May 10, 2016
Proven Tactics For Spring Bass
By Tom Dietz
As opening day of fishing approaches, I prepare my bass fishing strategies based on the water temperatures and current weather patterns each year. The weather patterns in the spring dictate everything from; water temperatures, to spawning time and fish locations. Here, my focus is on proven fish catching strategies to catch more bass based on pre-spawn, spawn and post spawn situations for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Water temperatures will dictate fish locations year in and year out.
In years when winter seems to last forever and ice out comes very late, we are often faced with pre-spawn situations here in Wisconsin. When water temperatures are in the 45 to 55 degree range, it is truly hard to beat suspending jerk baits such as Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogues or Rapala Suspending Husky Jerks. The bass are typically roving around in large schools, seeking out the warmest water in the lake. Northern bays and shorelines will hold lots of bass due to the maximum sun exposure in spring. The key under these conditions is to cover water fairly quickly until you locate one of these schools. Once you catch a bass, you will often fire up the rest of the school and you can catch quite a few fish in a short period of time.
When fishing these suspending jerk baits, the critical retrieve speed is relatively slow. Develop a slack line pause retrieve, allowing up to 20 seconds between twitches of the crankbait. These bass will often hit your lure on the “death pause,” as I call it. The colder water makes the bass less aggressive, and the pause and hang time of your crankbait triggers these bass into eating an easy meal. Look for darker bottom bays and shorelines that gather the most sun exposure and heat. Solar windows this time of year are truly critical too. Depth ranges depend on the water clarity of the lake. Darker stained water will warm up faster, so fish may be in depths of four feet to six feet of water, whereas on clear lakes, the bass may be holding in the eight to twelve foot depths. We all like to hit the lakes at first light, but during these colder water periods I want to stress that the best fishing of the day will occur when the sun is near its highest point of the day. The highest warm water temperatures of the day trigger the bass to feed more aggressively. A bass’s metabolism increases with just a few degrees of warmth in the water temperature. When you locate these pre-spawn bass, you can catch big numbers and good-sized pre-spawn females. Very often, after hooking a bass, it is not uncommon to have three or four other bass closely follow the hooked fish to your boat. Just fish slower than you would normally fish.
Another good technique in these colder water periods is to slow roll spinnerbaits in these same locations. Chartreuse is a really good color in colder water, as is white. I’d recommend gold blades for darker water, or nickel blades in clear water. Just before the fish go into the spawning phase, rattle baits become deadly too. Water temperatures ranging from 55 degrees to the low 60s is prime time to cast Rat-L-Traps and other similar rattle type crankbaits to locate hungry bass. Key in on the same areas as you would with jerk baits, targeting the warmest water you can find in the particular body of water you are on.
As the warmth of the spring continues, the water temperatures warm up to the point where the bass head for shallower water haunts to seek bedding areas. The areas they usually seek out are harder bottom areas with sand or gravel present. Areas near bulrushes often hold lots of spawning bass, as do areas of harder bottom with sunken logs present. Largemouth bass tend to spawn a little later than smallmouths in Northern Wisconsin, based on my experiences. Depending on the water clarity of the lake you are fishing, spawning bed areas will range from a foot of water to as deep as eight feet. Many of the biggest bass in a lake will spawn deeper than the smaller fish, so be aware of this when seeking out bedding areas. This is the ultimate time of year to sight fish both large and smallmouth bass. I cannot stress the importance of using exceptional quality optics when it comes to polarized fishing sunglasses. The difference between $20 sunglasses and $150 glasses is the difference between night and day. These high quality glasses allow you to spot both the actual bass beds as well as the bass holding in them. You want to use a stealthy approach on these shallower fish, especially in gin clear water. The further away your boat is from these bass, the more apt they are to strike your lure. Another good tip is NOT to throw your lures right on the bass beds. Throw past the beds and stealthily bring your lures to the beds underwater. You will catch a lot more fish this way versus throwing your lures right at the fish on their beds. This will tend to spook the bass and lessen your catch rate. I will cover water fairly fast with my trolling motor, seeking out bedding areas. I will always key in on sand or gravel bottom areas with sunken timber present or bulrush beds. These locations will always have spawning bass present every spring.
During the spawn phase, my favorite lures are four-inch tubes, rigged with a 1/8 or 1/16 oz. jighead. The lighter the jighead, the slower the fall, which really helps to trigger bites in this shallower water. You can run these tubes on either spinning or bait casting gear. I like to run either 10 lb. test in monofilament lines, or 30 lb. test in braided lines. My favorite colors are green pumpkin or pumpkinseed patterns. My all-time favorite rod I use to fish tubes or other finesse plastics is the St. Croix Avid Series AVS68MHF series spinning rod. Exceptionally lightweight and sensitive, the rod has plenty of backbone in the butt end of the rod to handle the meanest of bass. Texas rigged Lake Fork Craw Tubes are a great lure too, as are traditional skirted bass jigs with craw trailers. Senko style worms, rigged with a 5/0 hook, are another deadly lure during the spawn, especially a wacky rigged worm. A simple lift and drop retrieve will drive these spawning bass crazy. I want to again emphasize that lighter 1/16 or 1/8 oz. weighted jigs and tubes will out fish a 3/8 or ½ oz. lure because of the slower fall time, which allows a shallow bass to react to your lure faster.
As the spawning period ends, bass will begin to feed aggressively to recuperate after several weeks of sitting on their beds. Water temperatures by this time will be in the high 60s to low 70s, which will trigger these post spawn bass to hit topwater lures, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jig and craw combinations. I typically target the six to ten foot depths adjacent to the same spawning areas. Once again, the key is to cover water fairly fast, seeking out hungry post spawn bass that will bite readily. In the early morning or later evening hours, topwater lures fished in these areas can produce outstanding results. My favorite topwater lures are Storm’s Chug Bugs or the good ol’ Rebel Pop’R’s. When the bite is really on, it is not very uncommon to have two bass strike your topwater at one time. Another deadly post spawn lure is a shallow running square lipped crankbait like a square bill KVD Series 1.5 crankbait. You can fish these lures relatively fast and cover water quickly. Pick your colors based on the forage of the lake as well as the water clarity. A great complimentary lure to fish with somebody throwing a top water or square lipped crank is the safety pin style spinnerbait. These classic bass lures will pick off hungry, aggressive bass in these post spawn locations and allow you both to cover lots of water thoroughly. During the heat of the day, dock fishing during the post spawn period can provide explosive fish catching action. Tubes and jigs really shine for pitching these dock areas. Docks that end up in six to ten feet of water are, by far, much better than very shallow docks or piers.
When selecting the areas to fish bass on opening weekend, take the water temperatures and the weather conditions into account to help you select your starting locations. Every spring is different. Water temperatures will always dictate fish locations and best fishing tactics every year. Be versatile in your approach and, early in the spring, seek out the warmest water in the lake to locate active bass. I hope these tactics will assist you in catching more and larger bass every spring.
Tom Dietz is the Regional Sales Manager for Parker Compound Bows. He is a professional angler who targets muskies, bass and other species in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada. Tom competes each year in the Professional Musky Tournament Trail events and gives instructional fishing seminars across the Upper Midwest each year. He can be found on Facebook under his Tom Dietz Outdoors page.