March is a favorite month for anglers, and Sparkleberry Swamp on the northern end of Lake Marion is one of the hottest destinations for crappie, the tastiest of panfish. Finding them is easy, and while getting them to bite is easier on some days than others, it’s a sure bet that crappie are there in big numbers.

Ken Nutter of Sumter gets after the crappie pretty hard in March; he said sticking with live bait is the way to go, mainly because of the frequent weather changes that typically occur.

“We can have a string of 65-degree days that are followed by a cold front with highs in the low 40s,” Nutter said. “It’s just a fact of life. That drops the water temperature and has a big impact on how active crappie are — the biggest impact, I think, on what they will consistently bite.” 

And while his bait of choice — live minnows — is no secret, he notices something that most anglers don’t do. While most anglers bring one size of minnows, he brings a variety.

“Most bait stores have at least two different sizes of minnows, and most anglers will get two or three dozen of the same size. I get both sizes — and all three from stores that carry three sizes. If you fish for crappie enough this month, you’ll notice that on some days it really doesn’t matter what size you’re using. But on other days, you simply will not catch fish unless you have a variety of sizes to offer,” he said.

Nutter finds this especially true after a cold front. Even then, he can’t predict what size will get the fish biting. Sometimes it’s the big minnows, and sometimes it’s the small ones.

Locating the fish, said Nutter, is easy enough.

“The flooded cypress trees in the Riser’s Lake area of the swamp are where you’ll find them,” he said. “You want to use long, fiberglass poles or cane poles, (and) keep your boat as far away as your poles will allow you to still reach the base of those cypress trees. Work your way down the outside line of trees, dropping your minnow at the bases of them. Then cross over the open clearing and hit the opposite side. Again, work your way down the line of cypress trees. Once you catch a crappie or two on one tree, slow down and spend some more time on that tree,” he said.

Nutter uses Tru-Turn crappie hooks with a small split shot above the hook, and uses a sliding float to keep the bait suspended.