If you’re looking for a lake that can produce a 20-fish limit of crappie that weighs more than 30 pounds this month, there’s some good news for fishermen: it’s one of the best times of the year to target slabs on Lake Wateree, but experts also agree it can be also one of the more complex times in terms of crappie fishing strategy.
Ken Boone is a 74-year-old crappie-fishing guru who lives on Wateree and has fished the lake since he was two years old, accompanying his father when he was young; he said March is a favored time for lots of slab crappie.
Not only does he still fish at least three days a week almost year-round, Boone owns and runs Colonel’s Creek Market, which has become a hub for fishing information on the lake.
“I’ve been able to retain a lot in the last 72 years of catching fish from this lake,” said Boone, who is most impressed by the current condition of the lake’s crappie fishery.
“Right now, based on personal experience and from what I hear from others who I consider to be good crappie fishermen, we are enjoying the very best crappie fishing I can remember,” Boone said. “Personally, I’d say the crappies are very healthy, basically as fat as hogs at a slop bin.
“Last summer and fall, there were literally scads of limits, after culling (of fish) weighing between 1½ and 13/4 pounds apiece and numerous fish over two pounds. Those are huge crappie, and there’s lots of smaller crappie that can be culled to keep a limit of 20 slabs. There’s a lot of crappie in the two-pound and larger class and it’s not unusual to catch these big fish especially during the spring if you know what to do.”
Boone said 3-pound crappies are caught occasionally, and his biggest ever, which weighed more than four pounds, not too many years ago.
“Actually, I hit a specific spot in the mid-portion of the lake and caught one fish that weighed four pounds and two ounces and two more fish one ounce smaller each, all at the same place in just a few minutes,” Boone said. “But since that time I’ve only caught one additional fish over three pounds, but I have seen numerous others over three pounds caught. The point is this lake has some huge crappie and March through May is the time to catch these slabs.”
Boone added that one reason the fishing is better, or at least seems better now than ever before may be the technology anglers now have at their disposal.
“I know this has been a great crappie lake for many years, and with the tools we have now such as graph recorders, side-scan units, good topographical maps and more cover in the lake, it seems like the best fishing ever,” he said. “So with these tools being used, I am seeing more people catch more crappie than ever, and the same goes for me. But during March, there are specific things fishermen must consider to be successful.”
Boone said a key to fishing Lake Wateree this month is to think of the lake in different segments within the same body of water in terms of spring fishing depths.
“You can catch fish throughout the lake in March, but they will be staging at different depths and structures in different areas of the lake,” he said. “In the upper end of the lake, in the Wateree Creek area, crappie can be caught moving to the shallows. I refer to shallow water as two to eight feet. If conditions are right and the full moon comes at the right time, the crappie may actually spawn in the upper end, but that is very weather and water temperature-dependant.”
Boone said further down the lake, tactics in March must change to be successful.
“In the middle portion of the lake, fishermen are more likely to find crappie around the mouths of the creeks or along the major creek-channel ledges, often in 11 to 13 feet of water, maybe deeper” he said. “Further down the lake, fishermen will usually find crappie in the main body of the lake near the river and deeper water. Crappie are caught, but usually not nearly as shallow as up the lake in terms of consistent action. But lake-wide, they move towards the shallows as the month progresses.”
Rick Ingle, 46, is another expert fisherman who lives on Wateree and often fishes with Boone; they make a tremendous team. He agrees with Boone’s assessment in terms of where the fish are found in March.
“The good news for crappie fishermen is that the trend for shallow-water fishing and spawning crappie actually moves down the lake as time progresses into late-March, April and even May,” Ingle said. “If a crappie fisherman wants to follow the shallow-water fishing, they can do so by simply moving down the lake as the crappie come to the shallows.”
Over the years, Boone has developed his technique of crappie fishing and that is to use 1/16-ounce jigs all the time.
“I make my own jigs, and I use combination of chartreuse and pearl blended together to make a ‘pearltruse’ color as I call it,” Boone said. “That’s what I use unless I am fishing a bridge piling, and then I’ll use a black jig. That’s simply because leeches will get on the bridge pilings, and the black jig is just more productive. Whether I fish in two feet or 20 feet of water, I prefer my homemade jig. I use 4-pound test line on a 5½-foot Diawa Finesse graphite rod.”
“I super-glue the jig body to the jighead,” Boone said. “That makes it possible to catch more fish on the same jig without the plastic grub being pulled down. I’ve experimented with all line sizes, and when I retrieve the lure on 4-pound test line, the combination of the size of the lure and the speed it moves simply produces crappie bites. The speed is crucial, and that’s why I feel I double my catch by simply using 4-pound test over 6-pound test. I’ve tested it, and it works on this lake.”
Ingle fishes the same style of jig-and-line combo and will sometimes use a float about two feet above his jig in the shallows this month, when the fish are moving in close to the shoreline.
“Sometimes, even if the fish are not spawning, we’ll find fish close to the shoreline,” Ingle said. “The key is to get the jig at the right depth and speed to get a crappie bite. But we will cast jigs to small pieces of brush as well as large brush piles, downed trees and underwater targets we locate with the graph depending on the section of lake we choose to fish. But casting a small jig on light line is our preferred technique.”
According to another angler very familiar with March fishing on Lake Wateree, other methods also can consistently take crappie.
Jay Bruce of Greer is a former tournament crappie fisherman who lists Wateree among his favorite lakes for spring crappie and who has two basic techniques that work well there this time of year.
“Because crappie suspend this time of year, I like to fish a vertical column of water as well as along a drop or ledge, and often,the best technique is to use live bait in a spider-rig fashion,” Bruce said. “When fishing Lake Wateree from now on through April and into May, I often use four rods off each side of the front of the boat. I alternate the depth of each rod which enables me to cover a variety of water depths. By having rods fanned-out, I actually cover a wide swath of water. Fish will suspend in March, and sometimes I may be in 20 feet of water but catch fish at 12 feet, for example.
“Another pattern I like is to simply troll jigs,” Bruce said. “I usually move slow and use different-size heads to test different depths. I do use small-diameter line, generally 4-pound test, on all my rigs so the jigs sink to different depths based on their weight. I will also change the amount of line I put out to vary the depth. I prefer a small jig, such as 1/32-ounce, but I will also use larger ones until I get the pattern for the day. I’ll fish the same basic structures as tight-lining, but sometimes in March one of the two methods will just produce better, and it can depend on what part of the lake you fish. But in either case, I am working defined targets, not randomly fishing.”
Bruce said he catches crappie throughout March in the creeks, often at creek mouths where they meet the river.
“I’ll work creek ledges and edge lines, humps with brush or natural cover — stumps and brush are excellent — and points and pockets with something there to attract and hold crappie,” he said. “One (thing) overlooked by many fishermen is a rockpile. There are several on Lake Wateree, and March is prime time for crappies to stage on these structures near deeper water.
“As a general rule, I search for fish from the deeper water toward the shallows until I find the fish, unless I’ve been on a good pattern, then I try that and go forward based on the results there,” Bruce said. “One key to success is March is to stay on the move. I’ll fish an area thoroughly, but also quickly. If I get some action, I’ll stick with it; if not, I’ll change locations and usually depth patterns as well. It’s not unusual at this time of the year for me to change the area of the lake I’m fishing. I’ve found on several occasions that the fish in one sector of the lake may be deeper, for example, but perhaps biting better.
“March fishing at Wateree will usually give an angler several depth options that are viable on any given day. The further down the lake you fish, generally, the deeper you find fish. But sometimes, because of weather or water conditions, they’ll be biting better as well.”
Bruce said other productive patterns for March include fishing docks and pilings supporting the many bridges that cross major creeks. Bruce said the bridges at Wateree, Dutchman, Taylor, Colonels and Beaver creeks are all potential crappie producers, especially later in the spring.
“The key for docks is cover and shade to hold crappie,” Bruce said. “For bridge pilings, there is a vertical wall for the fish to relate to. They can hold at almost any depth and have that solid structure to orient to, as well as be in the shade under the bridge. Fishing pilings is a very consistent pattern, but sometime you’ll have to check several places before finding the fish. I like to cast and swim a jig back and also drop it down to a specific depth and just twitch it vertically, especially if I’ve predetermined a productive depth.”
HOW TO GET THERE — Lake Wateree is divided between Kershaw, Fairfield and Lancaster counties and can be accessed from many directions. From Camden, take SC 97 up the east side of the lake, where access points are numerous. From Lugoff, take Longtown Road, turn right on SSR 151 and right on River Road to Colonels Creek Landing. Lake a left on River Road to several other landings, including Lake Wateree State Park. Access from the north and west is easy via I-77. At Exit 41, go east on SSR 41 to the junction with River Road. From Camden, the other side of the lake is accessible by taking US 521 north to SSR 97, which will lead to Clearwater and Beaver Creek landings.
WHEN TO GO — March is typically a prime time for catching crappie on Wateree, especially since fish caught be caught at different depths using different techniques, in different areas of the lake. The crappie will be heading from deeper water toward the shallows throughout the month, but weather fronts can have a negative impact on the fish movements for brief periods.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Productive techniques will change during the course of the month as the crappie move from winter to prespawn and into the spawning mode. Both jigs and live bait will produce plenty of fish, but stay on the move, trying different structure and depths until you find the right pattern for that day.
FISHING INFORMATION/GUIDES — Colonels Creek Market, 12143 River Rd., Ridgeway, 803-337-2100. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, Camden, 800-968-4037; Quality Inn, US 1, Lugoff, 803-438-9441; Travel Inn, US 1, Lugoff, 803-438-4961. For camping, Lake Wateree State Park, 803-482-6401.
MAPS — Duke Energy, www.duke-energy.com/lakes/facts-and-maps/lake-wateree.asp; Delorme’s South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, 800-561-5105, www.delorme.com; Kingfisher Maps 800-326-0257, www.kfmaps.com.