March is major feeding time for bass

Marty Stone uses several bass lures this month, including a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce jig. (Photo by Dan Kibler)

This month, bass are focused on feeding

Marty Stone wants bass fishermen across the Carolinas to know one thing: “The word ‘prespawn’ is way overblown,” 

said Stone, a retired bass pro from Fayetteville, N.C., who is an analyst on Major League Fishing’s television show. “To me, prespawn is the week before they go to the bank to lay their eggs. The rest of the time is just a major feeding time.

“When they move up, they aren’t coming up looking for an area to spawn. They’re up for one reason: to feed heavily and often.”

And that colors everything for Stone, who in 20 years as a pro won more than $1 million and qualified for four Bassmaster Classics and four FLW Tour Championships. The first three weeks of March are one of his favorite times to target bass on lakes around the Carolinas. And that’s because they’ve got nothing but food on their minds. The last week, well, that’s when the spawn starts to enter the minds of plenty of fish.

“To me, this is the time of year you find fish in a big-time transition,” Stone said. “I don’t care what part of the Carolinas you’re fishing. They’re moving out of the deep water where they spent the winter, and they’re traveling to the bank.

“Right now they are coming off the main lake. They are looking to move toward the bank, and they’re looking for bait: bluegill, crawfish and shad. They aren’t picky about what they eat. But they will eat heavily and often.”

Anglers should target woody cover, like this area with a letdown and stickups. (Photo by Dan Kibler)

Location, location, location

Stone said when you find fish in the right area, catching them won’t be too difficult.

“Lure selection is the least-important thing in March. Most important is being in the right area,” he said. “If you aren’t around fish, the best baits you’ve got won’t work. The area is the key. I could take somebody into the right area and give him the worst-looking spinnerbait you’ve ever seen, and he would catch fish. You go into the wrong area, and the best baits won’t work.”

Stone starts by looking in the first third of creeks off the main lake. That’s where the most bass will be, in 2 to 6 feet of water.

“Can a fish swim all the way back in a creek? Sure, but you want to fish where the majority of the fish are. And that’s the first third of creeks,” he said. “Baitfish movement determines everything. The water is warming, and they’re moving to the bank.”

Targeting docks is a good strategy throughout March. (Photo by Dan Kibler)

Cover your bases

When Stone locates good concentrations of baitfish in a certain creek, he starts looking for certain things.

“Bass are going to get on little rocky corners or riprap, laydowns or boat docks – usually the back corners of boat docks,” he said. “Rock and riprap warm up in March. Big fish live in laydowns this time of year, and they’ll be on docks. They’re harder to fish. You’ve got to cover a lot of water and fish lots of docks to find concentrations of fish. Grass? It’s almost non-existent anymore in the Carolinas.”

Next, Stone looks for the right depth to fish.

“Water color determines a lot about depth,” he said. “The clearer the water, the deeper the fish will be. If you are fishing Kerr Lake or Lake Norman and visibility is at 5 feet, those fish are going to be 7 feet deep. If you’re at Jordan Lake or Falls Lake and you can see 2 feet, those fish will be at 3 feet. Wherever the clarity is, the fish will be a foot or two below that level.

These three lures — a shallow-running crankbait, a Thunder Cricket and a Bandit 200 are March staples on Marty Stone’s rods. (Photo by Dan Kibler)

Timing matters

Timing is equally important.

“The best days to fish are the third or fourth days of stable, sunny, warm weather,” he said. “If you get a nice, warm front out of the south, an overcast day, gimme that and I’ll catch ‘em.”

Stability is the key, no matter the temperature.

“I’ve caught a lot of fish at 48 degrees, and I’ve caught zero fish at 55 degrees if the weather isn’t stable. Bass don’t mind cold weather. But they don’t like major temperature changes on the way down. If it’s been 60 or 65 degrees and it drops to 50 or 55, they don’t like it. The opposite, the worst day to fish, would be the second day after a major cold front that drops the temperature 15 to 20 degrees. That’s the drastic kind of change a fish doesn’t like.

“And there’s one more thing; everybody talks about the wind, but until the end of March, the wind is not your friend. Fish don’t like having their heads beat on. So you’re looking for an area of stable water on a warming trend. Fish will move in there if there’s bait. They’re only looking for areas where the baitfish have moved in.”

A crawfish trailer is always a good addition to a jig. (Photo by Dan Kibler)

Lure basics

Stone will have a few basic lures tied on rods on his bass boat’s front deck. He likes a crankbait that will run 2 to 6 feet deep. Two of his favorites are a Lucky Craft 1.5 and a Bandit 200. He likes a spinnerbait, ½- or ¾-ounce, with either double Colorado blades or a Colorado-willow leaf combination. He said a vibrating jig like a Strike King Thunder Cricket is a given. And he’ll have a ⅜- to ½-ounce jig with a crawfish trailer tied on in a black/blue or brown/green pumpkin color combo.

“I like crankbaits with light-wire treble hooks because they penetrate better,” Stone said. “Bass in March are the heaviest they’ll be all year. And for a short burst, they’re the most powerful they’ll be all year.”

Davy Hite said it’s important to let your fishing reel’s drag help when landing big bass this month. (Photo by Dan Kibler)

Landing bass: Take it easy

Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C., is one of two professional bass fishermen to win the trifecta – the Bassmaster Classic, BASS Angler of the Year and FLW Tour Championship – and plenty of the fish that have come over the side of his bass boat over the years have had a crankbait or jerkbait lodged in their jaws.

Landing a fish that has a lure bristling with treble hooks hanging out of its gaping mouth takes a little preparation. Hite, who retired several years ago to become a host of the Bassmaster Live television (and internet) show, said that starts about the time you know you’ve got the fish hooked. With so many prespawn fish caught on shallow-running plugs or jerkbaits, it’s extremely important in March.

“I’ve talked to people about landing bass my whole life,” Hite said. “On the Bass Elite Series, you’re not allowed to use a landing net, so you have to have a plan before you hook the first fish.

“I know that a lot of guys screw their reel’s drags down, bring the fish in as fast as they can and swing them right into the boat, but you run the risk of straightening out one of those little treble hooks and losing him.

“But me, I think you really need to let your reel’s drag work for you and play the fish to exhaustion before you get it right beside the boat, then land it. When I hook a fish on a Shad Rap, I take it easy and let my reel’s drag system tire the fish out, and I’ve had great success landing fish that way.

“I’ll tell you, most of the reels we have now, especially the Lew’s reels that I use, the drag systems really work. When I get a fish hooked on a crankbait, I’ll back off, especially if I can get her out in open water and let her pull drag. I landed an 11-pound fish in a Bass Elite event on Clear Lake in California on a jerkbait with little No. 6 treble hooks. I just let that fish pull drag until she tired out.”

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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