"The bass stage just outside the ponds during March, and if the weather has been warm enough, we might see a big spawning push around the full moon," said Cecil Wolfe, a tournament angler who locals consider a serious threat to win any event held on the Santee Cooper lakes. "It's a good month to catch a really big bass, because the biggest fish usually spawn first."
Veteran guide Kevin Davis likes Lake Marion in March because he can find good fishing for blue catfish, crappie and stripers, often in the same spots or in places that are quite close to one another.
Wolfe and Davis both favor the lake's southern shoreline, which offers some of the most-extensive backwaters in the entire system. The Santee River channel stays close to the edge, and several creek channels and feeder ditches provide fish easy access to the backwaters from deeper water.
Most anglers agree, especially because of the Lake Marion's massive size; it covers 110,000 surface acres, and with extreme navigational challenges and hazards, it's not unusual to find fishermen primarily targeting one section of the lake. These 10 spots reflect that sort of concentration of effort.
1 - Canal Breaks
33 23 905 N/80 08 960 W
A series of small breaks at upper end of the Diversion Canal create current funnels with sharp eddies. The breaks hold fish of various sorts during March, with the most-productive ones changing from year to year because of erosion and even from one day to the next due to changing water levels.
"Water does need to be running through the canal," said Davis, who guides out of Blacks Camp, "but during March we usually have plenty of moving water."
Davis often targets crappie or shellcrackers around the breaks, fishing red worms right along current seams and on the bottom for the shellcrackers, or minnows under floats in the eddies for crappie. Adding big-fish options, blue catfish commonly congregate just outside the breaks in the canal itself, and stripers moving upriver will feed along the current lines.
Wolfe likes to throw a crankbait around canal breaks, having learned that Marion's bass will stage along these edges before moving into backwaters on both sides of the canal.
2 - Crappie Neck Pond Dam
33 24 240 N/80 09 965 W
As the name suggests, Crappie Neck is a traditionally popular area for drift-fishing with minnows suspended under floats for big crappie, which relate to a well-defined ditch that divides eelgrass-covered flats and leads to backwaters that the crappie and the bass use for spawning.
Davis' favorite specific spot for crappie and for blue catfish is what he understands to be an old pond dam that has a deep hole beside it near the entrance to the area. For crappie, he'll fish both sides of the dam. For catfish, he'll set up right on top of the structure and cast cut herring into the deeper water.
The best approach for bass depends on the water level and temperature. Typically, Wolfe will work eelgrass edges and fish around islands during March. If the water is up and the weather has been warm, he'll look for spawning fish in the ponds in the back of Crappie Neck.
3 - Spier's Landing
33 23 848 N/80 11 919 W
Sandy depressions dot the shallow, eelgrass-covered flat in front of Spier's Landing, Shellcrackers, crappie and bass all make good use of the depressions and the main ditch that divides the flat. Local anglers call the ditch "the back way" because it connects productive backwater areas and can spare a long main-lake run.
For crappie, Davis suggests setting up along the edge of a depression and casting into it with minnows under floats. For shellcrackers, he'll trade the minnows for worms and fish them on the bottom. The area is also very productive for prespawn bass holding in any little break in the grass and relating to the edges of the islands that dot the flat.
4 - Rocks Pond
33 24 919 N/80 13 157 W
Blue catfish and largemouth bass combine to make the Rocks Pond area one of the most fun parts of Lake Marion in March. The area gets its name from an old pond straight out from the Rocks Pond Campground, but the best fishing occurs farther away from the bank, where a network of ditches provides travel routes for prespawn largemouths and feeding areas for big blue catfish.
"This is all anchor-fishing with big chunks of herring," Davis said about the catfishing. Anchor along the edge of a drop, preferably where a couple of channels come together, and fish on the bottom. Rocks Pond produces some big blue catfish every spring."
Numerous stump-covered humps provide outstanding cover for staging largemouths. A Carolina-rigged lizard works nicely for following bottom contours and keeping a bait in the fish's strike zone.
5 - The Kiln
33 20 340 N/80 16 498 W
The red clay along the wave-washed shoreline near the historic town of Ferguson Mill reveals a little about the history of the kiln ruins and other structures that lie partially covered by Lake Marion. The kiln, which once made bricks for the streets of Charleston, now provides excellent structure for bass and crappie during March, as do adjacent tree-lined islands.
Beyond the obvious fish-holding structure of the ruins themselves, the Santee River channel makes a hard bend and swings close to the shore in this area.
"This is one of the first areas that heats up for catfish during the spring," said Davis, who will double anchor so his boat won't swing and put eight or 10 lines all around his boat.
Several depressions and backwater ponds behind the islands offer excellent prospects for crappie and bass during March. A popular nickname for one such depression, "10-pound hole," reveals plenty.
6 – Eutaw Creek
33 25 123 N/80 18 936 W
Eutaw Creek's defined channel and the broad flats that bound it make this creek extremely productive for multiple species. In fact the biggest challenge might be deciding what to target any given day.
"A plastic lizard is one of the best baits for prespawn bass," Wolf said. "A Senko also can work really well."
Wolfe will fish bottom structure and grassy points along the main creek channel for prespawn fish; however, if the weather has been warm, he'll go back into the ponds and look for spawning fish.
Davis typically fishes along the edge of Eutaw Creek's main channel, either slow-trolling jigs or minnows for crappie or fishing cut bait on the bottom for catfish. For cats, he likes either a bend in the creek channel like the one marked by the coordinates above or a ditch's intersection with the main channel.
7 - Marker 56 River Bend
33 26 339 N/80 14 304 W
Channel marker 56 denotes the beginning of a hard bend in the Santee River that provides deep water close to a solid main-lake bank and tends to attract good groups of blue catfish. The water drops to 35 feet deep in the channel bend. Most water outside the channel is in the 15-foot range.
Davis anchors over the slope along the inside bend of the hole and casts a spread of lines outside the hole, on the slope and down in the deeper water. He uses big chunks of cut herring and stout tackle.
"Stripers working their way up the river channel toward spawning grounds will also stage in this hole," Davis said. "You can set up the same way for them. In fact, you can fish for the catfish and the stripers together. Just use live bait instead of cut bait on some of your lines."
8 - Spillway Humps and Dike
33 26 579 N/80 10 144 W
"You can always find catfish around the spillway," Davis said of the spillway along Santee Dam, and it's easy to understand why.
The old Santee River channel meets the dam at this point, creating a complex of structural features that includes river-channel ledges, the spillway itself, the rock dike on both sides and a series of humps that are adjacent to the channel in and just out from the dam.
The humps are Davis' favorite places near the spillway, especially this month. When the sun has been shining and Davis expects the cats to be shallow, he'll anchor right on top of a high hump and spread cut herring all the way around the boat.
If Davis doesn't catch fish from the humps or if the bite slows, he'll move his boat closer to the rocks and look for fish near the structure with his electronics. When he finds them, either he'll control the boat with his motor and put lines straight below the boat or he'll anchor and spread out several lines.
9 - Bird Island (Green Island)
33 26 059 N/ 80 10 069 W
Most maps call it "Green Island." Locals call it "Bird Island." Tournament catfish anglers call it money. Anytime water is flowing through the Santee Cooper system, the current brushes close to this island and through a deep trough that creates perfect feeding conditions for stripers and catfish.
"It's a good place to catch a really big blue catfish this time of year," said Davis, who double anchors just out from the island so he can position the boat perpendicular to the current and spread his lines more effectively. He then casts several bottom rigs downcurrent, spreading them from the shallower water near the island to deeper water in the trough. He'll often adjust his boat position or the placement of this casts as the cats reveal their preferred depth.
Stripers call for a more-active and fluid approach. Davis uses his trolling motor to hold against the current and will gradually to work the entire down-lake side of the island. He equips everyone aboard with spinning or casting gear and white bucktails and advises them to hold on tight.
10 - Front of Harry's Fish Camp
33 24 740 N/80 09 194 W
Moving closer to the Diversion Canal, the main flow gets funneled in front of Harry's Fish Camp, pushing between the main shoreline and Chimney and Goat islands. The channel also drops of sharply here, with well-defined ledges that the fish relate heavily to any time the water is running.
Making this spot stand out from many others in Lake Marion, channel catfish provide fast and sometimes furious action during the spring. Angler targeting channel cats anchor in the current and cast downstream, fishing with dip bait on the bottom. Cats up to about 10 pounds pile up in this current run, and it doesn't take them long to find dip bait when it starts breaking up in the current and spreading downstream.
Anglers targeting big blues use heavier tackle and cut herring but set up the same way. Casting bucktails in the same currents often will produce spring stripers.
Guide Kevin Davis can be contacted at 843-753-2231.