With all the different things that largemouth bass do in the spring, it can feel like they are toying with our rational way of thinking just like Bugs and Daffy arguing. You begin to get a feel for what is going on and where the bass have hid themselves when all of a sudden they move! What happened? Where did they go? I thought it was pre- spawn and now they are all gone and there are no bass on beds anywhere! What do I do now? Well, even though you think those little green fish outsmarted you, they didn't. They only reacted to their environment. So lets find out where they are and why they are there during this “Daffy” spring season. Lets face it, if you can't find them, you can't catch them.
When spring rolls around there is love in the air.... and the water, too. The waters in the shallow areas begin to warm and the bass' spawning instincts kick in. The only problem is none of the bass in a given lake move together. Some of them will stay in their wintering place, others will move into the shallow areas to feed, while others will search out nesting areas and begin the spawing ritual. There are three major parts to the spring season: pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn. So lets tackle where bass move in each of these starting with the pre-spawn in natural lakes.
Where do you find them? I can tell you the number one factor for finding the pre-spawn bass in two words.... WATER TEMPERATURE! During the pre-spawn, bass will be moving around the lake looking for warmer waters. There is no “magic” temperature for finding them. The warmer water is going to be relative to the temperature of the main body of water. For example, if the main body of water is 47 degrees then you want to locate shallower water that is several degrees warmer than the 47 degrees. You just have to do a little map reading and on the water searching to find these areas.
A few great areas to start looking for these warmer waters are shallow flats, shallow bays, shallow creeks and shallow channels. There are aspects that will make these areas more likely to hold pre-spawn fish. One aspect is having nearby access to deeper water since bass will seek out a stable water environment when the weather changes. They will want to find a stable water temperature when a spring cold front moves through. If the cold front causes the water to chill down a bit, the bass will make a fast move to some kind of structure or edge in the deeper water, where the water is stable and warmer.
A second aspect would be shorelines that have wooded or protected with structures like bluffs or buildings. The less wind that can stir up the water and cool it down, the more potential the shallow water has because of the stable warm temperature.
The final aspect to finding pre-spawn bass is to look for signs of life in the water. Look for balls of baitfish, perch spawning or eating insects, or you might see sunfish running around eating insects and enjoying the warmth. If you can find a few of these signs of life you can bet there are bass nearby!
Now that we have an idea of where to find some bass lets talk about some patterns that will help you catch them.
Pre-spawn Patterns Key factor: Cover lots of water.
The bass may be grouped up or they may be spread out. They may be hiding in the new vegetation growth or they may be bunched up on a lone rock or stump in the middle of a flat. You have to search them out with your Lowrance electronics and reaction lures. Lets start by checking on out patterns for shallow flats and bays
Shallow Flats and Shallow Bays If you see some vegetation, you will need to try and stay above it or just ticking the tops. The best way to accomplish this is with an ol' fashion spinnerbait, one with a larger colorado blade that can be fished slower works best. Fish it horizontally over the weeds, but let it drop in the open areas where there is not any new vegetation growing. Some anglers prefer to use crankbaits, both billed and lipless types. Another popular bait is a suspending jerkbait. The idea is to pull the bait slow a few times and just let it sit still suspended over the open pockets or around rip rap and stumps. You will need to experiment and let the fish tell you what they want. Try to start out with baits that you have the most confidence with, that will cover a lot of water. When you catch one, don't leave the area until you are sure there are no more fish there.
Channels and Creeks There are two types of channels, rip rap and vegetation. Just like shallow bays and flats, you will need to cover a lot of water. However, your best bet is to search out the back third of the channel where the water is more likely shallower and warmer.
In a rip rap or rocky channel with little to no vegetation the number one presentation will be a small crankbait fished SLOWLY, deflecting off all the rocks you can hit. Your best bet is to use a square billed crankbait with a more streamlined flat body, like a Rapala DT Flat or a Bandit Flat Maxx. These flat side crankbaits have a tight wobble that seems to draw more attention from bass than the wider wobbling crankbaits. Another option is to use a suspending jerkbait or the all- time great spinnerbait. Keep an eye out for the baitfish and if you don't see any, try using lures in crawdad colors, since bass will be picking crawdads out of the rocks as they emerge from wintering.
A channel with vegetation calls for a slow falling jig, like an Omega Finesse jig, pitched to areas in the back of the channel with the highest probability of holding some fish like laydowns or docks. Don't forget you still need to cover a lot of water so the same presentations as the shallow flats will apply here too.
[b]Cold Fronts[/b] If the weather is changing and you can feel the cold wind blowing, the fish may stop biting or move. Your best decision at this point is to look for more stable water. It may be finding an area with shoreline protection from the cold wind or even better is to move to the edge of the flat or channel near the deeper water. Use your electronics to locate some kind of structure, a point off the flat leading to deeper water, a newly forming weedline or clumps of weeds in deep water off the flat. These are the highest probability areas to find them. Typically, they will group up when they are holding off the shallow areas, so if you catch one, be sure to cast right back to the same area. You may be surprised at how many fish will be holding there. These holding fish are going to be very disinterested in chasing lures. What this means is SLOW VERTICAL presentations are going to work best. I prefer a spinnerbait that can be pumped off the bottom or ripped slowly out of the weed clumps and left to fall slowly back down. Other popular presentations are lipless crankbaits pumped like the spinnerbait, jigs, spoons, swimbaits, soft plastics like a grub, and a float 'n fly. Deep suspending jerkbaits can be used too. This is especially true when the fish are suspending off structure or weedlines.
I hope this has given you some insight to pre-spawn fishing. Keep in mind that this is just a general outline for catching bass in pre-spawn. There is no wrong way to catch these “Daffy” bass, so don't limit yourself to the presentations I discussed. This article and the others that follow are designed to help you LOCATE where fish may be hiding during each season and why. In the next article I will discuss the actual spawn and the post-spawn.
***Ryan is an up-and-comer in the bass world, where he fishes tournaments and promotes the sport, and you'll be seeing more of him in the future!