Santee Cooper Fishing: The Complete Guide

Jan 9, 2023 | 9 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 9 minutes

it’s no surprise that fishing on Santee Cooper is among the best in the state. The Santee Cooper lake system includes not one, but two lakes, including South Carolina’s “Inland Sea” and the state’s third-largest lake. It’s impressive, isn’t it?

From the Wateree River, across the flats of Lake Marion, to the open waters of Lake Moultrie and beyond, the fishing is exceptional. That’s why it’s the number-one stop for freshwater anglers in the “Palmetto State.”

A photo of Lake Marion on a clear but cold day with trees sticking out of the water.

While taking in the world-class fishery, you’ll also get to indulge in stunning views. Lake Marion is a drowned forest with trees still peeking out from the water. This adds a real sense of mystery when fishing, especially at dawn or dusk. And the added bonus? The roots are full of nutrients that attract a range of exciting fish.

The lakes’ shores are fully equipped for tourism, too. Come along year-round and there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained. Explore the Congaree National Park, Santee State Park, or any special wildlife areas, and you’re in for a treat! 

What fish are biting on Santee Cooper?

Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, there’s always something for you in Lakes Marion and Moultrie. In fact, on the same trip, you can target that trophy catch and help the kids reel in their first-ever fish. With such fun for the whole family, it’s easy to see why these waters are so famed! 

Catfish

One fish reigns supreme in the Santee Cooper lakes, and that’s Catfish. Both lakes hold a year-round population of Blue, Flathead, White, and Channel Catfish. That’s why catfishing here is often ranked among the best in the country

A young angler holding a large Catfish while fishing on Santee Cooper.

Hit up the deep waters of Lake Marion or Moultrie in summer, and you can expect plenty of 20-pounders. If you’re lucky, you could even write your name into the history books and land a 40 lb monster. Does that sound like wishful thinking? Well, the world’s biggest Channel Catfish was caught at Santee Cooper way back in 1964. We think it’s about time someone broke the record!

Bass

The catfishing here is so good, in fact, that Santee Cooper Bass fishing often gets overlooked. But don’t you miss out on the incredible fishing on offer!

A man and a boy with a Striped Bass on a boat on Santee Cooper

The local Striper population fell victim to over-fishing in the mid and late 20th century, but they’re now heavily protected with strict seasons. You won’t be able to fish for any of these beauties in the summer months. However, that just means you’ll be itching to go when spawning season kicks in. Come in spring or fall, and get your hands on these beasts.

Another forgotten gem of these lakes is Largemouth Bass. This is one of the nation’s favorite freshwater fish, and the lakes have plenty of these bad boys on offer. Lake Marion is home to the state-record Largemouth Bass, so you’ll have the chance to go for a trophy-sized catch. Meanwhile, you can target them year-round in Lake Moultrie too. 

Crappie

We told you that there was something for the whole family when fishing in Santee Cooper, and Crappie just proves that.

A woman holding a Crappie on land after fishing on Santee Cooper

The lakes boast a healthy number of Black and White Crappie, and they’re another fish that you can target year-round. Growing to larger-than-usual sizes, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a dish big enough to cook up this popular “Panfish” at the end of the day.

These small, delicious fish are the quintessential first catch for any angler. Get to grips with a rod and reel as you cast for them. And you can take up to 20 of these beauties home with you, too. Come and fill your cooler with these delicious creatures!

How to fish on Santee Cooper?

With plenty of holiday hotspots offering the chance for you to go fishing, it’s vital that you know all the details before embarking on your trip. Read on to find out how we think you can get the most out of these waters. 

With a Fishing Guide

A group of male anglers with Catfish caught while fishing on Santee Cooper.

Whether on your own or in a group, a charter is usually regarded as the best way to go fishing. With a professional guide, you’ll get to the sweet spots with ease, and may even reach some secluded spots that nobody else knows about. On board, you’ll find all the gear you need, including bait or lures. So if you’re coming from out of town, you won’t need to bring anything yourself.

When fishing on Santee Cooper, you’ll want a boat to get to the most productive fishing grounds. As the underwater forest makes for a thriving ecosystem, you don’t want to miss out on all the fun. Head to the heart of the lakes and fish the deep waters where the Stripers go in winter, the Largemouth hide in summer, and the Catfish love to feed year-round. 

Aboard Your Own Boat

A lone fly fisherman on a boar casting while fishing on Santee Cooper

If you’re a keen boater, then there’s nothing stopping you from renting a boat or bringing your own vessel. Enjoy the freedom of exploring the lake at your own leisure, as you take the day at your own speed. Spend as long or as little as you’d like on the water, and try to fill the boat with some delicious fish.

Be aware, though, the underwater trees and stumps can make for hazardous boating conditions. First-timers should watch out for some unexpected bumps along the way.

On Foot or From Shore

A view from behind of a lone angler sat on a picnic bench alongside the shores of Lake Moultrie on a cloudy day.
(Flickr, Allan Ferguson, CC BY 2.0)

When most people think of fishing, they imagine sitting by the side of the lake with someone close and relaxing as they cast away. Fishing from shore gives you exactly that opportunity. Bring a chair and cooler, along with your best pal, and kick back with a day of fishing.

However, as the biggest prizes in Santee Cooper are further out in the middle of the lakes, fishing from shore is not a popular choice around here. If you do fancy going out on foot, your best bet is to hit the canal between the two lakes. Come in spring for the Striper bite, or target Largemouth Bass in the shallows in spring. 

Where can I fish on Santee Cooper?

While there’s not really a wrong place to go, these more than 160,000 acres of water have a lot to offer and we want to make sure you make the most of it. Where’s best to cast your line on Santee Cooper lakes? Read on and find out some of the lakes’ top secrets.

Lake Marion

Santee State Park

A view of Lake Marion and a narrow channel leading to Lake Moultrie in the background on a sunny day.
(Flickr, DaveyBorden, CC BY-ND 2.0)

The synonymous state park that engulfs South Carolina’s “inland sea” is truly a thing of beauty. Base yourself out of Santee itself and you can enjoy anything from a camping adventure to a deluxe holiday. Everything here is built for tourism, so take advantage of some of the finest hospitality on offer in Santee Cooper.

Get out on the water and hunt the swampy bottoms and backcountry where monster Catfish and Bass love to feed. Or, stay onshore and hit up the Santee-Cooper Country Club for a round of golf, or just take in the wonders of the green forest against the contrast of the azure lake. 

Summerton

A grou of young children holding a Ctfish while fishing out of Summerton

Operating as a retreat for plantation owners in its early days, Summerton is still a place for relaxation. This sleepy town is a great base for all your vacation needs. When it comes to fishing, you’re close to some of Lake Marion’s best fishing grounds. Explore the flooded cypress forest which is a haven for all kinds of fish year-round. 

Based just 8 miles from the northern lake’s shores, Summerton not only offers you the chance to get out onto the water, but it’s also far enough away for you to engage in other sports. Camping is popular for families, with plenty opting to go hunting or for a round of golf. Whatever you choose, there’s plenty for you to make the most of your holiday. 

Lake Moultrie

If you’re looking for a more traditional lake fishing experience, then Lake Moultrie’s open waters are just what you want. The smaller lake still offers some swampy spots, but the waters get deeper quicker. Target the same fish without worrying about bumping into the trees beneath you.

Cross

Sunrise on Lake Moultrie

The tiny village of Cross may seem like a strange location to include on our list, but it’s a hotspot for boaters due to its public ramp. Anglers looking to explore north Lake Moultrie and the canal will be hard-pressed to find a better spot.

Hit the canal that joins the lakes for Stripers in spring, or explore the numerous ditches out in the heart of the lake year-round for Bass and Crappie.

Pinopolis 

Two anglers pulling in a fish out of Pinopolis.

The town of Pinopolis is located on a peninsula on Lake Moultrie. A popular spot for locals employed by the nearby Santee-Cooper electric and water company, it’s arguably one of the best starting points for fishing on Lake Moultrie.

Indulge in the stunning surroundings of the towering pine trees around the lake, or head out onto the heart of the lake and get your fill of Catfish, Bass, and delicious Panfish

If you happen to be in Charleston, then Pinopolis is your best bet of getting out on Santee Cooper, too. Just 36 miles from the city, it’s a great place for you to escape the hustle and bustle and get back to nature.

Anything else I should know?

An infographic featuring four essential things you should know before going to fish on Santee Cooper and text that says "Santee Cooper Fishing Must-Knows" and "Fishing Seasons," "Tournaments," "Fishing License," and "Bag and Size Limits" against a blue background
  • Fishing Seasons. With South Carolina’s subtropical climate, there’s never a bad time to come fishing on Santee Cooper. Whenever you visit, you’re in for a thrilling day of fishing, with plenty of fish biting at the end of your line. The one thing you should be aware of is the closed Striped Bass season. It’s forbidden to target these beauties from June 16 through September 30.
  • Tournaments. Indeed, while not a hub for fishing tournaments, the lake does play host to regular touring events. These can range from Striper hunting in spring, to Santee Cooper catfish fishing in winter. Keep an eye on FLW Fishing and Bassmaster’s schedules, and you could be in with a shot of fishing with the pros. 
  • Rules and Regulations. Everyone over the age of 16 will need a South Carolina fishing license to fish on Santee Cooper. These differ for residents and non-residents, with discounts for military personnel, too. Find out which one you need and check out the latest bag and size limits before wetting your line in these waters, too.

So, why go fishing on Santee Cooper?

Still haven’t made up your mind about going fishing on Santee Cooper? Let’s just recap why Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie are the places to be if you’re looking for a freshwater fishing trip in South Carolina.

A photo showing two happy anglers with their Catfish caught while fishing on Santee Cooper lakes
  • Monster Catfish: These bottom-dwelling creatures are a delight to target wherever you are, but here they grow to incredible sizes. Don’t forget that the world-record Channel Catfish came from Lake Marion.
  • Freshwater Striped Bass: Take advantage of the rare chance to go after some tough-fighting Stripers that have never even tasted saltwater. You simply won’t find such an opportunity elsewhere!
  • The underwater forest: We’ve talked plenty about the nutrients of this lake, but the flooded forest offers more than just great fishing. Marvel at the beauty of the trees sticking out of the water on Lake Marion, as you go fishing like never before.
  • Fun for the whole family: While you target monster Catfish or Bass, the kids can land their first Panfish. Don’t miss out on the whole host of activities around the lake, with warm weather year-round!

Whatever you’re looking for from your freshwater fishing adventure, Santee Cooper has it – and more! The remote lakes are surrounded by stunning scenery, giving you the perfect getaway. What more could you want from your fishing trip?

Have you ever gone fishing on Santee Cooper? Drop us a line in the comments and let us know how it went. We’d love to hear from you! 

Comments (38)
  • Thurston

    May 18, 2022

    These may sound like silly questions but…
    Do all people on a private boat have to have a fishing license? Is it based on the number of rods?
    How are creel limits counted on a private boat with more than one licensed fisherman?
    Thank you.

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      Vuk

      May 19, 2022

      Hi Thurston,

      Thanks for getting in touch, we’re happy to answer any questions you have!

      When it comes to licenses, only people over 16 who will be fishing need to have a fishing license. Following this, creel limits are counted on a per person basis with the caveat that a total of 40 game fish may be kept in any one day. Hope this helps, you can also find more information about regulations here.

      Tight lines,
      Vuk

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  • Cody

    Apr 2, 2022

    My wife and I have kayaks and we live in Santee. Do you have suggestions or recommendations for where to go to catch bass, shellcracker/bream, crappie, or even catfish during the spawn? It’s very difficult to search the upper and lower lake of Marion with a kayak for vegetation, grass, etc where you would most likely find bedding areas.

    Also, any recommendations once the spawning has passed for most species and have moved to deeper waters? Kayaks I feel are better for smaller areas or pockets off of the lake, creeks, etc. I would be willing to try deeper waters in the lake but I’m kind of hesitant on Lake Marion or Moultrie for not being seen by a boater. Not to mention Moultrie can get pretty violent if the winds pick up out of no where.

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      Marko

      Apr 4, 2022

      Hi Cody,

      Thanks for getting in touch! During spawn season, you can try exploring the shallow waters around Taylors Landing on Lake Marion, or around Elliott’s Landing on the other end of the lake.

      Traffic and wind conditions are definitely important considerations when you’re fishing from a kayak. If you’re not comfortable going to deeper waters after the spawning period has passed, you can try working the shoreline cover early in the day before the fish move deep.

      Hope the info helps!

      Tight lines,

      Marko

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      Meri

      Aug 8, 2022

      Hi, we recently went to Santee St Park. While at the visitor center launch, if you kayak out and follow the left shore past the cabins you’ll come into a small cove that is fairly quiet of boat traffic.
      At the upper end of Santee there’s also Sparkle Berry Swamp. Suitable for kayaking. Just make note I’ve heard inexperienced can get lost in that area so be careful.

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  • Adam

    Oct 27, 2021

    I’m coming this fall any tips
    To launch or where guys go to long line troll?

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      Vuk

      Oct 27, 2021

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for reaching out. This time of year, the Santee Cooper lakes are a great choice for Crappie long line trolling. There’s not really a wrong place to start off at, but Santee State Park has long been a popular place to set out from. In the fall, your best bet is to look for migrating baitfish that you’ll see in smaller groups. Because the best fishing grounds change on a regular basis this time of year, it’s always a good idea to check in with local anglers about where the good fishing’s at.

      Hope you have a rewarding time fishing on Santee Cooper. Tight lines,

      Vuk

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  • Curt Faison

    Oct 20, 2021

    Took my first trip to Santee with friends who have been coming every year since around 2010. We caught a 47lb blue catfish along with several other weighing over 30. Great time fishing.

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      Lisa

      Oct 20, 2021

      Hi Curt,

      Thank you for sharing! It sounds like quite a productive trip. Are you planning to fish there again?

      Lisa

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  • Jack

    Aug 22, 2021

    Is fishing off the docks for bass good in summer? I don’t have a boat but would still like to fish here.

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      Andriana

      Aug 23, 2021

      Hello Jack,

      Thanks for reading and for your question. You can find some good Bass fishing on docks and piers on Santee Cooper, especially if you can find a spot that’s got underwater rocks and ledges – that’s where Bass like to hide. Keep in mind that bigger fish usually congregate in the deep waters, close to the lakes’ middle, so while you might not catch a trophy, you could still have a good time.

      Spring is generally the best time to target Bass from shore, but you can hook into something good any day of the year. Santee State Park on Lake Marion is a great place to try your luck with Largemouth Bass and Stripers (closed season for Striped Bass is from June 16 through September 30).

      I hope you have a great time fishing the great Santee Cooper Lakes.

      Tight lines!

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  • Brad

    Jul 12, 2021

    We will be coming to lake marion this weekend any suggestions on the catfish?

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      Andriana

      Jul 12, 2021

      Hello Brad,

      July is a very productive time on lake Marion – the Catfish bite can be excellent in summer.

      The first thing you need to consider is that fish retreat to the deeper waters after their spawn, and this is where you’ll find your Catfish. Drift fishing around drop-offs, ledges, and underwater structures in waters that are up to 40′ deep is a good place to start. Bear in mind you’ll need a boat to get to these parts of the lake.

      Blue Catfish are the most common catches, and they respond well to a variety of cut bait, like perch, shad, and herring, while Flathead prefer live bait. You can get a good bite after dawn and in the late afternoon, and night fishing is also very good.

      Enjoy your time on Lake Marion, Brad.

      Tight lines!

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  • Deidre Witherow

    Jul 5, 2021

    I have never fished. But, have always wanted to. Wanted to plan a trip. Is there someone to help guide a beginner? Where would we stay? Etc

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      Rhys

      Jul 6, 2021

      Hi Deidre,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment. I’m delighted to hear that you want to get into fishing! Santee Cooper is a great place to start, not only for its thriving fish population but also because of its incredible natural beauty! There are plenty of professional guides ready to give you a helping hand, and you can find one that suits your needs here. Cross is a popular starting point for Lake Moultrie, however you’ll most likely need to camp there. If you want to get out on Lake Marion, Summerton, Eutawville, and Santee itself have plenty in the way of comfortable accommodation, along with camping grounds. I hope this helps.

      Tight lines,

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  • Damon

    Feb 27, 2021

    I will be fishing in early May 21 for largemouth bass.
    How easy is it to cross over between the two lakes?
    WHich has better largemouth bass fishing?

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      Rhys

      Mar 1, 2021

      Hi Damon,

      Thanks for reading and for your question. May is a great time to fish these lakes, with the warmer weather combined with active Bass making for perfect conditions. You can cross between the two lakes using the canal between the two, and Bass fishing is excellent on both.

      Good luck and tight lines,

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      Gary Freeman

      Apr 14, 2021

      I was told the ramp at John C Land is closed is that correct?

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  • Joe

    Feb 25, 2021

    I have made many memories of fishing on santee with my late dad and more recently with my 2 grown sons. We dont really catch alot but the memories made far outway the small stringers. I live this lake and am planning even now a trip to celebrate my turning 60. This year

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      Rhys

      Feb 26, 2021

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for reading and for your insightful comment. I’m glad to hear you love the lake as much as we do! Happy birthday, and hope you catch something worthy to mark the occasion!

      Tight lines,

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  • David Hampton

    Feb 21, 2021

    I’m coming down in March to fish for largemouth bass. Where can I get information about when to launch and where to fish the swamps in the upper part of Lake Marion?

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      Rhys

      Feb 22, 2021

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your comment and good question. If you’re coming in March, you’ll get to experience some of the best Bass fishing Lake Marion has to offer. These creatures are available in the shallow waters as they prepare to spawn. Hit the spots up to 4 feet deep and you’ll be able to make the most of the fishing here. As for launching, Pack’s Landing out of Rimini is the most northern starting point you’ll find, while Summerton, St. Paul’s, and Adam’s landing are all great spots.

      Tight lines,

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  • Myra Simpson

    Nov 25, 2020

    Where would one rent a boat in that area. We have one but can’t pull camper and boat at the same time😅

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      Rhys

      Nov 25, 2020

      Hi Myra,

      Thanks for reading and for your good question. Lakeside Marina seems to be your best bet for renting a boat on the Santee Cooper lakes. Have a great trip!

      Tight lines,

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  • Justin Elliott

    Nov 15, 2020

    Love to get some guides to call at the best lakes.

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      Rhys

      Nov 16, 2020

      Hi Justin,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment. You can explore a number of guides in the area on FishingBooker. I hope this helps!

      Tight lines,

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      Chris Vaughn

      Feb 23, 2021

      Agree bud have contacted every crappie guide in area with no reply except one who says he doesnt do crappie.

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      Rhys

      Feb 24, 2021

      Hi Chris,

      FishingBooker has a number of guides to choose from in Santee-Cooper, and you can filter your search for the species you want. Try this link and get in touch with a captain.

      Tight lines,

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  • Gene .Mitchell

    Oct 28, 2020

    Been to Santee many times but after Hurricane Hugo came in 1989 it was touch and go for years

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      Rhys

      Oct 28, 2020

      Hi Gene,

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your experience with us. You’re right – Hurricane Hugo had a devastating effect on the area, and I think power was out for quite a while! Thankfully, the fish in Santee Cooper weren’t too affected, unlike the saltwater species off the coast!

      Tight lines,

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  • Patrick L Archibald

    Jul 20, 2020

    Typo in opening sentence “inlcuding”. The photo under the title Cross is not a picture of Cross SC. The are no hills like that. Thanks, PLA

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      Rhys

      Jul 21, 2020

      Hi Patrick,

      Thanks for reading and for your eagle-eyed observations! I’ll update these right away. Sorry for the mistakes!

      Tight lines,

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  • Jason Shealy

    Jun 23, 2020

    We’re heading to Santee again tomorrow morning for a 3 day trip. We’ve landed plenty of fish each time to include a 58 lb cat (Blacks Camp guide) when I was younger. We couldn’t get the new depth finder to work 2 years ago and still left with plenty of fish and variety being confined to the bank and familiar water near the house we rented. Always a great place to fish.

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      Rhys

      Jun 23, 2020

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your experiences. I’m glad to hear you always have success on the lakes, and wish you even more this fishing season!

      Tight lines,

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  • Donna

    May 10, 2020

    I have traveled to Santee Cooper lakes and rivers several times and had good luck every time. Never left with out at least 100 pounds of cat fish. My biggest catch was a 78 pd blue. It took me like 45 minutes to get that giant in. I caught it in the river down past Harry’s campgrounds. Caught some nice size black crappies to. We drive like 12 hours one way to come to this beautiful place. We hope to have many more vacation there in the future.

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      Rhys

      May 11, 2020

      Hi Donna,

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your experiences with us! It sounds like you’ve had some great times in Santee Cooper!

      Tight lines,

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      Mike

      May 22, 2020

      What is the smallest size motor you would take out I see people on kyaks but everyone says not our 5 hp for around the banks

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      Rhys

      May 22, 2020

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for reading and good question. I know personally of a few boaters who go out on the lake with a 200 HP engine, so you should have no trouble with a 5 HP one.

      Tight lines,

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