By Eric Ehn
The snow is gone now what?
Finally, the snow is gone. Now what do you do? Hit the water, no joke. So what if it is cold? So what if you are the only guy towing a boat. So what if the weather forecast has more snow in the future; you can still catch bass. It can be a very numbing time to fish, covering the entire lake without bites and frozen fingers. This time of year can also produce huge stringers of hungry bass; and immediately before they mate, the bass can be downright carnivorous. The difference between needing a band-aid due to bass thumb and needing a band-aid due to frost bite can be so subtle. Master these spring fishing skills and, chances are you will light up the face book page long before any of your friends.
Take the highway
Take the highway to the lake if you want, but more importantly take the highway at the lake. Every lake in the country has an infrastructure like web of ditches, channels, points, bluff walls, and even actual road beds. If the water was drained from the lake and the lake was viewed from above it would look like a Google maps with highways and avenues twisting and turning to every corner and cove. The roadways you are interested in are the avenues running from deep water to shallow. They are the major arteries that lead bass to their eventual nesting site and are the easy path for lethargic bass to follow. Some typical byways for bass are: long slopping points that reach far into the lake, creek channels that swing near shore, ditches and channels that run deep into coves, any structure that is adjacent to the largest flats in the lake, or any piece of rock that a bass can follow to arrive safely in a protected spawning area. Bass will not always be dead center on these transition zones, but they will definitely be near to, next to, suspended above, or thinking about going for a stroll across these interstates.
Just like you sit down at the computer to plan your route before you leave on a trip, you must develop a plan to catch early spring bass. To find these high traffic areas you need a map; a topographical map. These maps can be found on your computer, your electronics, or in old school print form. Navionics makes an application for computers and phones that has almost every lake in the country for your viewing pleasure. Fishidy.com, fishhound.com, and even Google maps can offer a ton of information about lake bottoms and surrounding areas that you can use to help locate these highways. The best tool at your disposal is the graph in your cockpit. It has the most detailed maps of your lake and that is where you will be sitting while venturing onto the underwater interstate. To start your search mark and circle every major flat and cove on the lake. If the lake has hundreds focus on south facing areas because they should warm the fastest in spring. Work along these flats and coves until you find a roadway away from the shallow area. Mark these entrances and exits with the way point button on your graph and circle them on printed maps. Continue to follow these highways, marking your map, backwards until you find yourself in relatively deep water for that particular lake. The highways you have outlined are the areas you will want to fish when you get to the lake. Start deep if it’s cold and work your way shallower.
Know your carpool partners
Two factors that will influence bass this time of year are sex and opportunity. The natural instinct of a bass, during the springtime, is to travel along these roadways in search of comfortable spawning grounds. This journey requires huge energy investments from fish, as does the act of mating. Males have to landscape a nest, while females burn through resources growing and storing eggs. Bass will ingest whatever protein they can find to do this and the best meals are the ones they don't have to work hard for, or in other words, advantageous energy opportunities. Work along these trails and keep an eye out for opportunities available to a bass.
As soon as the ice leaves the lake and the first rays of sunshine enter the water, bass will begin their voyage to shallow water. It starts at the deep entrances to the roadways you marked and as the water temperature rises they inch closer to the flats. Using water temperature you can locate where on the highway the bass will likely be. 32* think deep, 58* think shallow. If the temperature is in between, think about the daily conditions. On days that are sunny and warm bass will position itself on top of these highways and look for meals. If you feel good, due to sun, warm wind, or warm rain, the bass will feel good and it will use energy to feed. If the weather or pressure changes, and it gets uncomfortable outside, the bass will also be uncomfortable. Typically bass will retreat to deeper water and try to conserve. This movement may only be a couple of feet. They will slide to the sides of the points, down to the bottom of the channel, or move to deeper water close by and suspend. They will not leave the area, they will simply move adjacent to it, in safer, more comfortable water. To start fishing these areas fish from deep to shallow along the highway, just like the fish do. Once you get a bite or catch a fish investigate that area more and similar areas on other roadways.
While the bass is biologically linked to move in a certain route, always look for opportunities. To a bass an opportunity is like a roadside oasis for people; a place to recharge, refuel, or relax. Opportunities to look for are cover, food, and increased water temperature.
Cover located along these roadways will hold the majority of the fish on any lake. Look for docks, grass edges, boulders, and timber in deeper water. These items offer ambush points, protection from the elements, and can even absorb sunlight making the water around it a few degrees warmer. You could fish the entire highway and only catch fish on the stumps located there. Cover is the factor that makes a certain highway better than another stretch of road. Start your day on the roadways with cover.
The two main foods for bass in the spring are freshly emergent crawfish and shad. You will have no indication where the crawfish are, but the shad you can find. Watch your graph and watch your surroundings. Shad have a faster migration than bass do and can go from suspended in deep water to smashed against the bank in only a few short hours. Using your graph you can find those shad in deeper water. Your electronics will show streaks of red lighting, darting into a basketball and that is bass munching on shad in open water. Bass will pull a U-turn to follow after these easy to catch shad. Bass will still be near the highway, but adjust to the bait and you will be around fish. Besides watching for shad on your graph scan the water and look for the baits of small fish. Once the shad move shallow you can see the schools movement. Watch their activity, if they are frantic, you can bet there are bass nearby. Finally, look for birds. If birds are diving into the water it is a safe bet there is food nearby. If the birds are diving near your highway it’s a safe bet the bass are nearby too.
When you are trying to find the right highway to fish, think about water temperature. The warmer water will probably have better fishing opportunities and more active fish. While there may not be any apparent reason for the temperature changes, there are some obvious signs to look for. The northwest portion of the lake gets more direct sunlight than the south side so it tends to be a degree or two warmer. Start your search there. Also, rocks, trees, dying weeds, and stained water translate sunlight into water temperature better than fresh weeds, clear water, and sandy areas because they are darker in color. Creeks that run into a larger body of water carry runoff that tends to be warmer than the main lake. Even a difference as little as the color of dock floats can change water temperature a degree or two. Fish the black ones. That is all it takes sometimes. Bass will congregate on the roadways that provide the best opportunity to refuel and recharge. If you know the road signs you can put yourself on top of a gridlock.
Pilot and Co-pilot
Suspending Jerk bait and a football jig will be your pilot and co-pilot? Then show pictures. Ask any professional, check any magazine, heck, go to tacklewarehouse.com and read the Bassmaster classic winning baits article. Jerk baits are great for finding fish and can cover water quickly, while still presenting a slow meal. Jigs are extremely versatile, capable of being fished shallow and deep and few other types of bait are as good at putting bass in the boat.
Jerk baits are great to start fishing with because they can be fished fast and slow at the same time. Please ignore your back button for a second. You can quickly work jerk bait through unproductive water and once you get it into the strike zone, you can work the bait at whatever speed the fish are asking for. Be sure to vary the length, harshness, cadence, and pause attributes of your retrieve until the fish tell you what they want. If the water is colder think slower and if the water is warmer think faster. There are several great jerkbaits on the market, but make sure they suspend like the Storm Twitch Stick and the Rapala Husky Jerk. For bait color, start with a shad pattern that has a blue back and adjust from there. If the water looks dirty mix in some orange and if the water is crystal clear use bait with some transparency. Once you start fishing pay attention to what the fish are telling you. If the fish are following your lure and not eating it slow your retrieve down. If they are slapping the bait rather than swallowing it change colors or size. Mix up your presentation until the fish tell you what they want. If you listen to the fish and get all the details right you can fill the boat in just a few hours.
Jerkbaits should always be fished with fluorocarbon line and with a slow action rod. Fluorocarbon is invisible underwater and will help the bait suspend. The slow rod tip serves two functions. First, it won’t rip the jerkbaits treble hooks out of the bass' mouth. Second, it will delay your hook set, letting sluggish fish get a good hold of the bait before it darts away. Having the right equipment for the job is just as important as finding the fish in the first place.
Once you have located a population of fish, pull out your best jig rod and favorite football jig. To effectively utilize this technique you will need at least a seven foot rod that is medium heavy action or better. Make sure it has a fast tip so you can sense every stone, pebble, and bite as deep as 50 ft. Use fluorocarbon line because it is invisible to fish underwater and its lack of stretch will help you get solid hook sets in deep water. To use a football jig, make a long cast to the shallow end of the roadway. Drag the bait over every piece of structure and cover along the way to deeper water. The bites will come after your jig falls off of something like a bluff or rock. Again, in cold water think slow and in warm water think fast, but never faster than a hop.
Don't be scared of all of the jig options out there. Many companies make great jigs like Omega, Strike King, Bass Pro Shops, and numerous custom jig makes. While head design is not as important as color, a football head is the premiere jig head for dragging along bottom structure so use those if you have them. When it comes to size, it is a balance of depth and wind. If it is windy go bigger and if the fish are deep go bigger. When selecting color try your best to match the local forage. Crawfish are mostly brown or watermelon, but in your lake they could be bright red or even blue. If you are at a loss for where to start use a black and blue 1/2 once football jig until the fish give you a clue. If you don't get a bite or the fish are pecking, go smaller then change colors. Tip the back with your favorite trailer and hold on because these spring jig fish will be big and ready to rumble.
When you go on a long road trip you always bring an emergency kit. Similarly, when you hit the road in search of springtime bassin' you need to have an emergency kit. The above mentioned approach is playing the odds. It is a great all around way to catch a lot of spring bass, but where you will struggle to get a bite. That is when you need your emergency kit. Your emergency kit is a lot like a backup tackle box. To start, go to your best spot; the main lake point next to a spawning flat, with a creek channel swinging close, timber on top, with a bluff on the side, a 40'x40' dock floating on black barrels, with sea gulls diving everywhere and pull out your emergency kit. If you don't have that magical place go to a place where you got a bite earlier, got a bite yesterday, or even a bite last year. This shrinks your lake into a small zone that you can gain confidence in. Great baits for your emergency kit are lipless crankbaits (pumped not burned), 4" grubs (slow rolled not swam), shaky head worms (shaken not stirred), drop shot worms (shaken not stirred), swimbaits (slow rolled not swam), and finally weightless senkos (still, as in no movement, at all). All plastics in green pumpkin and all hard baits in a shad pattern. Take each bait and slowly work it all over your best location until you get a clue. Bring your patience because these slow moving boats need to be as easy of a meal as possible for the mellow fish down below. If your day turns into a car wreck, aka nothing going right, slow down as much as possible.
Your destination is on the right
Some lakes are gigantic and some are tiny, but in either case there is a set of underwater roads that can lead you to your destination; the winners circle. By focusing on high traffic areas near spawning grounds you increase your odds of catching bass. By interpreting the road signs of that area whether it is increased water temp or balls of shad suspending you increase your odds of catching bass. By effectively working the pilot and co-pilot role of the jig and jerkbait you increase your odds of catching bass. Once you get a clue from the fish about what specifically they are doing you can adjust and increase your odds of catching bass. Bass are lazy this time of year and you need all of your resources, skills, and awareness to tempt them into joining you on your journey across the lake to the winners circle.
Badlands Bass Bandits Member