Fishing on the Santee Cooper lakes explodes in March

Isolated trees in shallow water are great targets for bass fishermen this month, according to guide Brett Mitchell. (Picture by Terry Madewell)

Numerous species are spawning at Santee this month

Santee Cooper is a shallow-water fishing paradise, and it’s tough to beat the skinny water action of March. Multiple species of fish are in spawning mode, with stripers, largemouth bass and crappie in their annual reproductive rituals.

Stripers Upstream

The striped bass spawning run is wide-open by March. And the action encompasses the upper reaches of Lake Marion and the Congaree and Wateree rivers.

Pack’s Landing is an excellent starting point for locating stripers on their upstream journey. And by March, the saltwater herring run is also under way. The commercial season for herring opens in March, and this prime bait is usually available after that.

Guides Andy and Steve Pack said big herring is the No. 1 bait for stripers on the spawning run.

“The river bends and sandbars, and even the flats in the upper end of the lake, are excellent targets to fish as stripers move upstream,” Andy Pack said. “Fish the bends where sandbars form in the river. And on the flats, look for high spots along deeper runs.”

Pack (803-452-5514) said typically, during the early part of the run, chunks of cut herring are the best bait.

“The majority of fish will bite cut bait best. But I usually have one or two live bait rigs out as well,” he said. “Herring in any form is a fisherman’s best bet.”

Santee bass on the beds

Brett Mitchell, who guides out of Black’s Camp on the Diversion Canal, summarized March bass fishing by saying the action is phenomenal on both lakes.

“I think more bass are on the beds during March. And working the beds as well as pre- and post-spawn cover is the most productive strategy,” he said.

Mitchell (803-379-7029) said the weather is hard to predict and impacts shallow-water fishing. But his experience has shown that the first big spawn will be in the first half of March.

“Depending on weather, we’ll sometimes have limited spawning action in late February and early March, especially for really big bass,” he said.

Mitchell will focus on small changes of depth and cover, and he said accurate casting to tiny targets is vital. He employs multiple lures when working shallow water, with twin-bladed spinnerbaits being a favorite. Lipless and shallow-running crankbaits are also excellent, as are multiple types of soft plastics

March is prime time to catch spawning crappie in shallow water in the Santee Cooper lakes. (Picture by Terry Madewell)

He also said fishing cypress and gum trees is highly productive.

“Trees well back on a flat in 1½ feet of water are good during March. But I also like fishing trees in slightly deeper water, especially during early March,” he said.

Mitchell prefers isolated trees over clumps of trees, and he recommends fishing any woody cover with two different baits  — a spinnerbait and soft-plastic lure as an example — before hitting the next target.

Crappie in Creek, Coves

Multiple techniques can provide limit stringers of slabs this month, and weather and water conditions play a role in the best technique.

Guide Dave Hilton said crappie will be scattered in multiple depths of water. He prefers to target brush piles and fish attractors in both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie.

“Crappie are on the move from deep to shallow water and back again throughout the month,” he said. “I fish brush from shallow water down to 18 feet and find scads of fish. As fish move in and out of shallow water, they’ll stage on these brush piles and are like sitting ducks. But I may have to check brush in 8 feet of water one day and maybe 12 feet the next. Don’t linger at any given depth if you’re not catching fish.

Hilton (843-870-4734) said tight-lining minnows over the deeper, woody cover is the most-productive tactic in both lakes.

“I can almost always find good places to fish. But the key is being able to control the boat and fish the brush effectively,” he said.

Another tactic is long-line trolling, and that technique is lethal during March. Fish the creeks and coves along the deeper creek channels or ditches all the way across the flats. Many of these flats are littered with stumps, making them ideal crappie hotspots.

A third tactic is to fish far back in the creeks, coves and into the shallow-water areas and use either jigs or live minnows around visible, shallow-water targets. Fallen trees, brush, weeds and stumps are excellent targets, and light spinning tackle or long poles with fixed line-length enables anglers to work around crappie-attracting cover.

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About Terry Madewell 722 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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