Santee’s bass move to the shallows in March

March is a big breakout month for numerous fish species on Santee, including largemouth bass. (Picture by Terry Madewell)

It’s big bass time at Santee

March is the most eagerly awaited month of the year for Santee Cooper bass fishermen as big bass flood into the shallows in pre-spawn mode. And by the end of the month spawning is in full swing.

Kyle Austin, professional bass tournament pro and USCG licensed guide, said March is prime time for catching big bass throughout the Santee Cooper lakes.

“A lot of the biggest bass move shallow early in the spawning cycle in March,” Austin said. “I spend as much time on the water as I can at this time of the year.”

He said weather patterns have a lot to do with where bass will be. So coping with frontal systems is part of the bass fishing process.

Austin said he’ll focus on pre-spawn patterns first when fish are staging slightly deeper than when in spawning mode. He’ll focus his efforts near spawning areas but early in the month he’ll begin at or near the mouth or entrance to the shallow spawning flats.

“I start fishing in water around 6 feet deep and begin searching and eliminating unproductive water,” he said. “I may find fish shallower. But especially after a front, this is my basic starting point.”

Bass will be near cover

Austin said most any type of cover is potentially productive with brush, trees, weedbeds and logs all good bass contact points.

“But it’s not always a woody or weedy target where bass are found,” he said. “Bass relate to ditches, deeper holes and any bottom contour changes that provide slightly deeper water near spawning areas. They’ll stage here until conditions are right to get into the really shallow spawning flats.”

Austin said anglers are successful throughout both lakes. But his favored target area during March is the lower end of Lake Marion, from the I-95 bridge and downstream.

“That’s a large area but it provides me with multiple options to deal with external factors such as fronts and wind and still have prime fishing opportunities,” he said. “Sometimes wind can be a positive factor for bass fishing. It’s not always negative. I work out of Blacks Camp but I’ll trailer my rig to where I feel I have the best advantage for the conditions.”

Bass will bite numerous lure types this month

Austin said multiple lures are effective for working the pre-spawn areas including crankbaits, swimbaits, Rat-L-Traps, Chatterbaits and spinnerbaits.

“As the month progresses and the water temperatures rise, the bass move toward shallower water,” he said. “Bass want to go shallow. And back-to-back warm days can impact bass enough for them to move from the 6-foot water depth to skinny water. And when they move, they’ll often go as far back as they can go.”

The downside to this shallow fishing is dealing with the cold snaps at the end of a warm trend, he said. The fish may retreat back to the deeper water in this case, but likely still staged near the shallow flats.

“Big fish are still caught. But finding them is the trick,” he said. “They’re not as aggressive as they were after the warm spell. I may slow my presentation down and use a Carolina rig with soft plastics or another slow-moving bait.”

Austin said the timing of the full moon has a dramatic impact on the bass during March.

“A full moon in March coupled with warming water means the bass are going to the spawning areas in shallow water,” he said. “They get shallow in 1 to 2 feet of water, and the blackwater ponds that warm up quickly are a great target. Bass prefer a hard sandy bottom when they move to the shallows so that’s a key to finding the right area.”

To sight fish or not

Austin said sight fishing is a popular pattern to locate spawning fish. But he also looks for situations where they can be shallow that are not purely sight fishing targets.

“I fish objects I can cast to from long distances to ensure I don’t spook fish in ultra-shallow water,” he said. “Isolated targets such as singular, small cypress trees and isolated stumps or a small pocket of weeds can hold big bass.”

Austin said covering plenty of water is a key to success but anglers must fish targets effectively and thoroughly.

“March is prime-time to find red-hot pockets of bass fishing and that’s the goal every day,” he said. “I fish fast but I’m still disciplined enough to ensure I don’t zip right past one of these hot spots by fishing too fast or without a purpose.

“I employ all the lures in my tackle box if necessary to ensure I’m effectively fishing my target,” he said. “This is prime big bass time and that’s why I’m on the water as much as possible.”

Look to the shallows

Bass are on the move this month. They’ll start off in the mouths of creeks, then move further into those creeks as the month progresses. The more time you can spend on the water this month, the better, as the fish are feeding heavily before they spawn.

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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