Fishermen have multiple options during March, arguably the premier month for opportunities to catch super-sized trophies of several species at Santee Cooper.
It’s a give-and-take situation, because March also brings the downside of potentially tough weather: cold fronts and bothersome winds. But most fishermen are adamant that the upside is worth it.
Guide Inky Davis said this is prime time for big bass in shallow water.
“During March, I believe more trophy bass are in shallow water, in prespawn and spawn mode, than at any other time of the year,” he said. “After two or three consecutive warming days with (rising) water temperatures, the bass fishing can be awesome. But even when a front blows through, with all the shallow cover in both lakes, we can find enough sheltered water to effectively fish.”
Davis (803-478-7289) will use bottom-bumping lures — plastic worms, lizards and jigs and trailer rigs — depending on the cover being fished. Bass can be super-shallow, and beds are often visible. For prespawn fish, he’ll fish slightly deeper water, still less than 5 feet, and work bottom-bumpers along with crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
Catfish offer a prime shallow-water connection, and with the lakes filling up with spawning herring, the shallow-water action on big catfish is red hot.
Veteran angler Richie Wimmer said that as the shallows load up with bait — with panfish species as well as migrating blueback herring — the big catfish follow.
“This is a prime time to catch huge catfish in skinny water, sometimes multiple big fish,” he said. “I look for slight depressions in shallow flats and along ditches coursing through the flats as prime targets. If I’m not getting bites quickly, I’ll move to another area. When I hit the right combination of location with forage, the big cats will be active.”
Wimmer said if the weather is windy, anchor up on a windswept point or flat, especially if it’s near deep water. The wind will pile the forage up on these shallow spots, and catfish will move in for the feast.
Striper action will not be excellent in the upper end of Lake Marion, a hot spot for big stripers this month.
Andy Pack of Packs Landing said the best bait is the migratory blueback herring, fished either as live, whole baits or as fresh cut bait.
“One pattern for big stripers on the spawning run is to anchor in shallow water, usually on river bends, and cast bait in all depths,” Pack said. “During early March, cut bait is often the most-effective, but I’ll always have a couple of live baits out. I’ll sit on a spot for up to an hour, but if I’m getting bites, I’ll stay put. This is one of the best times of the year to catch multiple, keeper-sized stripers.”
Pack (803-452-5514) said shellcracker action can turn on late in the month — if the water temperature cooperates — and just before the full moon is a prime time for bedding fish. This month, the full moon is March 31.
Guide Kevin Davis out of Blacks Camp on the Diversion Canal said slab crappies are on the move at both lakes.
“This is the time for huge crappies, and the action is great in water ranging from very deep all the way to the shallows during,” he said. “For consistency, I prefer deep cover such as brush piles, but crappies will move to the shallows to spawn.”
Davis (843-312-3080) said he‘ll fish shallow cypress trees on Lake Marion, as well as logs, stumps and other woody cover in 3 to 5 feet of water. On Lake Moultrie, he fishes the backs of pockets with 3 feet of water, looking for a slightly deeper depression ringed with trees, stumps and other woody cover for spawning crappie action.
Whether you’re looking for largemouth bass, catfish, stripers, shellcrackers or crappie, March can offers the opportunity to hook some of the biggest and most-impresive specimens of the year.
Go fishing now!
Santee lakes need bluebacks
Scott Lamprecht, a fisheries biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said blueback herring and the Santee Cooper lakes are crucial to one another. Bluebacks are an anadromous species, meaning they migrate to freshwater to spawn and return to the ocean to mature. It’s an important part of the Santee Cooper ecosystem, as migrating herring enter the lakes through the Cooper River’s Pinopolis Dam boat lock and the St. Stephen Dam fish lift on the Santee River. SCDNR recognizes the importance of the lakes to the blueback herring population and the role that these ocean-run adults play in the resident fish food chain, especially for stripers, bass and catfish. These fish and other migrating species can be viewed during March and April at the St. Stephen Dam fish lift.