One sure cure for cabin fever is to soak a few baits as soon as you can in the spring. The early season offers one of your best chances of the year to catch a true trophy-caliber bass; locating fish, however, is often the biggest challenge.
The farther south an angler fishes, the further along the bass will be in their spring pattern. Here are a few general locations and proven presentations that work for early-season, cold-water largemouths.
Typically, I start searching for biters along the deep edge of main-lake points, submerged brush piles near the mouths bays and especially creek-channel swings with emergent structure, such as wood or rock.
As the water warms, these fish migrate back into the coves or creeks, especially if there is an influx of fresh flowing water. Baitfish become abundant and hungry bass actively hunt the shallow flats directly adjacent the creek channels and ledges. This is when a relatively fast-moving horizontal approach works best. Neutral to inactive bass will typically stage near obvious structure along the first drop-off right next to the flats, and this is where a target-specific and vertical approach produces the best results.
When searching for active bass keep simplicity in mind. Eliminate unproductive water by starting on the deep edge and working your way shallow until you get bit. While the pattern might change daily as the water warms, bass can be very predictable this time of year because they are all preparing for the impending spawn by boosting caloric intake. Once you have the pattern established, replicate the presentation at similar structural elements across the body of water you’re fishing and you’ll contact numbers of fish.
Just like any species of fish during the calendar year, there is a myriad of bait selections that will work, but for my money, I like to stick to three classes of baits: jigs, cranks and spinnerbaits—simplicity is key!
These baits fall into three main categories: lipless, jerkbaits, and square bills. Historically, lipless cranks are a bait-of-choice in the early spring, and for good reason—they’re versatile and they catch fish. I like to work these baits quickly, using an erratic retrieve, over shallow flats in search of actively feeding fish, but this same bait will also work wonders yo-yoed over deep wood.
Jerkbaits can be dynamite over any type of submerged structure, but wood warms up faster than rock and seems to hold more fish earlier in the year. If the bite is slow, work a jerkbait as slow as you can possibly handle it. I know many bass geeks who literally let a suspending jerkbait hang for 45 seconds or more. It takes patience, but it works. The bite will almost always come on the pause, so choose a medium-test braid with a fluorocarbon leader for ultimate sensitivity and invisibility.
Square bills are ideal for bumping and grinding against wood or rock. This can be an aggressive approach that will trigger inactive fish to react. Work these baits through standing timber in a crank-and-pause presentation. Once the bait begins to dive under limbs and branches, the line tension will change. Stop reeling, let the bait rise, repeat and continue until you feel the lure clear the obstruction. A bass will typically eat as the bait is forced under horizontal limbs, or as it rises. I recommend a sensitive yet abrasion-resistant line, such as Berkley’s Original FireLine
for this presentation, as you will be dragging baits over and through wood.
KVD’s Jerkbait Secrets
Spinnerbaits are early-spring classics. Sure, these baits probably get thrown more than any other lure throughout the year, but they really shine right now! Baitfish—such as shad—school up in shallow, dark-bottom bays to feed on microscopic organisms, which also prefer the warmest water available. A spinnerbait replicates a wounded baitfish and an opportunistic bass will often take advantage.
Sometimes the fish prefer a shiny blade to a colored blade, but there are also times when the opposite is true. Experiment. This is hardly a cutting-edge tactic, but it’s quite surprising how many anglers turn up their nose at a spinnerbait simply because it seems to get overused. Primarily, the forage a spinnerbait represents is most accessible and abundant during early spring. I suggest 7/16- to ¾-ounce lure because it typically best matches the size of the available forage.
Which Spinnerbait And When?
This is another presentation that historically produces a lot of big fish in the spring. A bulky ½- to ¾-ounce, slow-moving football head jig is a great way to entice bites when fish are not willing to chase down a horizontal presentation. Dark and natural colors seem to work best this time of year, and I prefer big and bulky trailers like the Berkley’s Havoc Subwoofer
, Pit Boss
and Rocket Craw
. Drag these baits along the bottom near cover that’s adjacent to the first drop-off. But don’t overlook working these baits across shallow flats where active bass are chasing bait.
Nothing Else Working? Try Ike’s Panic Box
Again, there are plenty of options that catch fish during this phase of the season, but I have found that too many choices can complicate things. During early spring I keep eight to 10 rods on the deck of my boat, all rigged-and-ready with cranks, spinnerbaits and jigs. This can be a difficult period to find fish, but once you do—hang on.