If there is such a thing as a normal winter, March is the time when big fish of several species bite the best. Largemouth bass, crappie, catfish and often shellcrackers all get into the mix.
The largemouth bass fishing is usually sensational, and, according to Kevin Davis, who owns and guides out of Blacks Camp, the time around the full moon in March is typically the best time for targeting big bass fishing when they’re on the beds.
“March is the prime month for huge bass on both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie,” Davis said. “Unless there’s a very unusual warm spell in February around the full moon, the full-moon period in March is when the biggest sow bass will be bedding and the fishing is super. Also, when they are not bedding in March, they will still be shallow, headed either to the beds or away from them and are still very catchable. Bed-fishing is a great way to catch a trophy bass, but I do encourage fishermen to practice catch-and-release.
“They can get a good picture with the fish if they wish and still release the fish to spawn and help keep our bass population high,” he said. “If they get measurements from the fish they can have extremely realistic plastic replicas made without keeping the bass. Anglers have ways to have that trophy but still release the fish.”
Davis said he knows some fishermen like to keep a few bass to eat, but the smaller fish are really best for that.
“The way the regulations are set up, it’s legal for anglers to keep these huge bass that literally restock the lake with fry,” he said. “Anglers can keep and fillet these huge fish, and I think that’s backwards in terms of sound biology and management. We need to let these big fish spawn.”
Davis (843-312-3080), said he has favorite lures for bedding and non-bedding fish during March.
“For bedding fish, I like a ½-ounce Rockport Rattler because of the rattle, great glass eyes and a pulsating skirt,” he said. “Cast this into a bed, and I can keep it there longer than other lures, and the bass often can’t ignore it. When not on the beds, I will fish the vegetation and cypress trees with bottom-bumping lures, as well as crankbaits, spinnerbaits or whatever the situation requires, but the productive depth will usually be less than 5 feet.
“Right now, we’ve got a lot of vegetation in the lake, and the health of the bass fishery and other fisheries in Santee Cooper depends on aquatic vegetation.”
Davis said crappie are also spawning in March and will be found in shallow water.
“The huge slabs will be shallow, but there’s different ways of fishing the two lakes,” he said. “On the upper lake (Marion), I’ve found it best to fish the shallow cypress trees, as well as logs, stumps and other woody cover in about 3 to 5 feet of water. Both jigs and minnows will produce. On the lower lake (Moultrie), I’ve found it best to get into the back of the coves where there are slightly deeper depressions. That’s where the majority of the super slabs will be spawning on the lower lake. Usually, there will be about 3 feet of water toward the back of the coves, then you can often find a depression that dips down a little deeper. Fish woody cover in these depressions for best spawning action.”
Much of the best catfish action is typically in shallow water as well. Guide Buster Rush (803-432-5010) fishes out of Taw Caw area of Lake Marion, and he said some of the biggest blues of the year can be caught in very skinny water this month.
“In Lake Marion, if we get a strong wind, the fish will often pile up on the windy, shallow banks,” Rush said. “I like to use cut herring or shad on these shallow-water fish, even when the wind isn’t blowing extremely hard. The catfish will back off the extreme shallows and will be closer to deeper water, but not far from the shallow bars and ledges. I know on the lower lake there are a lot of big catfish caught from shallow-water depressions as well. But it’s a great time to catch a bunch of really big blue catfish.”
Some of the biggest news in March is often from the very upper part of Lake Marion, where the striped bass are typically on their way up the river.
Pack’s Landing is situated ideally for getting to the stripers in both the large flats and the main river.
Steve Pack, who guides out of Pack’s Landing (803-452-5514), said this is a great time of the year to hook some extremely large stripers.
“Stripers are most typically caught on the saltwater herring that we catch and keep at the landing,” Pack said. “The fish will bite both cut and live herring as they move up the river during early March, and often the biggest fish come through early. Fish it along the edges of the river as well as around drops or holes in the flats off of the river.”
Andy Pack, Steve’s younger brother and another guide, said that cut bait works best early in the season and live bait later as a basic pattern.
“Early season stripers seem to prefer cut bait first and live bait later, but nothing is for certain, and we’ll catch a few big stripers every March on a big live herring,” he said. “While waiting on stripers to bite, fishermen are also in a great position to hook into some big catfish.”
If the water temperature warms enough, the first rush of big shellcrackers to the beds will usually occur around the full moon in March, according to most experts. Last year, most of the best shellcracker bedding action occurred in April, but it’s certainly worth a try if there’s an extended warm spell. That can trigger a move to spawn by some of the largest shellcrackers in the lake.