A woman in bluejean shorts, t-shirt and cap, holding a very large catfish in her hands. The lake and shoreline is in the background.

A typical catfish caught with Captain Darryl.

In southeastern South Carolina, Lake Marion together with Lake Moultrie form what is known as the Santee Cooper Lakes. These lakes are connected by a Diversion Canal. Lake Marion is the larger of the two, covering 110,000 acres, while Lake Moultrie covers 70,000 acres. Both lakes are located in the lower part of South Carolina near Charleston.

Hold on a minute, how many acres? 180,000! If you’re a Georgia fisherman, as I am, let me reference that for you. That’s Clark’s Hill at 70K, Hartwell at 56K at full pool and taking into consideration that both border on and venture deep into South Carolina they both are “Carolina” lakes also, then add Lake Lanier at 37K and West Point at 26K all rolled into one. It’s not Okeechobee but it’s big. At one spot on Lake Moultrie, it’s 14 miles across from shore to shore.

These legendary lakes were created during the early 1940s and have become a recreational paradise. People come from all over the U.S. to visit these lakes. The Cypress trees combined with the swampy wilderness add a beauty to these lakes that set them apart from all other lakes in the state.

Ok, we’ve started. Now about catfishing. We could talk about how the stripers were landlocked first in the Santee River when the dam was built and how they lived there and then were hatched by the Department of Natural Resources, but we aren’t. This is about catfish.

Who do you call to guide you on the lake for your first trip? Call Captain Darryl Smith, www.captaindarryls.com.

How’s the fishing?

Darryl fishes out of Canal Lakes Marina in Cross, S.C. It’s a good, safe, clean place to stay overnight and Mac Daddy’s Restaurant is there with some good eats. Darryl will guarantee you a catch of at least 100 pounds of catfish per day. After all, he has 23 line class world records, and has been featured on 19 television shows and nearly 500 publications. You’ll be fishing out of a 30-foot pontoon boat with a shelter, so you’ll be dry and warm no matter what. I talked with Captain Darryl recently and he detailed the following to me: He guides on the lake 320 days per year and has had clients from all 50 states and 67 countries. In 2018 he averaged catching 60 catfish per day. His largest Blue weighed in at 140 pounds pushing the lake record of 143 pounds.

Wanna total that up? 60×320=19,200 catfish per year.

Now you know whom to call.  I’ve been fishing with Darryl three times; each time producing a television show, once in the shallow backwaters filled with trees and stumps and two times “out in the lake” over the sunken islands and old river channels. Without doing anything out of his normal techniques, we always caught a giant cooler full, about 50 or more cats ranging from four pounds to 35 pounds. I think the largest Blue I caught with Darryl was 63 pounds. On many occasions, we’d have three hooked at once. 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.

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 be sure and bring some children and stick around for a couple of days. You see, you don’t have to be an expert angler to harvest a cooler full fishing with Darryl at Santee. It’s perfect for children. The fish are friendly and there’s plenty of them. Darryl will set up the rods and reels, bait up the rigs and make the casts. All you really do is start reeling when the rod tip dips. Think about what that might do for a child’s confidence, reeling in a catfish as big as he or she is. It’s an instant memory.

Photo: by Captain Darryl Smith