If you're looking for a month full of exciting fishing action, you need look no further than March at Santee Cooper.

"Just about everything that anglers fish for is on the move during March," said Inky Davis, a longtime guide on the Santee Cooper lakes.

"My specialty is largemouth bass, but I know the crappie, catfish and striper guides are all busy during March," he said. "The crappie fishing begins in deeper water early in the month, but by the end of the month, they are usually moving toward shallower water in the creeks and coves. The catfish are headed to shallow water where a lot of big blue catfish are taken on cut bait in shallow water. Plus, this is the time of year when the stripers begin their trek up the river. Since we've got plenty of water in the system from all the rainfall this winter, it looks like we should have an excellent spring season in 2010."

Davis (803-478-7289) said largemouth bass are really on the move during March. He said this can be one of the best months of the entire year to catch a trophy largemouth.

"March weather can sometimes create problems, but overall, I'd rate it high in terms of productivity and potential to produce big bass," Davis said. "We'll usually see some big fish on the spawning beds during March, so that's obviously trophy-fish potential. However, a lot of huge bass will be staging just a bit deeper and will be moving in for the spawn during April. Not all the bass will spawn at the same time."

Davis said that a variety of lures will work for the big largemouth.

"Among the best are bottom-bumping lures such as plastic worms, with big worms best for big fish," he said. "In addition, jigs with plastic trailers, big spinnerbaits and crankbaits are all very productive. Remember, the water temperature may be warming, but typically, during early March, the water is still pretty cool, so the speed of these lures is usually better when they are worked slowly. As the month progresses and the water warms, more aggressive techniques will begin to work really well.

"Also, by the end of the month, we'll begin to see some topwater action," Davis said. "Floating and diving minnow lures, buzzbaits and noisy prop baits are all effective."

In addition to all of the above, shellcrackers sometimes make their first spawning appearance of the year during March. Chuck Porter of Sumter fishes for big shellcrackers on the upper end of Lake Marion and said that some huge shellcrackers are typically caught during March.

"The bream bite can be good but usually turns on better during April," Porter said, "but March can be prime time for bedding shellcrackers. That may be even more likely this year with the full moon occurring on March 30. Usually a few days prior to the full moon will be prime bedding time for shellcrackers."


Tournament will benefit fishery

A big bass fishing tournament, actually a big event, is scheduled for April 24 at the John C. Land III landing on Taw Caw Creek on Lake Marion.

Joe Avin, a spokesman for Santee Bass Matters, a grassroots pro-largemouth bass organization, said the Santee Cooper Open Team Tournament is sponsored by the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce and Santee Cooper in cooperation with Santee Bass Matters.

"Our organization was founded to help identify and resolve the problems with the largemouth bass fishery on the Santee Cooper lakes," Avin said. "What has occurred has been an awesome response by the public and from those involved in the management of the lake. One of the serious problems we believe is having a negative impact on the fishery is simply a lack of numbers of largemouth bass in the lakes. This tournament will begin working on that specific issue.

"There is a guaranteed first prize of $5,000, and the entry fee is $150," Avin said. "A total of at least 20,000 5-inch bass fingerlings will be distributed to fishermen in the tournament. Plans are to have every boat release fingerlings at the first place they fish the morning of the tournament."

"We expect a lot of boats, and the fishing should be excellent," he said, "but this is a benefit tournament to generate interest in helping speed the recovery of the bass fishery. This event will do that and actually begin to give something back to the lake that has been so great for bass fishermen for so many years."

Avin said all the details and an entry form can be found on his group's website, www.santeebassmatters.net.