March Is The Magical Bass Month On Lake Oconee
March is always a great month on Oconee. This year should be super for bass fishing!
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been slowly losing your ever-loving mind for the past few months. This winter’s bass-fishing action has been subpar at best, and Mother Nature has been throwing us one John Smoltz-esque curveball after another. We saw 80-degree temperatures the week before Christmas and just recently battled vicious statewide ice storms that left tens of thousands of Georgians without power.
If you think these crazy weather antics threw us for a loop, imagine what the bass were thinking—poor little critters were probably trying to concoct a plan to jump dams and head south in search of more favorable conditions. Maybe not, but that’s sure as heck what I’d do if I were a bass. Forget this Polar Vortex nonsense.
Fortunately, all of the bipolar weather and poor fishing is about to be in our rear views. We’re steadily creeping closer to a magical time of year on Lake Oconee. The days are getting longer, the weather seems to be getting warmer and the bass fishing—sweet mercy, I’m jacked up just typing this—the bass fishing is about to get absolutely out of this world.
One Thing on Their Minds
Southern Polytechnic State University Bass Fishing Team president and standout collegiate angler Grant Kelly had an outstanding March last year on Lake Oconee. His expert understanding of prespawn bass behavior lead he and his partner, Jared Hendrix, to a Berry’s Tournament Trail win with an amazing 20.25-lb. limit. In his opinion, Oconee bass adopt a one-track mindset when March arrives each year.
“Even if the weather stays a little cooler throughout the first few weeks this March, the bass are going to be thinking about spawning,” Grant said. “From what I’ve observed over the years, the length of days and moon phases have a much larger impact on spawning rituals than the air temperature does. I highly doubt they’ll actually spawn this March, but they’ll definitely begin to position themselves in classic prespawn staging areas.”
If you’re unfamiliar with prespawn bass activity, don’t let the fancy terminology intimidate you—it’s actually quite simple and doesn’t take too long to crack the code. Before big bass spawn, they “stage” in very predictable areas adjacent to shallow, sandy spawning flats. As they make their way from their deep wintertime haunts, these staging areas often act as pit stops throughout their journey.
The bass will essentially hang out in these places this month and wait for the “right” time to swarm the shallows and deposit their eggs. The most suitable staging areas usually share one common characteristic.
“Bass love to stage around hard-bottom areas during the prespawn period,” Grant said. “There are a lot of different theories behind this preference, but it’s definitely true. A lot of the bass you’ll catch this month will have sores on their sides and bellies from rubbing against hard cover such as wood, chunk rock or gravel.”
Follow The Prespawners
Oconee will give anglers a rare treat this month that’s hard to replicate in other times of the year—if you pay close attention, you’ll be able to follow the prespawn bass throughout their entire prespawn expedition. Grant has very specific areas he dissects depending upon the bass’ progression.
“In early March, the water might still be a bit chilly, so I would start my search in deep-water areas, such as the ends of long, primary points,” Grant said. “These areas are the first stopping points for bass as they transition into their prespawn patterns. They live in the deep river and creek channels throughout the winter, and when the water temperature starts flirting with the 50-degree mark, they’ll get the urge to start moving shallow, suspending on the ends of these points. This is when you can do a lot of damage with a Strike King 6XD crankbait and a Carolina-rigged Wackem Crazy Baits Big Sissy Worm.”
As the days continue getting longer throughout the month, the sun has more time to warm the water, which results in an increase in shallow bass movement and activity. When you stop catching them on the ends of primary points, it’s a safe bet that they’ve moved on to the next part of their journey. To increase your chances of success, you need to move with ’em.
“When the bite slows down on the primary points, I’ll immediately start targeting secondary points, which are simply points located inside creeks,” Grant said. “These areas often serve as the bass’ next stopping point after they leave the primary points. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense—they’re slowly making their way to the backs of creeks and using the most obvious staging areas they can find.”
When fishing these secondary points, fast-moving baits can be incredibly effective. Crankbaits such as a Rapala Shad Rap and Strike King KVD 1.5 Squarebill retrieved erratically can trigger some absolutely vicious reaction strikes. If the conditions are tough and the bass aren’t cooperating, don’t overlook the power of a shaky head paired with a Wackem Crazy Baits Big Sissy Worm. Dragging it slowly down the sides of the point is an excellent remedy for lethargic bass.
Toward the end of March, Oconee’s bass will likely make one final move before spawning—they’ll position on lead-in banks. By this time, the water should be in the high 50-degree range, and if you can identify the proper areas, you have a legitimate chance of catching the biggest limit of your life.
“Lead-in banks are usually located at the mouths of pockets on the sides of secondary points,” Grant said. “The bass will move incredibly shallow in these areas and become very aggressive. Chunk rocks located in front of seawalls are outstanding places to target with any type of hard-reaction lure. These rocks hold a lot of heat, and bass can’t get enough of them.”
Don’t Forget About Docks
So far we’ve talked about a lot of bass-fishing structure, such as points and lead-in banks, but be careful not to overlook shallow cover such as docks this month. The three likely staging areas we’ve discussed can act as roadmaps when dialing-in a more specific big-fish pattern.
Lake Oconee’s plethora of boat docks is definitely the most obvious type of shallow cover, and it’s no secret—big ol’ donkeys live under them. The key, however, is finding docks in the right areas.
“I’ve had a lot of success over the years flipping and pitching docks near primary points, secondary points and lead-in banks in March,” Grant said. “The bass aren’t always going to be roaming around aimlessly in these areas, so try to find some nearby docks. When the sun gets high after lunchtime, big bass will tuck as far under a dock as they possibly can to take advantage of the shade. You may not get a bunch of bites with this strategy, but you can catch some true giants.”
Your approach to these docks needs to be methodical, especially later in the day. When many anglers target docks, they simply cast toward the outside posts and move to the next one. To increase your catch, it takes patience and a confidence.
“Whenever I’m targeting docks, I make a concerted effort to drag my bait past every single post until I start getting bites,” Grant said. “This can be an easy deal to pattern, so pay close attention to where you’re getting bit because the bass position in specific places for a reason—especially in March. If you’re able to take mental notes and duplicate a dock pattern throughout the lake, you’re ahead of the game.”
Try not to get too stressed out when deciding what bait to use around shallow cover this month. The warmer water temperatures will spur an influx of shallow bluegill, which are a bass’ filet mignon in the springtime. In order to imitate this sunfish species, Grant keeps it simple.
“A 3/8-oz. bluegill-colored jig with a Wackem Crazy Baits Twin Tail Grub is an Oconee killer this time of year,” Grant said. “A jig’s profile is similar to that of a bluegill, which gives me a lot of different options throughout my retrieve. In early March, I’ll drag the jig a lot more to match the more lethargic mood of the bass. As March progresses and the water warms up, I’ll hop the jig a little more while it’s under the docks. Make sure you pay attention to your surroundings because if there are a lot of bluegill in an area, you can do really well swimming the jig underneath docks with a slow, steady retrieve.”
The Oconee Standby
If you drive over any bridge crossing Lake Oconee on a pretty Saturday, I’m willing to bet you’ll see at least a boat or two fishing its rip-rap banks. Countless tournaments on this lake are won each year on various stretches of rip-rap, chunking and winding crankbaits. As it turns out, this is actually an extremely effective pattern in March that can produce great limits of bass.
“Bridges act as pinch points that concentrate all species of gamefish into very small areas,” Grant said. “Most of Oconee’s bridges separate the main lake area from shallower creeks—bass routinely stage on the rip-rap of these bridges as they make their way into the creeks to spawn. These areas offer everything a prespawn bass needs to thrive—hard cover, prime location and plenty of food.”
Instead of making casts perpendicular to the rip-rap, Grant parallels the rip-rap in order to keep his lure in the strike zone for as long as possible. The majority of the bass will be positioned very tightly to the rocks, so a perpendicular approach really limits your chances of getting a bite.
“I like to keep my boat very close to the rocks and make long, parallel casts in front of my boat,” Grant said. “I’m trying to bang my crankbait into the rocks to elicit reaction strikes. Look for any irregularities, such as a transition in rock size or a larger boulder that may be sticking out farther than the rest.”
While you’re fishing the long stretches of rip-rap, keep a close eye on the corners of the bridge. Throughout the day, Georgia Power will move water and create a strong current in these areas. When the water begins to move, the bass will face up-current to take advantage of passing forage, so Grant will focus on these corners while casting into the current. The effects can be remarkable.
“I’ve caught countless big bass on the corners of Lake Oconee’s bridges when the water is moving,” Grant said. “I generally like to use crawfish-colored crankbaits when I’m fishing these rocks because Oconee crawfish become extremely active in March. All you need to do is bump the rocks with your crankbait, and hold on.”
I can’t word this any clearer—Lake Oconee is going to be ridiculous this month. With the warmer water temperatures and the longer days, you won’t have a better opportunity to catch huge, egg-laden bass this year. Do whatever you need to do. Call the babysitter, call in sick to work, take your wife or build a makeshift raft—just do yourself a favor and get out there this month. You’ll be glad you did.
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