For veteran crappie fisherman Rod King of Durham, N.C., March means big crappie in the northern creeks of Falls of the Neuse Lake as increasing daylight warms the shallows.

According to King, who heads the Chase the Bigeye Crappie Man Tournament Series through Durham’s Ridgecrest Baptist Church, water temperature is secondary to sunlight and wind direction. If you can plan a trip after three or four days of bright sunlight and southerly winds, you’re likely to load up with slabs.

“When the wind blows out of the south, it’s blowing that sunbaked water to the backs of those northern creeks,” said King. “I’ve caught big stringers of crappie in 2 feet of water in the last week of February and the first week of March, and the water was only 42 degrees. It’s a false spawn. They’re just back there eating shad and getting fat. They’ll come out when the water cools or the wind blows out of the north.”

However, King notes that crappie will not go far when they retreat. Nearby bays close to deeper water will load up with the fugitives as they stack up on points, waiting for more favorable conditions to return. But they are reluctant to sink down to their previous cold-water depths and will rarely stray far from the flats after they make the initial run.

“In a normal March, I’m going to start fishing about 7 feet deep, in 10 to 12 feet of water,” said King.  “I’ll stagger my depths until I find where the fish are. I’ll have my baits on the back of the boat set a little deeper, some in the middle, and some of the rods up front will be set right under the surface, running a foot from the top.”

With up to eight 16-foot rods off the bow and eight more off the stern, King tight-lines his baits vertically and holds his speed to a crawl — 0.1 to 0.2 miles per hour. Except for his shallowest offerings, each rod will feature a tandem rig with an 1/8-ounce, live-bait jighead and minnow as the anchor.  Twelve to 14 inches above, he ties on either a No. 4 hook with a minnow, another live-bait jighead with a minnow or a Bigeye Crappie Rattle Jig with a minnow. He prefers a black jighead in dirty water or low-light conditions and chartreuse or pink otherwise.

King moves from the bays to the shallow flats until he finds the fish, noting that they are nearly impossible to mark on sonar due to the relatively shallow water and the suspended nature of the fish.  

“My minnow becomes my fish-finder,” said King.