March madness at Santee Cooper

Fishing patterns at the Santee Cooper lakes merge into a maddening array of choices anglers must make during March. The good news is these choices are all about excellent fishing opportunities.

The only downside is sometimes coping with the occasional windy and wet weather patterns. March winds sometimes howl and limit options of where we fish.

But the fish-species flexibility is great this month.

Stripers are making a major move. Big bass are moving shallow. Crappies are at the peak of the spawn (see details in previous article). And monster catfish are brawling with anglers throughout both lakes.

Stripers moving

The upper end of Lake Marion and past the confluence of the Wateree and Congaree rivers are prime places for big stripers. With a strong population of stripers that provide excellent fishing during March, the big line-sided fish make a major spawning move seeking current. The big females seek the moving water, and more of these big fish are in a single area than most any other time of the year.

Andy Pack at Pack’s Landing said many of the largest stripers caught each year are hooked during the early part of the spawning process when big fish first move upriver.

“We focus on fishing the bends in the river and fishing the shallow flats that drop into deep water,” he said. “The best bait is the migratory blueback herring fished either as live, whole baits or as fresh cut bait.”

Pack (803-452-5514) said one productive pattern for big stripers is to anchor in shallow water, usually on river bends, and cast bait into all depths.

“During March cut bait is often the most effective when stripers are primarily migrating upriver,” he said. “But I’ll always have a couple of live herring baits out. I’ll sit on a spot for up to an hour and if I’m getting bites I’ll stay put. If not, I’ll move. This is one of the best times of the year to catch multiple slot-sized stripers as well as a trophy fish.”

This is a “big bass month” on the Santee Cooper lakes.

Another area that’s often excellent this time of year is the Diversion Canal according to striper guide Leroy Suggs.

Suggs guides out of Blacks Camp (843-753-2231), and said the current in the Diversion Canal is a key attraction and big stripers are taken in this area every spring.

“I’ll still catch stripers in Lake Moultrie, but the Canal is an often-overlooked resource for spring stripers,” Suggs said. “In both places, live blueback herring is my pick as the best bait for this time of year.”

Bass on the Beds

Bass and catfish guide Kyle Austin said March is the peak of the spawning season, although the bass fishing will be productive in the shallows for several weeks.

“Not all the bass are going to spawn at the same time. So I keep my options open and will find bass in pre-spawn patterns and spawn patterns early in the month,” he said. “As the month progresses into late-March and April we usually have bass in pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn patterns. It’s a phenomenal time of the year to be a bass fisherman at Santee Cooper.”

Austin (843-209-3726) said during this entire cycle of spawning, bass will be in shallow water and big fish more accessible than any other time of year.

Big Catfish

Big catfish are found from shallow to deep water, but the trend is usually toward shallower water. One of the reasons is the warming water attracts forage to shallower water. Plus, the migration of migratory blueback herring has begun and these large herring are a huge attraction for big catfish.

Fishing shallow water pockets from an anchored setup, using cut herring or white perch as bait, is an excellent tactic. Drifting ledges and drops in depths from 10 to 30 feet of water is typically a great pattern for big fish.

One of the premier spring catfish tournaments is the Santee Big Cat Brawl and it’s held during March for a reason. The big catfish bite is strong. This year’s tournament is set for March 17 and 18 and anglers can get entry information on the event via Facebook.

The 2022, Team Polebender, (Scott Peavy, Alicia Banks, Jason Kitts, and Kim Kitts) won the event, weighing in more than 205 pounds of fish during the 2-day event. Yes, big cats are on the prowl in March.

Panfish too:

The crappie are also biting plenty strong this month, and while some anglers may think it’s a little early for other panfish, the shellcracker bite heats up nicely, especially in the lily pad-laden areas near cypress trees of the upper and lower lakes.

About Terry Madewell 812 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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