March crappie fishing on Lake Murray can be likened to a piscatorial form of March Madness. Limits are typically caught, and it’s the time of year to catch more slabs consistently as the big females migrate up the creeks toward shallow water to spawn.
The entire process takes several weeks, but March is the focal point for many. To be consistently successful, there’s a thought process for a consistent crappie connection that experts employ to get on the action early and follow the fish all the way to the shallows. As March arrives, crappie are generally in deep water, but by the end of the month, anglers are plucking slabs from shallow, visible cover.
Guide Brad Taylor of Batesburg makes that crappie catching connection at Murray every March.
“The entire month of March can provide outstanding crappie fishing, and for those with a good game plan, the action can be consistent,” Taylor said. “Random fishing will produce random results. I’ve got a plan that enables me to follow crappie as they first enter the creeks in deep water and follow (them) all the way to the shallows as the month progresses.
“Transition is an often-used term for what happens in March, and it’s certainly true of the crappie fishing here. Crappie will be almost in a constant state of transition, and it helps me to have a process for looking for and finding crappie.”
Taylor said 20-fish limits of crappie can be caught from late-February right though the spawn.
“By getting on crappie at the earliest time possible, I can stay on top of their migration,” he said. “I know that they will move toward the shoreline in the same vicinity I find them in deep water,” he said. “Early in the month is the time to pinpoint where all this is happening. Almost all large creeks will have this type of action going on at some stage. Some places will warm quicker than others, so not all areas will progress at the same pace. This actually extends the shallow-water fishing for those willing to move and hunt the fish down.”
Taylor said the crappie migration begins when the fish enter the mouths of the major creeks.
“The crappie migration process begins in the deep water at the creek mouths, but excellent fishing in this area will last throughout the month,” he said. “But you may need to move around to different creeks. The specific depths that are productive will vary from the upper end of the lake to the lower end. In the lower end, crappie are typically deeper because the water is clear. I primarily target the upper part of the lake; I’ll find crappies piling up at the mouths of the creeks in 15 to 20 feet of water.”
Taylor will spread a dozen rods in rod holders in a spider-rig arrangement around his boat, fishing the smallest tuffy minnows he can get in a vertical presentation.
“At this point, most of the fish are suspended in the water column as they stage at the mouth of the creeks, and they are orienting to creek-channel ledges, sharp channel turns and points that jut into the creeks,” said Taylor, who tries to find big concentrations of threadfin shad to pinpoint places crappie will be active.
“The shad are in the creeks, and it’s the game of find the forage, find the fish,” he said. “The crappies are feeding on shad, so I use electronics to find them together, and I experiment with the depths fished. On bright days, they are deeper in the water column. On cloudy days, they are often shallower.”
Taylor said that as March progresses, anglers must move with the fish as they move.
“By mid-March, the crappie will be well into the creeks and will be holding in water in the 10- to 12-foot depth range, but often, the water will be 20 feet or deeper,” he said. “Tight-lining still works, but long-line trolling with 1/16- and 1/32-ounce jigs, using 1 1/2-inch grub bodies, will produce great. I troll the jigs about 50 feet behind the boat. Later in the month, when water temperatures are consistently in the mid 50s, some of the biggest crappie of the entire year will move onto the shallow flats.
“Frankly, there are many color combinations that will produce when fish are in this pattern,” he said. “It’s a daily process of figuring out the best color patterns simply by experimentation. As the water continues to warm, the fish will move toward the shoreline but still hold around 10 feet for a short period of time. That’s typically a good depth to find them suspended before they make the move to the shoreline.”
The type, size and color combinations of jigs is often an individual choice, according to Mark Danque of Chapin, who owns “The Crappie Hole” tackle shop.
“I have fished Lake Murray a lot in the past, but now I get a lot of great information from other anglers as well at the shop,” he said. “One excellent pattern that extends throughout March is trolling jigs for crappie, but there are many different components that comprise successful trolling. They include getting the right size of jighead, such as 1/16-, 1/32- or even 1/64-ounce jigheads, but also what color patterns to use on different days. It also makes a difference if an angler is using a curlytail plastic, a hair jig or a Slider-type rig. But they all produce, and each successful crappie fishermen will have their favorite. One thing that stands out to me is that most of the consistently successfully anglers will lip-hook a tuffy minnow on the jig to add some meat to the presentation.”
Danque said that preferences of soft-plastic bodies range from K Grubs, AWD baits and Triple Ripples, to name a few of the most popular. For hair jigs, the Uncle Henry and Sugar Bug are very popular and effective baits.
“I think the real key is getting the right speed and depth, along with color and the addition of a minnow,” Danque said. “Because of that, I feel that a true variable speed electric motor is essential, because you can have infinite speed settings. During March, the effective speed for trolling can be anywhere from 0.2 up to 2.0 miles per hour based on GPS speed.
“Typically, as the water warms, the faster speeds work best, but water color, cloudy or sunny days or the passage of a cold front can impact speed as well as depth. It is finding the right speed and depth, then correlating color patterns that make trolling success a consistent reality.
“Also, color can be impacted by the weather,” Danque said. “On clear days, the lighter colors — a blue-and-white combination, chartreuse or white patterns — work well. On cloudy days or if water is dingy, often the orange, black and pink patterns produce better as a simple rule of thumb for Lake Murray.
Danque said that as the month progresses, fish move to shallower water, but shallow in the upper end of the lake is not necessarily the same as shallow on the lower end.
“In the upper end of the lake, from the junction of the rivers and up, shallow water can be considered 2 feet or less because the water is usually dingy,” he said. “But down the lake, the water is typically very clear and forces the fish to stay deeper. Shallow water may be 6 to 8 feet deep.
“With the weed cover gone, fishermen on the lower end of the lake often rely on casting jigs to sunken brush or other cover: stumps, logs or docks. The cover is much-more isolated in the lower end now compared to what can be found up the lake. But when anglers find good cover down the lake, they can still make excellent catches, because often a lot of crappie will be in these isolated areas where cover is present.”
Taylor and Danque agree that Lake Murray crappie will progress though the deep-to-shallow transition in waves. They do not all move to the shallows or any specific depth at once.
“The key to this fishing is that not all of the fish will move shallow and spawn at once,” Taylor said. “Crappie will move to shallow cover in waves, and fishermen can catch a bunch from a shallow area and find more fish in there the next day. But crappie can still be caught in the deeper water as they stage near the shoreline. So it’s usually not an all-or-nothing situations. But each wave of movement to the shallows doesn’t last long.
“Even when fish are in the shallows, there will be new waves of crappie just hitting the creek mouths at other parts of the lake. “The way you fish in early March will still produce limits in late March, as will all the other intermediate and shallow-water techniques. But we also have the added dimension of very shallow fishing by the end of the month. That’s why I love March crappie fishing so much. By late March, I can literally ask clients how they want to catch the crappie: by fishing deep, mid-depths or shallow water. Then we can go do it.”
Taylor believes every creek on Lake Murray will produce good crappie, but his favorites include Buffalo, Rocky, Hollow, Bear and Camping creeks.
HOW TO GET THERE — Located relatively close to I-20, I-26 and I-77, Lake Murray is easy to access. Major towns around the lake include Lexington, Chapin, Gilbert, Prosperity and Irmo. Visit www.lakemurray.com/Lake_Murray_SC_Boat_Ramps_Parks.aspx for locations of boat ramps. Crappie fishing can be good across the entire lake, but fish in the upper end of the lake will generally be closer to shallow water.
WHEN TO GO — Crappie can be caught at Lake Murray year- round, but March is a prime month to consistently catch limits of slabs. As the month progresses and water warms, look for crappie to move shallower and get more active.
BEST TECHNIQUES — In early March, fish multiple rods and work the larger creeks, mostly those in the upper half of the lake. Fish will be migrating from deep to shallow water and can change locations quickly. Both vertical tight-lining with live minnows and long-line trolling with tiny jigs work when fish are deep or suspended. When they get shallow, probing with a long pole around cover or casting to isolated brush piles is most effective.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Brad Taylor, 803-331-1354, www.tayloroutdoors.com; The Crappie Hole, Chapin, 803-345-5606. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.