It’s time to long-line for Lake Marion crappie

crappieTrolling is the way to go for Santee’s crappie in March

The springtime is cherished by every crappie angler in the country. 

It’s spawning season! 

The warm breezes raise water temperatures in every creek, river, and reservoir. And the biological clocks start ticking away in unison with a cascade of spawning species beginning to make their way to their spring spawning grounds. Black and white crappie are part of the early spawners that prefer a cooler spawning temperature.

In the Carolina rivers and reservoirs, March is prime time to target crappie in their spawning rooms. And S.C.’s Lake Marion is one of the best lakes in the country to find big crappie in the spring season. For anglers with a boat, trolling motor, and a handful of long rods, it’s time to put fish in the boat at a fast pace. 

Driftmaster Rod Holders keep rods spaced out properly when long-line trolling for crappie.

Santee Cooper is known for its excellent fishing and is nationally known as one of the best freshwater lakes in the country to catch record-sized catfish, crappie, shellcrackers, largemouth bass, and white perch, including several state and world record catches. In fact, P.E. Foust’s 5-pound black crappie out of Santee Cooper continues to hold the state record. But the lakes’ record catches aren’t just a fluke either. The Santee Cooper Lakes continually produce a large strain of fishes and the black and white crappie populations aren’t lacking in size or quantities.  

TC Lloyd of Southern Angling Guide Service out of Hartsville, S.C. is a guide and professional crappie angler. He fishes crappie tournaments from Florida to North Carolina. According to Lloyd, the Santee Lakes are full of large fish.

When long-line trolling for crappie, it’s best to use the longest rods at the front of the boat.

Quantity and quality

“I fish all over the country for crappie and the Santee Lakes are some of my favorite places to catch both quantity and quality crappie,” said Lloyd (843-307-6678). “The average-sized fish are just bigger than many other lakes around the country and there are a ton of them in these lakes.”

Lake Marion is part of the Santee Cooper Lake System. Lake Moultrie, its sister lake to the south, is connected by a seven-mile diversion canal. Often referred to as the upper lake, Lake Marion is fed by the Santee River and several small to mid-sized creeks along its northern and southern banks. 

According to Lloyd, these creeks are key locations for finding spring crappie. 

“Every lake in South Carolina will have crappie in the creeks in March. From the mouth to the back of the creek will have crappie either spawning or staging to spawn in the creek channel,” he said. 

Crappie typically begin spawning when water temperatures reach 59 degrees. They spawn on woody brush everywhere from right on the bank in less than a foot of water out to 3 or 4 feet deep. The upper end of these creeks typically warm first. So they are ideal locations for crappie to start spawning. But as Lloyd said, the majority of the crappie population moves into the creeks on their way to spawn and they can be caught in the main creek channels or along shelves just off the creek channels. 

Crappie typically travel in large schools during this time. And they’re eager to feed on small minnows and minnow imitations. Lloyd utilizes a solid technique this time of year to start catching crappie in a hurry. 

TC Lloyd prefers Jenko Curly Fry and Southern Pro Hot Grubs over the numerous brands of crappie jigs.

Time for the long line

“The best way to catch crappie in spring is long-lining. Anybody can catch crappie long-lining with jigs in the main creeks. There will be some fish in the main lake still. But most of them will be in the creeks preparing to spawn. Almost every creek will be holding crappie in March if they are spawning or not,” he said. 

Lake Marion is fed mainly by the Santee River. But many tributaries enter the lake on the northern and southern banks. Wyboo Creek, Eutaw Creek, Jack’s Creek, Taw Caw Creek, Church Branch, and Potato Creek, to name a few, are excellent places to find crappie staging in March. And the smaller creeks such as White Oak Branch off Potato Creek will also be holding fish. 

In March, depending on water temperature, crappie will be at various locations from the mouth of the creek all the way to the shallow banks in the headwater reaches. 

“Different schools of fish will be staging in deep water and then some in the shallower water already spawning. They don’t all spawn at the same time. I like to start at the mouth and move toward the back. Keep checking areas of the creek until you find them,” he said.   

Lloyd likes to long-line with more than a dozen long rods tipped with jigs. 

His set up and trolling technique is fairly simple, but very effective. He deploys a set of rods out front and then out the back to cover a lot of ground and with a lot of lure possibilities.

The author caught this slab crappie last March on Lake Marion, also referred to as the Upper Lake.

Slow and steady

“I like to pull with the shorter rods at the back and stagger them so they don’t get tangled. If you have four, six, or 15 rods out, just keep the longer rods at the front,” he said. 

Lloyd keeps his lure choices simple and uses standard jig heads from 1/32 to 1/8 sizes. He will typically employ 1/32 and 1/16 sizes in water less than 10 feet deep. He utilizes 1/8 in deeper places when he is trying to get down 20 feet. Typically, the fish will be less than 10 feet below the surface regardless of the depth. He controls his depth on the lighter jigs by casting length and trolling speed. 

“I typically pull between 0.8 to 1.2 mph and I generally will use 1/16-ounce jigs in spring. I will adjust my depth by changing my speed between 0.8 and 1.2 mph over changing jig sizes. You can quickly change depths of lures with the trolling motor. The faster you go, the shallower the baits will run and vice-versa. Sometimes the fish will be near the surface and other times they will be a little deeper. When you find that sweet spot, you can wear them out,” he said. 

Lloyd has used a wide variety of soft plastic brands over the years, but he prefers two lure manufacturers over others.    

Don’t fret over color combinations

“I really like the Jenko Big T 2.25-inch Curly Fry and the Southern Pro 2-inch Hot Grubs. Both of these baits have good action and they hold up well after dozens of fish,” he said. 

Crappie jig colors come in hundreds of color combinations. A crappie angler can catch fish on a myriad of them. Crappie are feeding prior to spawning and will often reaction-strike when the baits are trolled by them. 

“Crappie will bite about any color in the spring when they are feeding. But you can’t go wrong with black/chartreuse and white/chartreuse. These two color combinations will always catch fish in any body of water in the country,” he said. 

Crappie can surely be targeted every month. And crappie can come home with an experienced angler after any fishing trip. But during spring, crappie are vulnerable to the long-lining technique in the creeks. With a trolling motor, a dozen rods in rod holders, and a sack full of crappie jigs, any angler can leave the lake with a limit of speckled delicacies.

March is a great time to take kids crappie fishing because the action is faster and more predictable than other months.

Key trolling equipment

Spring is the ideal time to troll for crappie in the creeks with four to 24 rods out the back and front of the boat. And the depths aren’t always consistent. A smart trolling motor and clear electronics are required equipment.  

Trolling for crappie typically involves double-digit rod set ups and with small diameter, 6-pound line. Wind, underwater obstructions, and other factors can send boat trajectories on a collision course. The last thing you want is to allow the lines to go too shallow over a tree top with 20 rods getting hung up at the same time. A smart trolling motor that uses GPS and course correction is a must when trolling for crappie. 

Professional crappie angler and crappie guide, TC Lloyd uses a smart trolling motor and wouldn’t even attempt to troll for crappie without it. 

“A (Minn Kota) Autopilot trolling motor is key equipment. Not only can you control your speed to a T, it will also keep you straight regardless of the wind and any currents,” he said.  

Secondly, a good chart plotter that shows depth and speed is very helpful. 

“You need something that shows depths, location, and your speed. You can’t measure speed in tenths by watching a lily pad go by. The chart plotter gives you your exact speed in tenths. And that is required to be successful at long-lining,” he said. “It also helps to be able to mark your location where you caught the fish because sometimes it is hard to pinpoint a location in the main part of the creek.”

For many types of fishing, electronics and smart trolling motors aren’t always necessary. But when long-line trolling for crappie, these sophisticated electronics are required equipment to consistently put fish in the boat with ease.

About Jeff Burleson 1312 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.

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