Steve Pack at Pack's Landing said fishing begins to turn on in February, but by March, the action is great for several species in the upper end of Lake Marion.
"March signals the beginning of our peak season for several species, and the fishing stays good from now through May," he said. "The striper action is really good, as the big stripers move upriver on the spawning run.
"In addition, the crappie action is good, with a lot of slabs being caught around the trees and brush in the upper end of Lake Marion and in the swamp," Pack said. "Generally, we'll have some good shellcracker fishing in March. They are not necessarily bedding, but the bite does begin."
Pack said he expect to see more keeper-sized fish in 2013.
"During early March when the stripers are first moving up the river, the best bait will be cut herring fished along the edges of the river as well as around drops or holes in the flats off of the river," he said. "The fish often tend to move through in schools, so fishermen may have some quick bursts of action followed by periods of slower bites, then another flurry of activity. But if I'm not getting bites, I'll move up or down the river - or into the flats - to find good striper action.
"The water current has a lot of influence on the fish, and certainly the stripers migrate upstream for spawning," Pack said, "but I think the rain we typically get in the winter and early spring, and the resulting water flow, attracts big blue catfish to the upper end of the lake. You can target blues by fishing cut bait around ledges or drops in the flats as well as in the river. However, one key point I tell fishermen is that any time you are fishing for stripers, you're actually doing the right thing for big catfish as well. You're likely to be catching stripers then hook two or three big catfish, then go back to catching stripers. At this time of year, in the upper end of Lake Marion, the same basic pattern produces for both species."
Pack said the bass fishing is excellent during March, and some huge largemouth are generally taken.
"One difference for this part of the lake compared to the lower end of Marion and Moultrie is that our water is usually dingy, and there is less opportunity to sight-fish for big spawning fish," Pack said. "In reality, that just means fishermen may work a little harder, but the fish are here in good numbers and sizes. The big difference is not being able to actually see big spawning fish on the beds.
"There is good crappie action around the trees and brush in the swamp using minnows and jigs in four to eight feet of water," Pack said. "Plus, the water temperature will be typically such that shellcrackers will be active during March, and it's a great time to take some huge shellcrackers. Last year, with such a mild winter, we were actually seeing a lot of shellcrackers caught in February."
Largemouth fishing in the lower end of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie is also exceptional in March. Cecil Wolfe, a guide out of Blacks Camp (843-753-2231) said March is the season for big fish in shallow water, and the potential to take a large number of 5- to 8-pound fish is excellent.
"In addition to catching spawning bass, a lot of other big fish will be holding to heavy cover in shallow water, and a variety of lures will be effective to catch them," he said. "I use bottom- bumpers, spinnerbaits, topwater and crankbaits, depending on the cover and area. It's big-fish time, and a lot of tournaments with 5-fish limits will require over 30 pounds to finish high if the weather is at all cooperative. That's a great average size."
Catfish action is good throughout both lakes, as well as in the upper end of Lake Marion.
Jason Knight of Ridgeway is a tournament fishermen who has won spring tournaments on Santee Cooper. He will focus on shallow water flats near the main river channel this month.
"I'll use cut shad and cut perch and generally fish in three to eight feet of water," Knight said. "This is the time of year you can expect to hook into some 30- and 40-pound fish in shallow water, especially if there's some wind blowing. I like to get on the flats close to the river, and often, I'll be fishing in the area of Lake Marion around the I-95 bridge.
Guide Don Drose (803-478-2536) said early March will typically produce some keeper-sized stripers by trolling deep-diving lures along the ledges in the large creeks such as Wyboo and Potato on the lower end of the lake.
"I'll use a deep-diving Rebel lure in a red and white color pattern when trolling," Drose said. "However, by the middle of the month, most of the bigger fish have begun to migrate up the river," he said. "That's when I really being to focus on the shallow water catfishing."
The catfishing is excellent in Lake Moultrie, drifting the open water or anchoring in shallow water and fishing slightly deeper depressions, around four feet deep, with cut herring.