Monday, April 14, 2008

Spring Fishing Tips


Spring, the time of year that gets all anglers out of their cabin fever doldrums. Although I’ve been on the water for a few months already, the spring is a welcomed season that brings with it predictable changes in bass and the weather. In spring, water temperature is the key. Find the warmest water and you will find the most active bass. Make a few runs to specific areas on your lake to do some temperature readings. Start with a measurement at any inflow or feeder creek. These can bring in warm water during the spring and cool water when the lake water is warm. These creeks are really good places to check after a few days of warm spring rain. The temperatures here remain fairly constant. Since waters are usually at their highest levels in spring, check around newly flooded areas in extremely shallow water. If these areas are protected from the wind but offer some good sunlight, this is a surefire area. The spring can be broken down into several mini periods.

Pre spawn

Spring brings gradually warming water and air temperatures and longer periods of daylight. With this, bass begin to move up towards shallower areas. Bass use migration routes to slowly emerge from their cold water winter haunts. The 55 degree temperature is the magic temperature for me. This indicates that bass movement is now getting serious as fish are waiting for a combination of moon phase and warmer water to get them going. This doesn’t necessarily occur in one day though. Bass congregate on deeper points while making their way to the shallows. Here they bunch up. The bass may stage or hold on these points for a while before entering the shallows. They will eat and prepare for their spawning rituals while waiting for the temperatures to heat up the shallows. As the water gets warmer and bass get more daring, they spend more time running into and out of the shallows foraging. Targeting areas that have quick access to deep and shallow water are good points for you to start during this time frame. Look for areas that get the most sun as these will heat up faster and encourage accelerated spawning when other locations of the lake will be lagging behind. This also helps you extend your spring season by targeting populations of fish that are in different stages. If you are keying in on staging bass, take note that they are most often located in very close proximity to the shallow waters where they will spawn.

Locating staging bass can mean you will catch some of the biggest fish of the year. I use a slow to mid speed bait to get bites. I often start off split shotting a lizard across a staging point. I can alternate my retrieve and crawl it slowly if necessary. If I feel the fish want a dead slow presentation, I go to a jig n pig or a 4” tube. In the case that the bass want something a little faster, I break out a 4.5” hard jerk bait that I can suspend right on top of them. I am targeting fish in 8 to 12 feet of water here. These fish are just about ready to spawn, they are just waiting for the final sign. They will still eat at this time so you can bet they are a bit easier to catch once located. Keep these areas in mind and take note of their locations because these bass will use them in the post spawn too.

This is the time of year that I break out my thermometer and actively take readings. The change of only a few degrees can mean that you will find active fish or that the fish you caught yesterday moved. During this period most of the lake will be in the mid to high 50’s. A little scouting might find water in the low 60’s which will definitely produce active fish. Bass are creatures of habit and will use the same spawning and staging areas year after year.

I mentioned earlier that most bass are waiting to move up and spawn. These fish are waiting for something to trigger that phase. Usually the full moon is what gets bass spawning in full swing. I use the lunar tables to point out when the full moon will occur in the warm parts of spring. When I determine the moon is close to being full, I start fishing more methodical to catch these bigger pre spawn fish five days prior and right up until the full moon.

The Spawn

When the temperature reaches about 62 degrees, the big female bass move in and set their sights on bedding. I target areas that have hard bottom and good sunlight penetration. If the area offers protection from gusty winds, it is even better. These spots will warm up faster and hold fish longer during the spawn. Not all bass move up at the same time. Bass spawn in waves that likely are dictated by moon phase. This ensures that a cold front will not take out a whole year class of fish. It is nature’s way of guaranteeing spawning success.

Bass on the beds are notorious for nipping short on many baits. I do not think eating is very important to them during this time. Defending their nest is the big priority in the spring. Rarely will they just take a bait in. They may simply pick up a worm by the tip of the tail and drag it off of the bed out of harms way. During this time bass have to be annoyed into striking baits. Repeated casts to the bed eventually take their toll and the fish will lash out in anger and blast a bait. Remember, the bass can suck in and spit out in lightning quickness. You must be sharp and in tune with your bait.

Forget what you’ve been told about salamanders and bass eggs. I don’t think that salamanders are natural enemies to bass. The real fact is that the salamanders are very plentiful in the shallows due to spawning of their own and the increase of contact between the two species leads to a foraging opportunity that bass do not have at any other time of the year.

I’m not much of a bed fisherman. I don’t like to bother these creatures when they are doing their most important function in life. If you choose to molest them when they are bedding, do so with minimal handling and absolutely release any fish you may catch. Give these guys a little respect and let them do their thing. It will only reward you with good fishing for years to come.

If I am looking to catch a spawning fish, I opt for only a couple of baits. The number one bait for me is a small 1/16oz hair jig. I like either a float and fly jig or a rabbit hair jig. This bait is so small that when a bass sucks it in, it usually gets all of the bait in its mouth. I use only jigs with needle sharp points so a quick pop of the wrist is all it takes to set. White is my favorite color at this time. This is because I can see it. When I can’t see it, it is because a bass has it in its mouth. If I sense that a bass wants nothing to do with my jig, I’ll drop the jig on the fish, forcing it to move. I’ll do this a few times until it gets really irritated. This will cause the fish to bite. Take note, I am not attempting to foul hook the fish, I just want to annoy it. I will also use small tubes, a small jig n pig and the SS worm by Green Eyes Worm Works.

Sight Fishing

Perhaps I get no greater challenge than the one presented to me as I stalk fish I can see. It can be rewarding and frustrating at the same time. Here I must do everything right, not only spot the bass, but make sure I use a stealthy approach so that fish does not see me and spook. Next I must present the bait in a flawless manner to a fish I’m not even sure wants to eat. There are so many variables to sight fishing.

Sight fishing generally applies to clear water but as long as I can see a fish, the water color isn’t important to me. I grew up fishing gin clear waters for smallmouth bass and crystal clear ponds for largemouth bass. Both offered me excellent sight fishing opportunities. I learned at a very early age that I must dress and move with stealth in mind. I concentrated on this so much that it has become natural to me. It is a habit now.

This type of fishing is by no means bed fishing. Spring is a good time to sight fish because fish are found throughout the shallows but I do not purposely target bedding fish. There are plenty of other fish to attempt to catch at this time.

A good pair of polarized sun glasses is important to success. You can get some very good polarized glasses from Hobie or Solar Bat. These will help you see fish by reducing the glare as you looking into the water. They block UV rays and protect your eyes. If nothing else, glasses are good eye protection. Sight fishing is a light tackle tactic. You really must consider your gear so you do not give your position away or spook fish. Thinner line and smaller baits are mandatory. Slowly scan the area for any strange shadows or movements.

Shallow Water Sight Fishing Baits

1/16oz Micro Munch Jig 2/0 Mustad Black Nickel needlepoint hook
Salty Stinker SS worm Hand poured salted scented stick bait
2 ?” Wicked Tube Mini 1/16oz Gamakatsu tube head, small fat tube
1/16oz Craft hair or rabbit hair jig Gamakatsu hook-White
Post Spawn

Here is a time of spring where many anglers become frustrated and confused. After experiencing some of the best angling of the year, all of a sudden the bass seem to shut totally down. One of the signs I look for is the disappearance of the big female bass from the shallows. Instead, you will see tons of fry skittering on the surface and usually a smaller male bass left to guard them. This male bass is extremely aggressive and will hit virtually any lure that threatens his brood. The post spawn occurs when the water temperature rises about 70 degrees. There will be a few stragglers but for the most part, most of the bass have done what nature intended them to and have left the area.

The larger females move back out to the sanctuary of their staging areas to recuperate from the rigors of the spawn. They may head for deeper water and hold there for a week or more. One thing I should mention is that these fish seem to be scattered and not as concentrated as in pre spawn. The action is definitely slower during this period. I feel that if you can target the weed lines around those staging areas, you have a good shot at catching post spawn bass.

Spring Bass Movements

Below 45 degrees Bass are in their winter holding locations. Generally in 20 to 25 feet on northern lakes.

45 to 55 degrees Bass leave their winter holding areas and move up migration routes. They will stop and hold on points and other areas that feature access to both deep and shallow water. 55 to 60 degrees During this period, the initial phase of bass moved in to spawn. Not all of the fish move in though. Many fish are staging on points.

60 to 70 degrees This period sees the most activity as far as bass movement is concerned. Large numbers of fish are moving to or leaving the area.

Over 70 degrees The female bass are done spawning now and move back out to the staging areas to recuperate.

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