In South Carolina, anglers consider March and April prime time for crappie fishing. Anglers pursue these tasty panfish through the spawning migration from the deep water to shallows and back to deep in post-spawn.
Although the crappie bite is strong this time of the year, anglers must stay on the move. Crappie are constantly changing depths as they move from deep water to the shallows to spawn. Then the fish reverse course, going back to the deep water in post-spawn to lock into summer patterns.
Most anglers in the state should not have to travel far to find decent fishing. According to Ross Self, Chief of Fisheries for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the status of the crappie fishery across the state is very good.
“Crappie are cyclic in nature and lakes will experience natural fluctuations over time, but essentially the species as a whole is doing well statewide and plenty of lakes offer outstanding opportunities for crappie fishing,” Self said.
He said that the only immediate worry is an on-going concern at Lake Keowee. SCDNR biologists are seeing negative impacts on the crappie fishery at Lake Keowee that may be from expansion of the spotted bass population in the lake. With spotted bass populations increasing in several lakes, this is a potential long-term issue.We’ll take a look at several of the top crappie lakes in the different regions of the state.
Santee Cooper (Lakes Marion and Moultrie)
According to now-retired SCDNR fisheries biologist Scott Lamprecht, some recent and strong year classes of crappie have reached the age and size at which both lakes Marion and Moultrie are producing good numbers of chunky crappie. Lamprecht said good recruitment has helped rejuvenate the crappie fishing.
The key to fishing success at these huge lakes is finding and staying on the ever-changing patterns of spring crappie.
Guide David Hilton from Ridgeville fishes both lakes Marion and Moultrie and targets slab crappie during March and April.
“One key on these lakes is being versatile and mobile enough to fish either lake because of the wind and weather conditions,” Hilton said. “In early spring the crappies are going to bite, but they’re not always in the shallows. When they do move shallow anglers can find plenty of coves and sheltered areas to fish, but this spring fling in the shallows is short and a big front may push fish back toward deeper water and slow the shallow water bite drastically.”
Hilton said that’s why he typically fishes deeper water around brush and woody cover. The deeper water, which may range from 10 feet all the way down to 25 feet, provides more consistency in his fishing than working the shallows.
“Fishing the shallows can produce excellent results but is risky in terms of consistent success,” he said. “During the spring we’ll get some big fronts push through and when they do we often see crappie bumped out of the shallows and holding deeper and they are often inactive. If anglers can make a move back to deeper brush, they’ll find crappies willing to bite. The bite on deeper brush may slow a bit during post-front conditions but is usually still good. I may have to fish a couple more places than normal, but we can usually still catch plenty of crappie.”
Hilton (843-870-4734) said he routinely fishes both lakes, working out of both Blacks Camp on the Diversion Canal and Lake Moultrie and Bells Marina on Lake Marion.
“Both lakes are excellent in March and April and I’ll often make the decision on where to fish based on daily wind and weather patterns,” he said. “For crappie fishing success boat control is a primary focus when working deep brush. Keep the bait over the target and expect a light bite.
“We have plenty of white and black crappie and many black crappies will spawn in the shallows,” Hilton said. “But I’ve found that many white crappies will spawn on the brush piles in deeper water so many of them never get to the shallows.”
Hilton said generally crappie hold a bit deeper early in March, perhaps as deep as 25 feet or more. By late-March and into April he’s typically working 14- to 15-foot depths. He said throughout the spawning period he targets incrementally shallower water until post-spawn when the movement pattern reverts back toward deeper water.
Best Fishing Tips Ever-Terry Blankenship
Lake Murray is a prime crappie destination and currently has a very strong population of crappie. The average size of the fish ranges around 1/2 to 3/4 pound, but plenty of much larger fish are also available.
During March most of the crappies on Lake Murray are found in the major creeks as the fish are preparing to spawn. Anglers catch crappie along the ledges until the fish move to the shallows to actually spawn. Then the crappie retreat again to the ledges as the water warms and they slowly migrate back to the main lake.
During the spawning process depth is a key element to success and the best depth will be a moving target as the water warms. Early in the season trolling the creek ledges in 10-to-15-feet of water with jigs or jigs tipped with minnows is an excellent technique. As the fish being to move shallower, work the flats, especially those 6- to 10-feet deep and move progressively shallower. When the fish are in a spawning mode, a long pole and bobber working shoreline bushes and wood cover is a prime technique.
Another sold pattern, according to crappie guide Brad Taylor, is to work brush piles in water from 8-to 15-feet deep during March and April.
“At this time of the year, crappies are on the move, but I’ve found brush piles in that depth range to be dependable in terms of having plenty of fish,” Taylor said. “I have a number of brushpiles logged in on my graph and while the fish may move out of one or two of them, they’ll be plenty of fish moving in to others. I’ve got to stay on the move but using the graph to find these brushpiles and any sunken woody cover will pay off during the spring.”
Taylor (803-331-1354) said the fishing in recent years has been very good and when weather conditions permit, catching a limit of crappie is a strong possibility.
“The crappie action at Lake Murray is strong. We have plenty of days at this time of the year when we release a lot of fish to continue upgrading our catch,” he said.
Fishing is good throughout Lake Murray but all parts of the lake are not the same. The lower end is usually clear water and fish patterns will typically be deeper. But brush around docks and along the shoreline in 4 to 8 feet of water can be productive.
Many anglers prefer the upper end of Lake Murray for springtime crappie because the water typically does have better color and true shallow-water action is possible. But often less fishing pressure is focused on the lower end.
Lake Secession is a small lake on the Rocky River, a tributary of Clarks Hill Lake, that’s long been known as a hidden gem as a crappie lake. It’s an old lake but still going strong. Good fishing is found throughout much of the year but March and April are peak months as crappies flood the shallows to spawn.
As the crappie transition from deep water in early March, trolling mid-depths with small jigs or drift fishing by tightlining minnows just off the bottom is productive. Late in the month fish begin to go shallow. Working visible woody cover with ultra-light rigs or the simple (but highly effective) long pole with a float and minnow are prime techniques.
As a general rule the upper end of the lake will warm first so look for active crappie in the upper end of Lake Secession first. By the time the water temperature reaches 54 to 56 degrees, the crappie action should excellent in the shallows.
A good public boat ramp is located off of SC 184.
Lake Richard B. Russell
Lake Richard B. Russell has a lot of standing timber visible above the water surface as well as entire flooded forests submerged in areas throughout the lake. This lake just screams “fish for crappie here!” to most crappie anglers who see it for the first time. But except for a select group of knowledgeable anglers, the lakes to the south and north on the Savannah River get the most crappie fishing pressure.
“Compared to some other Savannah River lakes we don’t get as intense a degree of pressure during the spawning process, but the fishing is excellent,” fishing guide Wendell Wilson said. “Basic patterns are to work the area around mouths of creek and then well into the creeks. We’ll longline troll the edges of the channels as well as over standing timber and around woody cover. I’ll begin near the mouth of the creeks in early March and progress to the back and progressively shallow water as we go into April.”
Wilson said to troll with light and ultra-light rigs with 1/16- and 1/8-ounce jigs in white, yellow, blue, pink and mixed colors and work different depths until the daily pattern is apparent.
“Daily patterns and depths will change and I’ll use a variety of jig head and body colors and work different depths,” he said. “Of course, if I fished the previous day, I’ve got a good starting point and often that helps considerably. But sometimes patterns change totally overnight at this time of the year, so I’m quick to try something different if what I’ve been doing doesn’t work.”
Wilson said he’ll often tip the jig with a live minnow and on some days that will make a dramatic different in success, but not always. It works often enough, though, that he’ll usually have live bait with him.
During the spawn, working shallow cover around the shoreline is productive, but Wilson said fishermen need to stay on the move and cover plenty of area. Picking up an occasional fish is good, but he searches until he hits a spot with a lot of fish in a small area.
In the post-spawn period the fishing is still excellent and he said the key to catching crappie then is to fish in water 12-to 25-feet deep along the major tributary creek channels or in coves right off the main Savannah River channel.
“By late-May and through the summer we’ll have plenty of crappie pulling out onto main lake points, humps and ledges as well,” he said.
The crappies will be locked into this pattern through the summer and fall. Another important thing to keep in mind about thepost-spawn is that crappies are following shad. Find shad coupled with woody cover and you’ll find good crappie fishing.
Lake William C. Bowen
Lake William C. Bowen is a small lake located just north of Spartanburg that provides surprisingly good crappie action during the spring.
The lake, fed by the South Pacolet River, contains approximately 33 miles of shoreline and ample blowdowns, logs, stumps and docks.
The lake also has some humps, shallow bars and points that are crappie magnets. Trolling with jigs or jigs and minnows is very productive but some anglers’ catch limits simply by tightlining minnows in 10-to-15-feet of water, either wind drifting or using an electric motor.
As the fish move shallow to spawn, the shallow water around the shoreline is very productive with docks and a diverse array of shoreline cover types providing good targets. Upstate anglers may want to check Lake Bowen out during March and April. Good access and launching ramps are available.