The Santee Cooper Lakes have changed over the years, and just like any other body of water, there's a constant struggle between land, water and cover. Water levels and conditions have varied due to drought, invasive weeds, the need to produce …
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The Santee Cooper Lakes have changed over the years, and just like any other body of water, there's a constant struggle between land, water and cover. Water levels and conditions have varied due to drought, invasive weeds, the need to produce electric power and other factors.
The Canty's Bay section of the lake is open water with little cover, but that hasn't always been the case. Back in the '60s and '70s, Canty Bay was choked with cover and full of fish. Lily pads, button brush and native grasses covered most of the water. The only open water was right up by the 301 causeway and a narrow strip along the northern shoreline.
Largemouth bass spawned in the shallow waters. Bream and catfish were plentiful. It was a fisherman's dream but with one little hitch. The cover was so thick it was difficult to fish.
Bigger boats couldn't penetrate the cover, and using the available fishing tackle at the time was an exercise in futility.
Jigger fishing seemed to be the only way to catch the bass. Traditional methods with rod and reel and common lures just didn't work as good because of the cover. If you managed to hook one on a rod and reel, the fish would wrap the line around the button brush or get tangled up in the lily pads and break off. The bass fishing was best in late January, February and early March.
Jigger fishing has been around a long time but is seldom practiced any more. It can be extremely effective in the right conditions. It involves the use of a big cane pole and a big bait. Only the big bass would strike it - you just didn't catch any little ones on a jigger. I learned watching my Dad and uncles. They were the absolute masters at jigger fishing.
They used a long stout cane pole and would usually cut several feet off the tip so that the pole would be straight and stiff. Nylon cord, not fishing line, was tied around the middle of the pole and wrapped to the end where it was tied off and taped. A short length of cord, 12 to 16 inches long, extended beyond the tip. Nylon cord was used so that a big bass couldn't break the line.
My Dad used a lure called a Buell Barb which he tied to the end of the short cord. The Buell Barb is considered an antique now and is no longer made. It was just a giant arrowhead-shaped spinner with a huge set of hooks. It was about seven inches long. The tips of the wings were bent in opposite directions which caused the lure to "spin" when pulled across the surface. It splashed and made a lot of noise.
We fished in homemade wooden boats. The small boats could be paddled into the lily pads to reach an open area without scaring the fish. If it was just one man in a boat, you would lay down the paddle and pick up the jigger pole, reach over and run the spinner in a zig-zag pattern across an opening in the lilies.
A top water strike from a 10-pound bass at 10 to 12 feet is unbelievable. It catches your senses off guard, even if you're expecting it to happen. It is the ultimate fishing experience. The pole is nearly stripped out of your hands - you are amazed at the power of the fish. The end of the pole is pulled under as the big fish runs for cover.
The fish is not played and can not be lifted from the water but must be pulled straight to the boat using a hand-over-hand motion on the pole. You could expect to get wet as the big fish rolled and splashed on the surface. It was an excitement overload.
Sometimes a big bass would make a run at the lure, and you could see him coming. You could see the wake and would usually snatch the lure out before he got there. Sometimes they would miss the bait. All you had to do was run it back into the same spot. The big fish could not stand the racket and would strike again.
My Uncle Spinks Bryant didn't use the big spinner bait but used a more traditional jig with two strips of pork rind on the hook. His method was to dabble and splash the jig straight up and down along the water's surface. It worked just as well but was more tiring.
The best method for jigger fishing was to have two men, one to handle the boat and the other to do the fishing. They could take turns if both were reasonably skilled at maneuvering the boat in carefully and quietly to just the right distance from the open spots.
Jigger fishing could be quite effective at night in the open-water areas, especially around the full moon when there is enough light for the fishermen to see. We often caught stripers out in the open water at night.
We never saw another angler in all the years that we fished there. The refuge had most of the area closed off because of the waterfowl that wintered at the Bluff Unit. You couldn't run a big boat and motor in there, so I guess most just stayed away.
The cover thinned out of Canty's Bay over the years, and the big fish moved on long before hydrilla and grass carp came on the scene.
I was just a youngster back in those days and often went along more or less just for the ride. I was more interested in the thousands of ducks and geese that were flying overhead. The refuge wintered over 200,000 ducks back then, but that's a whole other story for another day.
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