Gastonia’s Mike Stone was casting a jerkbait across a point near Lake Wylie’s Buster Boyd Bridge; he gave the bait another twitch, let it settle, then a smile spread across his face as he set the hook and began to reel in a 3 1/2-pound bass.
“This month is, by far, my favorite month to catch bass on Lake Wylie. March is when the most fish, as well as the biggest fish, bite throughout the month,” Stone said. “But it’s a bit of a strange month and probably the biggest transition month of the year on this lake.
“You can split the month of March into two halves,” Stone said as he pointed to the spot where the bass bit. “The first half, the bass are typically still on a winter pattern and in prespawn mode like the one I just caught, but in the second half of the month, they are acting more like its spring.”
Stone’s nice bass was caught early in the month, and although the air was still quite chilly, but there had been some unseasonably warm days, and the water temperature was beginning to rise slightly.
“That’s a secondary point,” he said, motioning from the point out to the creek. “And that’s the channel, which the bass use just like a highway.”
And that highway gets plenty of use in March, according to Stone. By most accounts, it’s the earliest that bass will spawn on Wylie, and spawning is what is on the minds of these fish.
“A few days in the high 60s will push these bass shallow, way close to the banks, but when a cold front comes through, they will move back out to their staging areas using the main channel,” Stone said.
Fish are feeding heavily preparing for the spawn, so catching bass in month is not a problem for anglers, except when a cold front comes through.
“That will shut the fish down,” said Stone. “You can still catch them, but you have to work your lures painstakingly slow. When you think you’re working it too slow, you need to slow down even more.”
Largemouth typically spawn once the water temperature rises above 60 degrees, so where fish will be and what they’ll be doing depends a lot on the weather. At any point, some Wylie bass will be staging to spawn, some will be spawning and some will be recovering from having already spawned. The recovering fish are difficult to catch, but the staging and bedding fish are not.
Staging fish are eating in preparation for going through the spawn; bedding fish eat for nutrition and to clean pesky invaders out of their bedding areas. And despite Stone’s preference for fishing jerkbaits and Alabama rigs this month, he said a variety of lures work just fine.
To increase chances of success, Stone said to pay attention to water clarity, levels and temperature. In clear water, Alabama rigs are great fished deeper around secondary points and even in the main-creek channels. Jerkbaits like Lucky Craft Pointer 100s and Megabass Ito Visions are big hits as well. Rapala Shad Raps are also good bets. When the water is dirty, spinnerbaits are go-to baits, and square-billed crankbaits and jigs also prove their worth. The hottest dirty-water lure on Wylie is locally called a Spot, and is a 1 1/2-ounce rattling, lipless crankbait like a Rat-L-Trap or Cotton Cordell Spot.
When the water level is high, bass will often move up as close to the shoreline as they can get, so anglers fishing in shallow water — which may have been dry land before the water rose — will find lots of fish willing to bite. Small crankbaits come in handy, as well as jigs. When the water level drops, fish will usually move back to a secondary point with cover like submerged brush or riprap away from the shoreline, waiting for the level to return to normal. That sends most anglers go back to jerkbaits, crankbaits and Alabama rigs.
As the water temperature approaches 60, more and more bass will move shallow and prepare to spawn. When the water cools, bass will move out to secondary points and beyond, so anglers should pay attention and fish accordingly.
Big Allison Creek gets a lot of attention because the runoff from the Catawba Nuclear Station’s plant keeps the creek’s water two to three degrees warmer than the rest of the lake, meaning the first spawning will usually take place here. Steele Creek, Crowders Creek, and Little Sugar Creek are also promising spots.
Marc Deschenes, a Summerville-based guide, has won his share of tournaments on Wylie, and while most anglers will focus on bass heading for the shallows in March, Deschenes still finds plenty of bass deep, feeding on schools of shad. He agrees that anglers focusing on shallow water in the creeks will find success, but he opts for a different approach.
“I’ll find a school of shad and throw a crankbait past that school, crank it down deep, then reel it in,” Deschenes said. “I’ll either keep the lure just below the school or bring it straight through them and break it up. The bass are hanging out under the shad, and when they see a shad break away from the school, they will jump right on it.”
Deschenes said his ideal March situation on Wylie is to find schools of shad in water that’s 25 to 30 feet deep, with the schools suspended tightly in nine to 12 feet of water. When he finds this, he throws crankbaits like Rapala DT-10s or DT-14s, which dive to maximum depth, then suspend before the angler begins his retrieve. Of course, Deschenes said having good electronics that show schools of baitfish is important in this type of fishing.
Staying away from the banks also means Deschenes is targeting fish that are feeling far less fishing pressure. He doesn’t just look for schools of shad in deep waters; sunken rock and deep brush piles also attract his attention.
“Even when bass are in full spawning mode, some will always be hanging out on brush piles and other deep structure, and anglers who know how to catch them won’t have as many anglers to compete with as those fishing along the banks,” he said.
Stone and Deschenes both agree that in March, anglers can find success with a number of different strategies and lures.
“If they make it and sell it in a tackle store, you can catch bass on it in Lake Wylie this month,” said Stone.
HOW TO GET THERE — Lake Wylie sits astride the North Carolina-South Carolina border, with significant portions in York County, S.C., and Mecklenburg County, N.C. Access is good from I-85, I-77 and NC 49. Duke Energy, which operates power plants on the lake, offers a map with a complete list of public boating-access areas in both states, www.duke-energy.com/pdfs/wylie.pdf.
TACTICS — Bass will be moving shallow as March progresses, but anglers can fish shallow from secondary points back in the creeks with spinnerbaits, square-billed and lipless crankbaits, especially in stained water. Plenty of fish will still be off the bank on the main lake, hitting Alabama rigs and deep-diving crankbaits.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Hunt Fish Paddle, Lake Wylie, S.C., 803-831-0251, www.huntfishpaddle.com; Catawba Tackle & Marine, Rock Hill, S.C., 803-366-7998; Sportsman Inc., Rock Hill, S.C., 803-366-3466; Nichols Store, Rock Hill, 803-328-9792; Koyote Fishing Tackle, Gastonia, N.C., 704-820-0052; Piedmont Bait & Tackle, 704-735-4416; Jim’s Grocery, Bait & Tackle, Belmont, N.C., 704-825-5566.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Comfort Inn Carowinds, Ft. Mill, S.C., 803-548-5200; Sleep Inn Carowinds, Ft. Mill, S.C., 804-547-2300; Best Western Carowinds, Ft. Mill, S.C., 803-548-8400; Hilton Garden Inn, Charlotte, 704-9700-5000; Charlotte/Ft. Mill KOA, Ft. Mill, S.C., 888-562-4430; Visit Charlotte, 704-334-2282, www.charlottesgotalot.com.
MAPS — Duke Energy, www.duke-energy.com/pdfs/wylie.pdf;
Kingfisher Maps, Clemson, S.C., 800-326-0257, www.kfmaps.com; Fishing Hot Spots, 800-ALL-MAPS, www.fishinghotspots.com.