February brought hope of better fishing. but March brings the coveted promise of exceptional fishing on the Santee Cooper lakes. Despite Mother Nature’s typical, short-lived, cold-front disruptions, bass and crappie are going to make their shallow water move in March.
You can chase “hawgs” or “slabs” in skinny water, depending on your species preference.
That said, not all shallow water is created equal for either species. Bass will be a moving target as the month progresses.
Brett Mitchell, a tournament angler and guide at Santee Cooper, said the March weather can be disruptive, but his experience has shown the first big spawn will be in the first half of the month.
Mitchell said March is excellent for big bass, but anglers must be able to follow fish as severe fronts blast though the area.
“March weather is such that bass can be in the shallows preparing to spawn and get bumped back to deeper water with a severe frontal passage,” Mitchell said. “Plus, that change is usually abrupt. But followed by a couple of warm days, bass are on the move again, returning to shallow, prespawn and spawning areas. The chase is certainly worth the effort, but it is not the most stable of conditions.”
Mitchell said by late March, different bass patterns are prevalent, with bass staging in prespawn areas; some will be on the beds and a few early spawners are in postspawn mode. But fishing shallow water and vegetative and woody cover is the key.
“I find it best to really focus on small details of depth, cover and bottom type,” he said. “Accurate casting is important, because bass in the shallows often hold tight to cover.”
Kevin Davis, who owns and guides out of Blacks Camp, said both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie are productive for bass. One key is being open to fishing both lakes to find different water color and temperature situations.
“March and April are my favorite months for really big largemouth bass,” Davis said. “The potential for big bass always exists, but I think during March, more really big bass are in shallow water than at any other time of year. Bed fishing is a great way to catch a trophy bass, but I encourage fishermen to release them after they take photographs.”
Davis (843-312-3080) said that his favorite lures in March are actually quite diverse, based on the type shallow-water fishing he is doing.
When bed fishing, he prefers a 1/2-ounce Rockport Rattler because of the rattle, glass eyes and pulsating skirt.
“When I’m searching for prespawn fish, I work weedbed edges, points and pockets as well as stumps and cypress trees,” he said, pointing to plastic worms, jig and grub bottom-bumpers, shallow-running crankbaits and spinnerbaits. The most-productive depth will be less than 5 feet.
Crappie can be all over the place in March, but more are typically shallow.
Guide Joe Dennis of Bonneau said anglers don’t have to wait until late March for the shallow action.
“The crappies begin to move into the shallow water in big numbers during the latter part of February, and by March, it’s usually wide open,” Dennis said. “Plenty of crappie will be caught in shallow water, but in truth, the fish are found in a variety of depths and patterns. For much of the month, plenty of fish are in prespawn mode in 10 feet or so of water, heading to the shallows. By mid- to late March, we’ll have fish in back in that depth in postspawn mode, heading for deeper water. These deeper fish will linger around brush piles, stumps and other cover long enough for anglers to target and catch them.”
Dennis (843-245-3762) prefers a 1/32-ounce jighead with a chartreuse twistertail grub for his shallow-water fishing. He stays with shallow fish in Lake Moultrie because they are easier to target.
“I like to have slightly deeper water near the shallow cover I’m fishing in March,” he said. “My technique is to ease my boat along shallow areas, casting small jigs and working live minnows under floats around visible cover. We may get down to as deep as 6 to 8 feet, but usually, plenty of crappie are shallower.”
Davis said catfish action is very good in March, and fish are usually in shallow water or headed in that direction.
“Water temperature will dictate when they get shallow, but overall, they will be moving from the deeper water we caught them in during February, with the shallows being the destination,” he said. “Usually, by late in the month, we’ll have good action in the shallows, and that excellent fishing will continue into April.”
Striper action really heats up in March, and the upper end of Lake Marion and up the Congaree and Wateree rivers are primary destinations. Packs Landing and Low Falls are excellent areas to access the upper end of the lake.
Guide Andy Pack at Packs Landing (803-452-5514) said both cut and live herring, specifically the big herring migrating through the lake, are the best baits for stripers.
“The population of stripers is such that we’re catching a lot more big fish, as well as more keeper-size fish, in the past several years,” Pack said. “I like to get on the bends of the river and anchor, fishing the shallow bars and stagger baits out into the deep water in the river channel. In the flats, I look for underwater depth changes that will attract and hold stripers. Rainy days can be best for big stripers so don’t let poor weather stop you.”