Fishing is good year-round at Santee Cooper, but March is the one month where almost every popular species is on the move.
The big, blue catfish are moving to the shallows, as are hawg largemouth and slab crappie. Stripers are moving throughout both lakes, with two prime locations being the Diversion Canal and the upper end of Lake Marion.
With a rash of huge blue catfish caught in the past few months, the table seems set for an awesome March feast. Linwood Thornhill, a lifelong angler with an almost-as-long guide resume, upped his personal best catfish on Santee Cooper from 70 to 82 pounds over the winter. Thornhill, 70, said fishing for huge catfish is great, and March is the time to hook huge blues in shallow water.
“I’ll set up on flats next to ditches or creeks and in slightly deeper depressions, and odds are really good to hook multiple big blue catfish on any given day,” Thornhill said. “I like to have a little depth change and also prefer forage to be in the area. I’ll cast multiple rigs around the boat into very shallow water, as well as into the slightly deeper water, and give them an hour to bite.
“I will move around looking for fish, but not in a run-and-gun manner,” he said. “Give these big cats a chance to move in and feed. When we hook a big blue in 3 feet or less of water, the excitement goes through the roof. Not only do we have a huge fish hooked, but the fish has no deep water, so a lot of exciting shallow-water action such as splashing, thrashing and rolling occurs.”
Thornhill (843-351-4238) said even after a lifetime of fishing, when two or more “bigs” are hooked up, he gets pretty busy and a little excited as well.
Shad, herring and other forms of cut bait will work on these shallow fish, according to Thornhill, who said to be sure to use heavy line and sturdy tackle because shallow cover such as cypress and gum trees, as well as stumps and grass beds, are usually close by.
Striper fishing was fantastic during the fall and winter, before water conditions deteriorated. Huge numbers of stripers and a respectable number of keepers — 26 inches and larger — were caught.
Thornhill believes striper fishing will be excellent around the Divisional Canal.
“It’s the natural tendency of stripers to move toward current during spring, and typically, we’ll have plenty of that rushing through the Diversion Canal,” he said. “The upper and lower ends where water enters and leaves the canal will be good places to find stripers.”
Thornhill said a lot of fish are usually caught on artificial lures such as Rockport Rattler jigs.
The other prime striper hot spot this month is the upper end of Lake Marion, from the I-95 bridge and all the way up through the Pack’s Flats area and upstream. These fish are on the annual spawning run and offer an excellent opportunity to hook into large fish.
Steve and Andy Pack guide for stripers (and other species) out of Pack’s Landing, and they said March is prime time for big stripers as well as numbers.
Steve Pack said sea-run herring are usually available after March 1, and that’s a prime bait and time for the largest stripers.
“We’ll see good stripers caught throughout the spring, but it seems like many of the largest fish come through early,” he said.
Stripers are typically caught on herring, both cut and live herring, as they move up the river, Pack said. During early March when the stripers are first moving up the river, the best bait is usually cut herring fished along the edges of the river as well as around drops or holes in the flats off the river.
“Stripers tend to move in schools, so fishermen usually have quick bursts of action followed by periods of slower bites, then another flurry of activity,” Pack said. “If I’m not getting bites after an hour or so, I’ll move up or down the river, or into the flats, to find good striper action.”
He said although cut bait works best early in the season and live bait later as they move back down the river, he uses some of both throughout the spring.
Largemouth bass fishing is phenomenal this month, and most of the action will be in shallow water. A lot of anglers target beds, and some huge bass are caught and released in this manner. Plenty are just moving into the shallows, and anglers can literally catch them coming and going for a couple months.
Crappie fishing ranks very high in angler popularity, and March is prime time for quality and quantity of fish. Depending on water temperatures, fish will likely be found at various depths, but even during February, some crappie begin to move into the shallows. March typically brings sensational fishing around shallow brush using jigs or minnows; 2-pound fish are not uncommon, and if you‘re looking for 3-pound slabs, this is one of the better times to catch them.
Some fishermen will have to get all their fishing done by March 20, when turkey season opens throughout the Santee Cooper area on private lands. The season limit has been reduced from five to three gobblers, but the daily bag limit remains two. Hunting on Wildlife Management Areas does not open until April 1, unchanged from past years.
Our quest is to see how much of the above we can cram into one month. It’s time to play the “Gone Fishing” card — except when turkey hunting.