This big lake on the Saluda River offers a lot of water to cover to find bass. Here are some tips that will help you find the bass this month.
March is a great month to be a bass fisherman. Warming waters and longer days kick in the spawning urge and bass move shallow and feed, getting ready to bed. Some early spawners even start bedding. That means bass are hungry and easy to catch. Lake Murray is one of the best bets in the state to find those hungry bass.
Murray is a 50,000 acre South Carolina Electric and Gas Company lake on the Saluda River. It has about 500 miles of shoreline and runs 41 miles east to west from the dam up the river. When the dam was completed in 1930 is was the biggest earth and rock dam in the world and it backed up the largest reservoir in the world at that time.
Until a few years ago Murray was full of grass like elodea and hydrilla. That submerged grass made the bass populations expand and the fish grow bigger. Big tournaments were attracted to Murray and fishermen brought in huge stringers of bass. It was called a world class fishery by visiting professional fishermen.
Since the grass interfered with pleasure boating huge numbers of grass carp were released in the lake, and they did their job only too well, cleaning out almost all underwater vegetation. Due to the loss of the grass the bass populations have started to suffer. They got a little help when the lake levels went up and down a good bit starting three years ago. That allowed some grass to grow on exposed ground and it was flooded when the lake came back up.
The good news is there are plenty of quality fish in Murray and March is a great month to catch them. But you will have better luck if you concentrate on certain areas of the lake and use some proven techniques. To help you get started three fishermen that know Murray well and fish it often agreed to share their March tactics.
Captain Rob Thames got started bass fishing as a child and got into tournament fishing in 1974 when he and his father joined the Lake Murray Bassmasters club. He and his father also helped found the Mid-Carolina Bassmasters. He is now a full time Coast Guard licensed bass guide and is on the water most days, studying the habits and movements of Lake Murray bass.
“Bass are staging for the spawn in March, moving up into the bedding areas,” Thames said. He added that some will be spawning by late March in years when the weather is warm. These shallow fish can be caught in a variety of ways.
The northern creeks on Murray always warm up first and are the best bet for shallow bass in March. Since the lake runs east and west, wind is often a problem. But if you put in at the dam at the power company public ramp on the north side of the dam or at Dreher Island State Park you can stay on the north side of the lake and be protected by the long points. Thames says the best fishing is from the dam to the state park in March. The bass move up earlier on the north side since the sun warms it more so that is the area you want to fish.
Cover is crucial in March and there is little left since the grass is gone. You should look for boat docks, boat ramps, brush piles and rocks this time of year. The bass will hold on any cover and feed until the water temperature gets right for them to bed. They will be feeding on shad, bream and crayfish in the shallow water.
Have a crankbait in a shad pattern rigged. Thames likes Bandit, Lucky Craft and Strike King baits and they all work well. He will fish them around dock posts, ramps and even brush piles. He says don’t be afraid to put your crankbait right in the middle of a brush pile to get a bite. You may get hung up but you may hang a bass, too.
Dock posts are excellent cover this time of year and Thames will make his casts so his crankbait deflects off them on the retrieve. He follows up the crankbait with a jig and pig, pitching it around the dock posts, too. Let it fall and hit bottom then shake it and hop it a couple of times before reeling in for another cast.
An Omega Jig in browns and greens, with a Zoom Super Chunk in brown or green pumpkin is his choice for this kind of fishing. It also works well when hopped down a ramp or worked through a brush pile. Fish it slowly in brush, jiggling it as it comes up a limb and falls off. Give the bass plenty of time to hit it.
Both those baits also work on rocks. Look for rocks on points and off the bank in three to five feet of water, and around boat ramps. Rocks and boat ramps are especially good when the sun is warming them in March. Work the rocks and boat ramps from different angles with both baits.
For a backup plan, especially if a cold front comes through or if the weather stays cooler than normal, look for deeper brush piles. You can often find them out from docks or along the channels going into coves. Also check out on points at the mouths of spawning areas. Look for brush in five to 12 feet of water for bass holding and waiting on better conditions.
Fish the brush piles with either your jig and pig or soak a Senko in them. Sometimes a Senko type stick bait is best since it falls slower and gives the bass more time to decide to eat it. Fish both baits very slowly and work the brush you find carefully.
Norm Attaway has been a professional bass fisherman for over ten years and was the BFL Angler of the Year in the Carolina Division in 2001. Last year he fished the BASS Tundra Series and finished in the top ten in all but the last two tournaments. He guides on Murray when he is not fishing tournaments and did an Orlando Wilson TV Fishing Show at Murray. He knows the lake well and has watched the changes it has gone through the past few years.
“Late February though March is my favorite time on Murray,” Attaway said. The bass are moving onto the flats getting ready to spawn and some big females are bedding in March if the water is warm. They will be holding on cover and feeding this time of year.
Attaway likes boat dock posts and broom straw out on the flats for fishing in March. The broom straw grass grew up when the lake was low then got flooded when the water came up. It holds bass this time of year, especially out in the middle of flats in five or six feet of water. He also looks for docks near the flats in the same depths.
The best areas of the lake in March are on the north side since they are protected from strong winds and the sun warms them faster than on the south side. Although a cold front will push them out of the shallows they won’t go far and you can find them and follow them back in as the water starts to warm again.
You can often see fish in the shallows, according to Attaway, and that tells you where to fish. The clear water allows you to spot bass up shallow either looking for a bedding spot or already on the bed.
Attaway will fish for them with a brown hand-tied Ernest Langley jig with a green pumpkin chunk trailer. Fish the jig around the dead grass and let the fish tell you how they want it fished. Try swimming it through the grass and also letting it hit bottom and make short hops with it. Sometimes bass favor a moving bait and other times they want it on the bottom, so try both. When you catch a bass, keep doing what you were doing when it hit.
Also pitch your jig to boat dock post and work it around them. Try both retrieves there, too. And if they want even a slower moving bait, try a stick bait like a Senko. It falls slower and you can fish it even slower then a jig and pig.
If a cold front comes through back out to a little deeper water and look for rocks at the mouths of the spawning flats. Fish your jig around the rocks to get strikes from bass that have moved out to wait on warmer water. You can also catch bass on rocks like this if March is unusually cold and they are slower moving in. They will be holding on rocks until the water warms.
Boat ramps offer a good spot for bass to hold and the sun warms them, making them even better. Attaway says you can get on a good pattern some days just fishing boat ramps. Work the jig along both sides, down the middle and make several casts so you cover the end of the ramp where it drops off.
As a back-up Attaway will always throw a Basstrix four or six-inch swim bait over the grass. He says sometimes the catch can be incredible for quality bass on a swimbait but this bite is inconsistent. You may load the boat one day and not get a bite the next day. But try it, and if you catch a bass keep throwing it. It can pay off big.
Fluorocarbon line in 20 pound test is Attaway’s choice for his jig and swimbait. He drops back to 12 pound line for stick bait fishing since it is a more subtle presentation. He wants the heavy line on jigs and swimbaits to make sure he lands anything that hits and the fish don’t mind the heavier line. On stick baits the lighter line gets more bites.
Attaway usually puts in at the Larry Koon Boat Landing, also called Shull Island ramp. It is convenient for him from his house and gives him a central location on the lake. If you use it you will have to run across to the north side of the lake to fish, but if you are coming in from the south that may be much shorter then driving around the lake.
Paul Ham lives in West Columbus and fishes Murray every chance he gets. As a member of the Sandhill Bass Club he fishes club tournaments on the lake. He also fishes the Low Country Fishers of Men Trail and the Carolina Angler Team Trail on Murray. He has done well in tournaments there and says March is a good month on the lake.
Ham agrees March is a good time to find fish shallow near the bank getting ready to spawn. He will often spend time before a tournament searching for visible bass to know where to fish. One good way to spot bass in the clear water is to get your boat in about 20 yards off the bank and ride with your trolling motor, looking for cruising bass up in five feet of water or less. If you see the bass cruising you know they are there.
The north creeks on Murray are where Ham will be fishing now. He says Camp, Bear, Johns and Beards Creeks are his favorites. Those are the creeks on the north side between the dam and Dreher Island State Park so he suggests putting in at the state park, Hilton Recreation Area or at Lake Murray Marina or Lighthouse Marina. All will give you good access to the north side creeks.
Warm weather and calm winds bring the bass in, often as early as late February. Wind, cold nights and rain may delay them coming in or push them back out. But under normal conditions you can fish the banks back in spawning coves and catch bass during March.
First thing in the morning Ham will start with a stick bait like a Senko or weightless worm and fish them slowly, letting them wiggle their way down near brush, dock posts or any other cover he finds in the shallows. Fish the baits slowly. He says many fishermen work stick baits and floating worms way too fast. You need to let them sink and pull them back up to sink again, not work them with a constant jerking motion.
Ham will then switch to a buzzbait or buzz frog like the Zoom Horny Toad early in March, looking for active bass, especially as the water gets warmer. Run both baits over and around any cover in three to five feet of water. These are good baits to use to locate active bass.
With all your baits stay way back and make long casts. Ham says fishing pressure has made bass on Murray spooky so you need to stay far enough away from them so you don’t scare them.
Another good bait is a jig head worm. Ham likes the Buckeye Pro Model with the spring screw in eye. That arrangement holds the worm on better for the long casts he wants to make with it. He fishes it on the bottom on ten pound test fluorocarbon line. A green pumpkin worm is the best bet on the jig. A jig and pig in greens and browns, to match the crayfish the bass are feeding on, is also good. Work both baits with short hops and let the jig head stand the worm up.
Don’t pass up looking for and fishing for bedding bass, especially in late March. Ham says many fishermen are catching bass on the bed even if they are not sight fishing. Drag a green pumpkin six inch lizard on a light Texas rigged weight or a Carolina rig across bedding flats. If you feel a thump but don’t hook up, throw right back. There is a good chance a bass “blew” the bait out of the bed and might eat it on the next cast.
The Camp Creek area called Crystal Lake is especially good for bedding fish, according to Ham. The water is usually very clear and warms early, and you can sight fish or blind cast in deeper water on gravel and sand bottoms to find bedding bass.
These three local fishermen offer you a variety of baits and methods to fish. They all agree you should stay on the north side of the lake and fish shallow water for prespawn fish. If a cold front comes through back off and fish a little deeper cover.
The lack of grass is hurting Murray but it also means the bass are more concentrated on the cover that is available. Get on the lake this month, try these tactics, and you will have a great trip.