March busts out at Santee Cooper lakes

Santee Cooper lakes
Guide Steve Pack caught this big, prespawn striper on a sandbar in a river feeding Lake Marion.

Stripers head into upper end of Lake Marion as the spawn approaches; bass, cats also hot at Santee Cooper lakes

March is known for blustery weather, but it also ushers in big-fish season for several species. The heralded prespawn striper run is under way, and these fish are on a mission to spawn, packing many of the heaviest stripers into the upper end of Lake Marion. Some time this month, stripers will turn on fire on the Santee Cooper lakes.

Big blue catfish will also make a move and are caught throughout both Santee Cooper lakes. And it’s the time of year for trophy largemouth bass in pre-spawn and spawn conditions. 

Regardless of weather — and whether anglers love to hate it or hate to love it — the bottom line is, March is serious fishing time on the Santee Cooper lakes.

Fishing is excellent throughout the lakes. But the upper end of Lake Marion, from the I-95 bridge and into the Wateree and Congaree rivers, provides sensational fishing.

Moving stripers

Stripers are fast-tracking up the rivers for spawning purposes and are a major draw for anglers. The action is consistent from March through May, and many of the largest fish are caught in March.  

Guide Andy Pack of Pack’s Landing said the striper fishing is consistently good by early March.

“The key to catching stripers is two-fold,” Pack said. “One is using the best bait, and that’s the big saltwater herring flooding into the lakes to spawn. Beginning March 1, we can catch the big herring commercially, so we’ll have plenty of prime bait. Stripers migrate upstream to spawn, but they will eat.

“The second key is setting up in the right places,” he said. “We’ll fish the main Santee River channel, specifically the sandbar points. Stripers literally cut corners, and they seem to skip the deep side of the river on the way up, work the shallow sandbars and move from point to point as they travel. If you’re on the right sandbar with fresh bait, you’re in business.”

Pack (803-452-5514) will cut a big herring into multiple chunks and fish baits on the bottom, staggering his offerings from deep water at the base of the sandbar to the skinny water on the top.  

“Keep fresh, bloody bait on at all times because the scent of the herring will draw them to their favored food,” he said.

Guide Inky Davis likes to work different kinds of cover for bass this month, in shallow water — but close to deep water.

Bonus catfish

Pack said a big bonus is the potential to hook huge catfish with this setup. These same sandbars are also prime catfish targets.

“Big catfish are on the move in March, and it’s common to see lots of heavy catfish caught by striper anglers, as well as by those targeting catfish,” he said.

Big Bass Season

Largemouth bass action is excellent in the shallows during March, and Pack said his favorite technique is using live shiners around the big stumps and trees in the shallow-water flats.

“Big, live shiners are ideal for huge bass, and we’ve already enjoyed excellent success in 2020, back as early as mid-January,” he said. “Typically, the largemouth fishing stays good through the spring. I place a big float 2 to 3 feet above the shiner and drop the rig around trees, stumps and logs. If I see current moving around the targets, I drop the bait on the protected side of the cover first.”  

Action is also exceptionally good on artificial lures at this time of the year.

Guide Inky Davis said March is his favorite month for trophy bass. He fishes the entire upper end of Lake Marion, from the I-95 bridge upriver.

Davis (803-478-7289) targets a variety of cover types, with weedbeds, cypress trees, stumps and logs all prime targets. With so many potential bass holding spots in this part of the lake, he’s learned to narrow his focus to specific sites.

“I’ll fish shallow targets close to drops, ditches, or even deeper holes,” he said. “Big bass will often move into the really skinny water during the prespawn and spawn, but they usually have a deep water escape nearby. An outside line of cypress trees in 2 or 3 feet of water, adjacent to a drop down to 8 feet deep, is a prime example of a big bass hotspot.”

Ready for change

On any given day, Davis usually has a half-dozen or more rods rigged and ready with different lures.

“With the abundant cover in this part of the system, I enjoy experimenting with different lures,” he said. “I’ll have bottom-bumpers with plastic worms and jigs and grubs, swimbaits, spinnerbaits and, as the water warms during March, some frog and topwater lures will be become more effective.”

Davis said to fish prime targets with multiple lures to work it every conceivable way. 

“The patterns often change daily, but with a bit of perseverance we’ll figure it out,” he said. “We don’t catch trophy fish every day, but it’s the best big bass bite of the year.”

About Terry Madewell 809 Articles
Award-winning writer and photographer Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C., has been an outdoors writer for more than 30 years. He has a degree in wildlife and fisheries management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager.

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