenty.”
Given that speed is a critical part of pushing, windy days can be a problem. “Wind can make fishing more irritating than fun,” said Outlaw. “You can handle 10 to 15 mph wind, but it just makes for a rough, aggravating day. It is hard to keep your boat where you want it and it is all about boat control when you are tight lining.”
Boat control starts with a good trolling motor and good batteries. When you are trolling into a high wind it is very hard on batteries. When you are pushing with the wind your likely to go to fast. Outlaw grew up using logging chains, big chains, to slow the drift. He has also used drift socks over the years. Now his Ranger is equipped with dual Power Poles with Drift Paddles to slow him down in windy conditions.
Outlaw considers stealth to be an important factor in successful crappie fishing. “Noise reduction is important when tight lining, but not critical,” replied Outlaw. “If you are fishing 10 feet deep or more it is not that important. You don’t want to be standing up hollering or tap dancing, but a little noise won’t matter.”
“The trolling motor is in the water and making noise, but those B’n’M poles are 16 feet long. That gets you far enough away from the boat not to worry about it. If you get up much shallower it is another story. If I am in 5 feet of water or less I turn the transducer off, it actually does make a lot of noise. It is not going to do you any good in that shallow water anyway.”
The Santee Cooper Lakes (Lake Marion and Moultrie) are owned and operated by Santee Cooper Power. Both lakes are great fisheries. In addition to the two lakes anglers can choose to fish two rivers, two canals and a vast swamp. With 450 miles of shoreline and 171,000 acres of land covered by 756 billion gallons of water, Santee Cooper truly can offer anglers the best of times for crappie fishing success.
Matt Outlaw is sponsored by B’n’M Poles, Driftmaster Rod Holders, Hydro Force, Midsouth Tackle and Rockport Rattler.