Collins, who runs the Carolina Angler's Team Trail tournament series, has been fishing Wateree for years and has had plenty of success catching bass in March. A key has been getting on the lake during a period of relatively consistent weather, and that's why watching the weather in March is more important than most months.
"The weather is the biggest challenge in staying on the bass at Wateree in March. The slightest change in weather can make the bass alter their behavior and location overnight," he said, explaining that March is a transition month, with winter turning to spring and bass moving from late-winter to prespawn patterns - and some all the way to the spawn just before April arrives.
Collins said it takes some pretty warm weather for that to happen, but it happens almost every year, and it's difficult for fishermen to take advantage of the spawn because of Wateree's stained nature.
"They are usually hard to see, because Wateree is almost always stained with a lot of color in March, but some bass will be in the traditional bedding spots like shallow coves," Collins said. Blind-casting a jig will usually catch some of them."
According to Collins, bass don't seem to bite a particular lure based on the weather, but changes in the weather will cause the fish to shy away from some lures and target others. His three favorite March lures are a jig, a spinnerbait and a Shad Rap, and fishermen can catch bass on any of those baits on a given day. Some days, the weather will push fishermen into choose baits by the process of elimination – fish with everything until you find something that works.
As a rule, Collins said he's had his best days in March fishing around the mid-lake area, from Colonel Creek up to June Creek, but fishermen on the CATT trail catch them just as well in the upper and lower ends of Wateree.
Three main types of structure/cover will hold fish at some point during March.
Bass will gather around main-lake docks, and it's around docks that jigs do the most damage, especially in the hands of a fishermen skilled at skipping, pitching or flipping them well back under the docks. According to Collins, the smarter - and larger - bass will stay tucked up under the docks as far from danger as they can get. Lures that land around the perimeter or just under the edge of the docks might entice a smaller bass that's hanging around, but fooling a big one into biting requires getting the lure right to them.
Collins likes to skip his jig back under a dock like a child skipping a stone. Dressing a jig with a soft-plastic trailer like a Zoom Super Chunk gives the bait a larger profile and helps it flutter down while falling, which his often when bass will bite.
Wateree's main-lake points feature a number of rock walls, and those rocky points can keep anglers occupied all day in March. One tournament several years ago, Collins and partner Steve Phillips caught all 10 of their keepers on main-lake points on a crawdad-colored No. 7 Shad Rap and won a tournament with better than 50 pounds - taking big-fish honors with a hog than weighed better than seven pounds.
Mike Spinks of Sumter focuses on these rocky points with crankbaits like Bomber's Fat Free Shad, cranking the lure down into the rocks, and then pausing. The pause allows the lure to slowly start floating up and often triggers a strike.
"This is my favorite time of year for crankbaits on Wateree," said Spinks, adding that making the lure collide with the rocks often results in a strike.
Later in the month, some bass will move into the coves and gather around docks in shallower water. Jigs perform just as well here as they do around main-lake docks, but spinnerbaits will produce just as well - and even better - on some days. Collins and Spinks agree that for spinnerbaits, the best colors are chartreuse, white, or a combination of the two. He likes a bait with double Colorado blades
Shallow grass lines the shore all around Lake Wateree, and though it may look dead early this month, don't be fooled. No matter how dormant it looks, the bass are in there. Don't be afraid to throw a spinnerbait or buzzbait into the grassbeds. Spinks does that before anything else when fishing Wateree.
"In the mornings, I start with a buzzbait in the alligator grass. There's nothing like hearing and seeing that buzzbait cruise through those stalks and then hearing and seeing it get smashed," he said.
Collins likes the grass too, especially later in the month if conditions are right.
"If the water temperature gets to 55 or higher and the water color isn't too stained, you can catch a few on topwater frogs in the grass. Now that is fun," Collins said. "Sometimes when you cast a frog in there and twitch it a time or two, you'll see the grass parting three feet away as a bass makes a beeline to your frog."
When the fishing is really tough, a Carolina-rigged lizard will often save the day.
"During some tournaments when the fish really shut down, guys who fish a Carolina rig will win," said Collins, who suggests using a half-ounce sinker, a 2-foot leader, and a 6-inch lizard. Anglers fishing this rig will have success fishing the flats in front of the grass.
Wind can be a prominent factor in March, but it shouldn't keep you off the lake. Some anglers prefer it to be windy and have better success fishing while the wind is blowing. Spikes doesn't let the wind deter him.
"The wind can put fish in a chasing mood, and they seem to like fast-moving, noisy lures when it's windy," he said. "I fish the wind-receiving banks with noisy crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Casting behind anything that breaks the wind is also a good strategy. Some folks don't want to fight the wind, but they are missing some really good fishing."
Collins said that the wind makes for good fishing, and he said fishing at Lake Wateree in March is hard to beat in the Palmetto State.
"Wateree can be as good as any lake in South Carolina in March," he said. "To load the boat with quality bass this month, hope for stained water, a few nights in the 50s, some wind, and you're all set."
HOW TO GET THERE - Lake Wateree is easily accessed from I-20 and I-77. Take I-20 to US 521 to SC 97 for access to numerous landings on the Camden side of the lake. Lake Rd. leads to many landings on the Lugoff side. To get there, take I-20 to US 1 to Longtown Rd to Wateree Dam Rd, then left onto Lake Rd.
TACKLE/TECHNIQUES - Baitcasters or spinning outfits featuring medium-heavy rods with fast tips are standard for fishing with jigs and spinnerbaits. Medium-action rods work well with crankbaits. For fishing topwater frogs in the grass, a heavy rod paired with a high-speed reel is best. Standard line for fishing jigs, spinnerbaits and crankbaits is 10- to 20-pound test, but some anglers go as high as 50- when frog-fishing in the grass.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES - Andy Owens, Vengeance Tackle, Camden, 803-669-2624, http://www.vengeancetackleshop.com/; Rob Thames, Thames Bass Fishing Adventures, Lexington, 803-359-9515; Chris Heinning, Captain Chris Fishing Guide Service, Sumter, 803-236-1257. See also GUIDES & CHARTERS in classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS -Lake Wateree State Park, Winnsboro, 803-482-6401; Ramada Limited, Ridgeway, 803-337-7575; Wateree Lake Campground, Liberty Hill, 803-273-3013; Lake Wateree Properties, Ridgeway, 803-337-5253, Holiday Inn Express, Camden, 803-424-5000.
MAPS - Lake Maps, http://www.lake-maps.com/; Duke Energy, 800-777-9898, http://www.duke-energy.com/residential.asp; Kingfisher Maps, 800-326-0257, http://www.kfmaps.com/; Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer, http://www.delorme.com/, 800-561-5105;