"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

That may sound like the command of a mean and ornery drill sergeant. To rank-and-file Hoosier outdoors folks, it translates into a maze of early-spring outdoor pleasures.
There are those who will tell you the month of March is a time to get ready for spring and the many outdoor activities the warmer months bring. I submit that it is time to get going . . .”doin’ what comes naturally” . . . as one of my favorite old-time songstresses used to sing.

No need to wait for spring. All forms of life that are dormant--or nearly so--through the winter months, yawn, stretch and start to awaken to an impending, unrequited urge to reproduce when vernal equinox (March 20) is nigh. 

Sure, the spine-chilling, rawbone days of March are enough to make one wonder if the sun really is headed north. But the old Hoosier weather saw we hear so often, “if you don’t like our weather, just wait a minute,” could not be more applicative than it is in March. Moreover, I am not so sure that the days of March that resemble spring do not outnumber the remnant representatives of winter.

Yes, we will have more snow in March. Atmospheric patterns being what we have seen recently, we may even have a lollapalooza or two. But the snow we get in March, combined with a near-record February coating of the white stuff, could create ideal moisture conditions for the earth in terms of morel (wild mushroom) production.

And the spring thaw certainly will freshen fishing waters from farm ponds to streams and rivers and larger lakes and reservoirs which can do nothing if it doesn’t awaken food chains which sets all manner of piscatorial citizens to thinking of din-din.

So what’s to do in March?  I answer that question with a single word: PLENTY!

Will I amplify? Bet on it!

Since fishing is high priority for most outdoors folks at this juncture, let’s start with piscatorial pursuits.

Fishing in March is dependent upon two scenarios: We either have open water . . . or we have ice.

If we have ice, the hard-water angling can be some of winter’s best. As the antiquated axiom goes: First ice and last ice offer the best hard-water angling of the year.

But first and last ice also can be the most dangerous, so if we have some ice fishing in March this year, the watchword will be "CAUTION . . . " AND PLENTY OF IT.

The cover of snow on ice brings great fishing because it cuts off the light of day. This can cause fish to feed periodically throughout the day. Ordinarily best “bites” for icers come at the beginning and end of the day.

But that same cover of snow can cause ice to become weak in places. If the surface of a body of water is covered with snow but shows patches of water, avoid them like the chicken pox. It could be that warm water from a spring is melting both the ice and the snow.

A lifeline tied around an angler’s waist and attached to some solid object on the bank is good life insurance. A small, flat-bottom boat on the ice is even better . . . and dryer.

Ah, but let’s hypothesize that a most-welcome warm spell has sent both the ice and the snow back to the northlands from whence it came. Farm ponds, and other small bodies of standing water are bubbling with activities of bass, bluegills, crappies and other denizens who have quit their winter slowdown and are feeding like pigs as they build their bodies up for nesting in the near future.

Under these conditions, crappies (pronounced croppies) probably have more to offer March anglers than the others. Moreover, they most often will be found around rip-rap and other man-made or natural cover of larger standing waters. Boat docks are excellent cover for early-spring crappies.

Live minnows suspended below slip bobbers probably account for more crappies than any other natural bait or artificial lure, but small jigs (fished with a casting bobber) will produce good results and make it possible for the angler to cover more water while searching for crappie schools.

A floating casting bobber of a half ounce or so will make it possible to cast the tiniest of jigs great distances. It also makes it possible to use fairly heavy line (say 10 to 15-pound-test) on the reel, and very light line (two to four pound-test) between the jig and the bobber. Length of this line will be determined by water depth and depths where fish appear to be holding.

A slow retrieve will allow the jig and light line to sink to the level of fish. Movement of the bobber will give the jig a swimming action.

There is, of course, nothing to say that live minnows cannot be effectively combined with small jigs and casting bobbers for crappies at this time of year.

Bass and bluegills do not go to the feed bag quite as early as crappies, but they still awaken in March. Of the two, bass (especially largemouth in small standing waters) will offer some very good action, albeit slow. 

Slow, as a matter of fact, is the watchword for bass fishermen in March. Although the metabolism of bass is gaining speed at this time of year, Ol’ Bucketmouth still must be considered lethargic when water temperatures are below 50 degrees, and that translates into slow motion.

For this reason, slow-moving dark lures that can be bumped along--or close to--the bottom seem to be best . . . even though spinner-bucktails combinations of bright hues always account for some lunkers.

Of the naturals, I consider the live night crawler the best live bait for bass at this time of year.

When I think of live bait for bass in March I can't keep from remembering a raw March day many years ago when an old angling friend, Bill “Feed Bag” Myers, and I went to one of the smaller natural lakes in northeastern Indiana.

We were offering night crawlers and artificials that day and neither seemed to be what the bass wanted. 

I opined that it may not be a big improvement over our other methods, but perhaps we should put the crawlers on three-hook harnesses and fish them like artificials.

That didn’t make the wind subside, nor did it take the sting out of the half-sleet, half-rain as it pounded the backs of our necks. But we soon forgot those impostors as we snaked out several nice bass, including one that topped the five-pound mark.

With all of the snow we have had this winter, and the promise of rain, high-water bass fishing is a distinct possibility this month. 

My  February column dealt with open-water, high-water bass fishing. While conditions were not right for this in February, it could happen soon. (For more details on this kind of fishing see my February column in archives.)

But what does one do if we have open water until an extremely cold night puts skim on a favorite farm pond or small lake.

I have encountered such conditions on several occasions over the years, and I have found that bass will not be halted by skim ice or a partial covering of ice once the late-winter feed is begun.

But under these conditions, bass still are lethargic and slow-moving lures still are best.

The first time I encountered a partial covering of ice occurred one of my favorite farm ponds. It was mid afternoon and the ice on the shallow end of the pond had disappeared. It didn’t appear real promising, but I was there, and I had a spinning outfit in my hands with a quarter-ounce purple jig and worm for a lure.

I was standing on the shore with shallow, open water directly ahead. After several unproductive casts into the open water, I decided to flip the lure onto the ice and work it back slowly to the open water. 

The ice was very smooth and clear.

At first this produced no action, but it was fun so I kept at it, nudging the lure off the ice and allowing it to sink in three to four feet of water before swimming it back for another cast.

I don’t know how many casts I made, but soon I had a largemouth taker as the lure sank soon after falling off the ice. Once they were started, I took several fish in this manner.

To this day I have to believe the lure scraping along the thin, clear ice attracted the attention of bass in the deeper water and they followed the lure until they could get it.

Incidentally, while ice forms on shallow water before it forms on deep water, it also thaws and dissipates faster over shallow water. 

Bluegills are not nearly so active in March as they are in April, but the warmer still attracts them because that is where the food chain first awakens. But the best place to catch bluegills in March still is the deeper water just off the breaks (where shallow water drops of into deeper water).

Very small jig like lures are a good bet fished deep. Tipping hook points with bee moth larva, or some other maggot-like natural, is a good bet.

Suckers start spending more time on the riffles of streams and rivers this month, but they still offer good fishing with pole and line at the edges of channels with gravel or sand bottom. For more on the potential of suckers do a search on sucker fishing on this site.

Although a good part of the March fishing is done on smaller impoundments--especially farm ponds in the southern part of the state--a ramble to the far north (Lake Michigan) or far south (the Ohio River) offer some angling.

Head north to Indiana’s portion of Lake Michigan and you will find good fishing--and scrumptious table fare in coho salmon and brown trout on the warm-water discharges, and steelhead in streams.

The south shore of Lake Michigan will be free of ice soon--if it isn’t now--and the small coho from the stockings of other states congregate there to feast on the alewives that come there to spawn.

Spoon type lures cast from the shore are a good bet for the cohos and browns, but spawn bags or worms suspended below a bobber will produce.

Go south to the Ohio and you will encounter good fishing for sauger below the navigational dams, or in channels that have current. Night crawlers and minnows are good bets for bait.

But wait just a minute. How about the morels? When will they be up?

The earliest we have ever heard of morel finds in Indiana was March 27. That was in the southern part of the state.

It is not likely that we will have any hot morel hunting in March, but for the fan of this great fungi who can’t wait to get started, try wooded hillsides with sparse leaf cover and a southern exposure. Stream banks and fencerows bathed by warm sun also are likely places to find the little waxy caps, an early strain of the spearheads.

So get at it. Don’t let March slip away untouched. As they used to say in my hometown: “Wait is what broke the wagon down.”

March Photo Gallery
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More photos will be here shortly.

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All columns and stories are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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