Gerald Almy: Three early spring bass tactics
Spring largemouth bass fishing offers lots of enticements. But in the end, the main attraction boils down to one thing: huge fish. During no other period is such a large percentage of the adult bass population concentrated near shore where most of us with average fishing skills are best at catching them.
During winter the situation is different. The warmest waters and most fish are usually hunkered down deep offshore. But as daylight hours increase, temperatures rise, and wind patterns shift, warm water and baitfish are found in the mid-level depths and shallows. Seeking out this warm water and food, bass move shoreward.
Not only that, but rising temperatures also increase the fish’s metabolism. That makes them more likely to take a swipe when your lure swims past them.
To make the best of this rich opportunity, keep a variety of tactics in your arsenal to turn to. Here are three proven methods to try for transitional and shallow-water bass in early spring.
Crawl a Jig with Pork Rind Dressing. This is one of the most consistent early spring patterns of all. It’s great for probing transition levels in the 8 to 15-foot range as fish move up out of the depths, but not quite into thin water.
Frog, lizard, and eel trailers are all good. The main thing is that it looks meaty. Jig weights of ¼-3/4 ounce are useful, depending on the depth you’re fishing. Weedguards are helpful, since you want to work the offering right through the thickest brush, timber, and rock piles. Black, black/blue, purple, and brown are good colors for the pork. In general black is best for the jig, with brown an alternate choice.
Cast out and let the offering sink freely to the bottom. Watch the line carefully, though. A take may come as the lure and pork trailer drops. If a fish doesn’t strike, begin a smooth retrieve with no rod movement at all. Simply crawl the offering over the bottom cover.
If a smooth, bottom-nudging presentation doesn’t score, try lifting and dropping the jig with pauses in between. Expect most strikes to come as the jig drops. Set the hooks at the slightest indication of a take and reel hard to tighten up the pressure on the fish.
Rip a Rattle Bait. Sinking lipless crankbaits are one of the best choices possible when bass are becoming more active in early spring. The Rat-L-Trap, Cordell Super Spot, Rattlin’ Rapala, and Rippin’ Rap are a few excellent versions.
I particularly like these lures when fish are in medium to shallow depths and weather patterns are in a warming or stable trend. Cast to shoreline cover, flats, rocks, brush, docks, and stump fields. Crank back with a moderate-to-fast retrieve.
Concentrate on north shorelines and be sure to cast toward boat docks with metal roofs that soak in the sun and radiate heat back into the water. Rocks that stick up out of the surface also convey heat to the surrounding area.
For the most part, half-ounce baits are best, but don’t hesitate to try a smaller version on clear lakes or during cold snaps. If bass are particularly aggressive or the water is stainy, a ¾-ounce vibrator can draw slamming strikes. Top colors are chrome/black, chrome/blue, shad, and firetiger.
If fish haven’t moved shallow yet or have pulled back slightly because of a cooling trend, cast farther out, covering shoals, offshore humps, dropoffs, submerged brush, and points. Let the lure sink close to the bottom, then reel back at a slow to moderate clip.
Also try pausing occasionally for a few seconds to let the bait drop down like a wounded shad as it passes by brush, rocks, and ledges. Be ready for a strike the instant you resume the retrieve.
Twitch a Thin-Minnow Plug. When bass really start to move shallow, these lures can provide fantastic spring action. The classic Rapala Original Floating Minnow is still hard to beat but there are many other similar lures that score well including the Rebel Minnow and Bomber Long A. These are great choices in calm weather, particularly after several days of a warming trend.
Simply casting and reeling these lures in slow and steady is often the best tactic. At other times, twitching them erratically pays off. Cast the bait over shallow bars and shoals, near rocks, early-emerging vegetation, docks, submerged trees, stumps and riprap along roads and bridges.
Allow the waves from the lure’s landing to dissipate, and then twitch it once. Pause for a few seconds, and then twitch again. If no strike comes, jerk the lure a third time, more violently. After that, reel steadily back before casting to a new target.
Wood models land more gently and are especially good for skittish, hard-pressured fish and clear-water conditions. Use plastic versions if you need greater casting distance or if it’s windy. Models from 3 ½ to 7 inches can be used, but 4-5 inches is generally the best size for early season largemouths. That’s big enough to offer a nice mouthful to a hungry bass, but not large enough to intimidate him.
Whether you have to scour the bottom with a jig-and-pork or can twitch a thin-minnow plug in the shallows, early season is hard to beat for the chance at a bass of a lifetime.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.