It all breaks loose in March

Plenty of anglers overlook big catfish as a shallow-water target in the spring because they’re concentrating on bass and crappie.

Bass, catfish, crappie, stripers all head shallow

The fishing on the Santee Cooper lakes begins to come together in frantic fashion in March. Despite often unpredictable weather, the fishing is predictable: look for fish in shallow water. Some of the best shallow-water fishing of the year begins this month for a number of species.

Largemouth bass are certainly near the top of the popularity list, and tournament angler Cecil Wolfe, who also guides out of Black’s Camp, fishes the shallows in both lakes with outstanding success.

“This is a great month for big fish,” said Wolfe (843-753-2231). “Some largemouth will be spawning, and some of the biggest fish of the year will be caught in shallow water. Even big bass that may not spawn until next month will be found migrating to the shallows. This is shallow-water fishing madness, and the key is covering a lot of water using different lures on a variety of cover to be successful.”

Wolfe said the lakes’ bass population has rebounded, and the fishing is once again flourishing. One key, he said, is the emergence of abundant, native shallow-water vegetation crucial to the bass fishery.

“Plenty of shallow vegetation is one reason we have a lot of bass again,” Wolfe said. “The vegetation also supports forage that helps the bass get big and healthy in a hurry. If I sound excited about the bass fishing in March, I am. It’s time to get out and catch some big fish. The best lures will vary, and I recommend fishermen use their high-confidence lures for shallow-water fishing. Bottom bumpers, topwater lures, spinnerbaits and crankbaits will all produce at this time of the year, depending on the specific target being fished.”

Catfish action is also awesome in the shallows according to Linwood Thornhill, another guide out of Blacks Camp who has been guiding on Santee Cooper for 52 of his 67 years.

“The month of March can produce some of the best catfish action of the year on Lake Moultrie,” Thornhill said. “What a lot of fishermen miss out on is that the best fishing is often in extremely shallow water. The catfish, particularly the big blue catfish, will migrate to the shallow water and will be caught in water depths as shallow as two to four feet. Look for slight depressions surrounded by shallow water as potential hotpots as well as flats near shallow ditchlines that wind though a flat.

“Fishing is excellent during the day, but some of the biggest catfish will move into these areas at night. We anchor in a potentially good area and fan-cast around the boat when looking for these fish. Hooking a big blue catfish in shallow water can be incredibly exciting.”

Pete Pritchard of Pritchard’s Guide Service (803-478-7533), who specializes on Lake Marion, echoes Thornhill’s shallow-water catfishing success this month. Pritchard has another tactic that works well for him.

“I love windy days when the wind is blowing hard and creating a mudline in shallow water,” Pritchard said. “That wind will force the baitfish to stack up in an area, and the big catfish will move in, and we’re right in the middle of a shallow-water feeding frenzy. The action can be so fast-paced for my clients, I can’t use all my rods they are catching big catfish so fast. Of course, it’s not like that every day, but all we have to do is back off to slightly deeper water near the edges and drops, and the fish will be staging there on less windy days. The key is find the forage, and you’ll find the catfish.”

Striper fishing is also very good. Several guides said much of the success will be upriver in March, the destination of the migrating fish for spawning. Using cut bait such as herring and shad will be productive. Stripers will often stage in deeper holes along the river as they migrate upstream. They will also be caught on shallow bars and flats and around the mouths of creeks that enter the river in the upper portion of Lake Marion.

Another species to consider in shallow water is crappie. During March, many crappie will migrate to the shallows, and if you fish enough shallow-water cover — brush, docks, logs and stumps — with minnows or jigs, you’ll usually find plenty of slabs.

Based on the shallow-water fishing madness on Santee Cooper, almost any day in March can your lucky day for several species if you simply go fishing with a good gameplan.

About Terry Madewell 809 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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