March, in like a lion out like a lamb, the unofficial start of spring, when mother nature temps us with several warm sunny days and then crushes our hopes with the occasional snowstorm. You’re in a parka on Monday and shorts and flip flops on the weekend. March can be one of the most confusing and difficult months of the year to fish and Table Rock Lake, fish can be as finicky as Morris the Cat in the old Nine Lives commercials.
Water Temperature is the thing.
Before we can discuss how to catch fish in March it’s critical to understand how changes in water temperature effect fish and their movement in spring. All fish are cold blooded creatures and the temperature of their body is dictated by the temperature of the water they swim in. Colder water lowers a fish’s body temp and metabolism, warm water raises both. The higher a fish’s metabolism the more food it must consume to stay alive. When the water temperature is in the mid to high forties a fish consumes less and is less active than when water temperature is in the mid to upper fifties. As we move into spring, the air temps rise and in turn so do water temperatures. The warmer the water the more active the fish and the more fish you are likely to catch.
What to do if the water temperature is in the 40’s
Forty-degree water is cold, fish are not active and don’t feed much, they aren’t going to expend a lot of energy to catch what little food they need. The upper forties are much better than the lower forties, but the fish are still inactive. Let’s look at the best techniques for Table Rock Lake’s three most popular game fish when the water is in the forties.
Bass: Slow down, if you think you are fishing slow enough you’re probably not. Slow deliberate presentations close to cover are key to catching bass when the water is in the 40’s. Jigs and shaky heads top the list of offerings when the water is cold, working slow moving baits through deep water cover is usually your best bet. Look for brush and standing timber close to channel swings and drop offs to hold most fish. Vertical presentations can also be very effective; spoons, jigging lures and drop shot rigs fished close to deep trees can put fish in the boat when nothing else will work. Remember the fish are not going to be chasing baits so keeping it “in their face” as long as possible is a better play than working a bait erratically.
Crappie: Much like bass, crappie are going to be lethargic when the water is cold. Crappie will tend to school around brush and under docks holding tight to the cover not willing to move far to feed. Live minnows on a slip bobber is an excellent way to put crappie in the boat when it’s cold. Set the depth to the top of a brush pile and let it sit. Vertical jigging is another excellent cold water crappie technique, position your boat directly over the brush, drop your bait down to the fish and lightly jiggy it to entice strikes.
Walleye: Unlike bass and crappie walleye do start to get active when water temperatures in the forties. Walleye spawn in early to mid-March when water temps hit the low to mid-fifties so they start to make a spawning run up into the rivers when water temps are in the forties. Since walleye are on the move to their spawning grounds, they tend to be more active and feeding; casting swimbaits, crankbaits and jigs are usually the best methods. Shad imitating swimbaits like a Kietech Swing Impact Fat on a ¼oz. jig head can be the only lure you need to put a limit of walleye in the boat. Successful walleye anglers concentrate their efforts in rivers and big creeks in March targeting fish moving up on to flat banks to feed less than 15’ deep. When the bite gets tough most anglers will move to the channel side of a river and throw hair jigs tipped with live minnows to fish holding in the safety of the main river channel.
What to do if the water temperature is in the 50’s
Fifty-degree water is still cold but the difference in fish activity from the forties is nothing short of remarkable. Bass and crappie are both moving shallow and beginning to position themselves for the spawn, while walleye have spawned and are feeding up to recover from the rigors of a successful spawn. Here’s your best opportunities and tactics for our favorite three species when the water temperatures rise into the fifties.
Bass: With rise in water temps bass will be on the move, their metabolism rises and they begin to feed up in anticipation of the spawn. Warm windy days are a great time to throw crankbaits like a SPRO Rock Crawler or a Storm Wiggle Wart. Theses baits dive from 5’ – 15’ deep and target active fish that are moving out of deep water to the shallows to feed. Rocky, 45-degree banks at the ends of channel swings are prime spots, bass will use these areas to move from deep channels and find crawfish and other prey to feed on. As the water warms into the mid or upper 50’s a spinner-bait or chatterbait become more effective as you can work these baits around shallow wood cover bass will use to ambush prey without fear of hanging up.
Crappie: Crappie too will be come more aggressive as the water warms; schools will move from deep trees and brush to shallow cover looking for minnows and shad. Small swimbaits like an 8’er Baits Swimming Minnow or a Gene Larew Stroller on a 1/16oz. or 1/8oz. head fished around shallow brush is usually the ticket for aggressive crappie. Don’t forget about docks as the water warms too, the same crappie that have been schooled under a dock on hanging brush all winter will stay under a dock moving from deep to shallow in search of food.
Walleye: With the rigors of the spawn mostly over walleye will begin to move back down stream towards their summer homes when water temps get into the 50’s. Casting is still a preferred method using Jig and Minnow combinations or “ripping” lipless crankbaits or blade baits in the main river channel. Walleye tend to be more active in low light times of the day after the spawn with many anglers concentrating on day break or dusk to improve their odds.
March can be a frustrating time of year to fish; the air temperature is warm but the water temperature isn’t and the fish just don’t want to cooperate as much as we would like them to. Paying close attention to the water temp and adjusting accordingly is extremely important to your success but there are a couple more tips that can help:
Love and hate of muddy water: Cold muddy water is rarely good, unless there is a warm rain it should generally be avoided. But after a couple of days, sometime just a few hours, of warm sunshine it will be the warmest water on the lake. Target muddy water either after a few days of sun or in the afternoon and you’ll have more success.
You’re not fishing slow enough: When the water is in the 40’s I can almost guarantee you’re not fishing slow enough. Casting and retrieving a jig, shaky head or swimbait should be taking you minutes not seconds. A good rule of thumb is you should not only be able to feel every rock on the bottom, but you should also be able to know it’s size and shape by the time you come over it.
Fish can be patterned during a warmup: In recent years fisherman and fishing have gotten away from patterning fish and concentrating more on location fishing, as a rule that can lead to more success throughout the year. But, during a warmup when water temps rise into the 50’s, fish can be patterned very successfully. Pay close attention to depth and cover you are catching fish on this time of year. Within a given area of the lake fish will tend to gravitate towards the same depths and same types of cover.
March is full of opportunity, warm sunny days get fisherman excited to be on the water chasing bass, crappie, and walleye. Pay attention the water temperatures and adjusting your presentations can make all the difference between a successful fishing trip or a boat ride in the sun .