I'd say February is the month to catch a really big fish, with March second-best. But March can be better; fishing is more consistent. February is kind of iffy; we might have 20-degree weather or snow. In March, it's warmer, and you've got a better chance to go out and have a great day - and maybe catch a big fish.
What's happening across South Carolina is that bass are migrating from main-lake areas toward the coves where they're going to spawn - but they aren't there yet. While you hear about a few fish spawning in early March, the majority of the spawning takes place late in the month and in early April.
I like to find the places where bass stage before they leave the creek channels and head to the banks. I want to find the transition areas where bass go after they leave the main lake and move into the creeks. And to me, those are secondary points and smaller creek channels - really ditches - that lead back into coves and pockets. Those are places where I've found a lot of fish. The only thing that might change that is if we get a warming trend and then a nice, warm rain. If that happens, those fish will head straight to the bank, and you can catch 'em in six inches of water. But if we have a cold rain, they back off - but they don't go very far. That's why you find so many of them holding on secondary points.
Depending on which lake you're fishing, you'll be keying on different kinds of cover in those areas you target. If I'm fishing Clarks Hill, Hartwell or Wateree, I'm going to be fishing boat docks. If I'm fishing Santee Cooper, I'm going to be concentrating on cypress trees. If there's any vegetation at the water depth you want to fish - hydrilla or lily pads - that should be your No. 1 target. Second would be wood: standing timber, stumps or docks. I'll pick the best available cover in whichever lake I'm fishing and work it over pretty well.
I let the weather tell me how to start. If the water temperature is in the 50s, I'll start with a crankbait. Most of the time, when you make your fish trip in March, the water temperature will be in the mid- to upper-50s. As it gets closer to 60 and into the 60s, I'll start with a spinnerbait. Water clarity doesn't mean quite as much; you can catch fish on a spinnerbait or a crankbait in clear water. You just change colors. If the water is stained to muddy, go with bright chartreuses, oranges, blacks and reds. In clear water, go with more natural colors like bluegill or shad.
Bass will be feeding on shad and crawfish. A spinnerbait clearly resembles a shad, and a crankbait resembles a crawfish. That's another reason to start with a crankbait, because earlier in March, they'll be feeding more on crawfish. As the water temperature gets into the 60s, the shad will move up to get ready for their spawn, and the bass will be feeding more on them, so you use the spinnerbait.
Of course, you're just using those baits to find areas that are holding active fish. There are times when you catch the male fish that have moved up to start looking for spawning territory; you catch them on the faster-moving baits. You come back a little later with a jig and you fish more slowly, and you may not catch as many fish, but you'll catch that big one that wins you the tournament.
A jig has always been my No. 1 lure, my money-maker. If I'm fishing a tournament and catching fish on a crankbait or a spinnerbait, I'll go back and fish those areas again - either immediately or an hour or two later - and fish them much more methodically with a jig. My pick is a half-ounce Buckeye mop jig in brown, with a Yamamoto Flappin' Hog II trailer in green pumpkin with green/purple flake.
One thing I have changed up in the past year or two is the line I fish. I used not to like braided line, but I'm using it more and more these days. If the water is stained and I'm flipping or pitching in heavy cover, I'll be using Spiderwire braid. I've learned that I'll catch the fish that used to break me off on monofilament in the grass or around pier and dock posts.
Davy Hite is a 43-year-old native of Saluda who lives in Ninety Six. He was the BASS Angler of the Year in 1997 and 2002, and he won the 1999 Bassmasters Classic and the 1998 FLW Tour Championship. He is sponsored by Triton boats, Evinrude outboards, All-Star rods, Pfleuger reels, Berkley Trilene, Yamamoto Baits, Owner hooks, Humminbird depthfinders and Solar Bat sunglasses.