Catfish Heaven On The Santee Cooper Lakes

Yielding some of the best catfishing in the world!

South Carolina’s Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie form what is known as the Santee Cooper Lakes. They are connected by a diversion canal. Lake Marion is the larger of the two lakes, covering 110,000 acres. Lake Moultrie covers 60,000 acres. They spread out between Charleston and Columbia, S.C.

The Santee Cooper Lakes have gained a well-deserved reputation for yielding some of the best catfishing in the world.

Capt. Darryl Smith ( fishes out of Canal Lakes Marina in Cross, SC. It’s a good, safe, clean place to overnight, and Mac Daddy’s Restaurant is there with some good eats. Darryl guarantees you will catch at least 100 pounds of catfish per day. After all, he has 23 line-class world records. Call Darryl, and you’ll be fishing out of a 30-foot pontoon boat with a shelter, so you’ll be dry and warm no matter what.

Darryl guides on the lake 320 days per year. In 2018, he averaged catching 60 catfish per day. His largest blue weighed 140 pounds, which pushed the lake record of 143 pounds.

I’ve fished with Darryl three times, each time producing a television show. Once we fished the shallow backwaters filled with trees and stumps. Twice we fished “out in the lake” over sunken islands and old river channels. We always caught a giant cooler full, about 50 or more cats ranging from 4 pounds to 35 pounds. I think my largest blue with Darryl was 63 pounds. On many occasions, we’d have three hooked at once. Think about that, at a 20-pound average, which is very conservative, we’d have 60-pounds of cats on at once. To complete the necessary television production, Darryl and I have never been fishing more than 5 hours. I’m going back soon.

What makes these lakes so fertile to be able to produce what may be the best catfishing destination in North America? In simple terms, the water temperatures, amount of both freshwater and sea-run baitfish, shad, clams, mussels, shrimp, menhaden, even black mullet abound. The various species of catfish: blues, channel, yellow, mud, flathead, etc. spawn up to seven times per year. It’s the perfect catfish habitat.

Start reeling when the rod tip dips!

So, what do you have to bring along? Tackle if you like, but Darryl has just the right stuff. You bring food and drinks and a big smile. The only other thing I might suggest is to bring some children. It’s perfect for children. The fish are very friendly and there are plenty of them. Darryl will set the rods and reels, bait up the rigs and make the casts. All you need to do is start reeling when the rod tip dips. Think about what that might do for a child’s confidence, reeling in catfish as big as they are.

At Santee Cooper, the bottom is paved with giant catfish. Go get some. But don’t wait too long. I’ve already made reservations for 2019.

The column above is one of the chapters from new book “O’Neill Outside, The Outdoor Experience,” coming out in April of 2019.

By O’Neill Williams

Fishing Magazine, Coastal Angler & The Angler Magazine is your leading source for freshwater fishing and saltwater fishing videos, fishing photos, saltwater fishing.