Early-Season Bass At Lake Pleasant

Early-Season Bass At Lake Pleasant

February is a transition month on Lake Pleasant. So Rocky Mountain Game & Fish went to the pros to find out how to fish this lake with bass deep or shallow. (February 2010)

Lake Pleasant, just 30 miles north of Phoenix, is the ideal place for a bass fisherman to be in February. While many bass anglers in colder parts of the country are still able to walk across their favorite fishing holes, the bass at Pleasant are in transition, moving up into shallow water in preparation for the spawn. If it's a warm year, the fish may already be on the beds in February.

Pleasant Harbor Marian sprawls out across Lake Pleasant. While you can still walk on most lakes up north, Pleasant is primed for bass fishing by February.
Photo by Margie Anderson.

Desert rats consider the fabulous February fishing to be a reward for surviving the blazing summers.

Ben Koller of The Hook-Up spends most of his time at Lake Pleasant. The Hook-Up has a full-service tackle shop and guide service right at the lake, so he knows his stuff.

"Whether the fish are deep or shallow, they are still going to be in transition in February," said Koller. This means they are going to be on the move most of the time, so you need to pick your presentation accordingly.

If you're planning a trip to Lake Pleasant in February, pack both shallow- and deep-water baits because you never know exactly what the weather will do.

Here are some techniques to consider once you get there and know what the fish are doing.

DEEP PRE-SPAWN BASS
If the water temperature is below 55, odds are that most of the bass will still be in deep water. In February, the water level is usually high and the water is gin-clear. Deep water in Arizona can mean 35-40 feet, so don't be afraid to move away from shore.

A good lake map is invaluable when you're fishing deep. The bass will be using channels, long points, offshore submerged humps and reefs.

At Lake Pleasant, there is a lot of unmarked structure, and the only way to find it is to motor around and watch your graph or find it on a map. The water level at Pleasant fluctuates by up to 100 vertical feet each year.

If the lake is at full pool, reading the map is fairly easy. That easy moment is fleeting, so you will benefit from marking your map ahead of time. Get a selection of permanent markers with fine points in different colors and mark 10- or 20-foot intervals on the map by following the contour lines. Almost immediately you'll realize that points, humps and reefs are suddenly popping out all over the place.

You can check the current lake levels online or at the ramp. The ramp has the elevations engraved right in the concrete, so all you have to do is look down as you walk to your boat.

Full pool is 1,702, so if the water level is at about 1,680, you know that your 20-foot mark is the shore. Look for good structure at the 40- to 60-foot marks in that case. If you've marked the lines in different colors, this is easy.

Drop-Shotting
Nitro Pro Gary Senft has great success with a drop-shot at Pleasant in winter. Color and leader length are key. Senft sticks to 4 1/2-inch worms in winter, mostly Robo Worms in morning dawn, oxblood, Aaron's magic and shad colors. An 8- to 10-inch leader seems to work best.

Senft generally starts out on steeper rocky banks or long points and finds that he catches most of his fish in 25 to 30 feet. As the water warms up in the afternoon, the fish move up. He uses 6-pound-test fluorocarbon line and fishes very slowly, simply dropping it down and dragging it inches at a time. The fish don't usually grab the worm and run at this time of year -- they simply pick it up and hold on to it. You have to lift the worm now and then to detect the fish.

Senft will give a good spot 15 or 20 minutes before moving on. There is a lot of dynamite structure at Pleasant, so don't stay at one spot if it isn't doing you any good.

If the fishing is really tough, Senft will often position the boat shallow and fish his drop-shot uphill. Sometimes just that difference will make them start to bite.

Channel bends are usually very good places to find bass, and there are many ways to fish them. Just about any lure that will get down there will do, but slower presentations are better in colder water. The fish may be as deep as 35 to 50 feet, so once you find a good channel on the map, zigzag over it with the big motor and keep an eye on your graph. Fish good structure whether you see fish on it or not. Try spinnerbaits, deep-diving crankbaits and jerkbaits, Carolina- or Texas-rigged worms, jigs, spoons and even in-line spinners.

Every cut or cove that you see is formed by a desert wash, a dry streambed. That means that whether or not it is marked on the map, there is a channel in every cut and cove. Look at the shoreline to get an idea of what is under the water. Those desert trees are still there under the surface, even after all these years. The rocky terrain doesn't end at the water line.

Be prepared to lose some lures, but also be prepared to get a hit at any time. You never know when the big one will bite at Pleasant. The lake record is around 14 pounds, and there are plenty of 5-pounders around.

Big Baits
Bass pro John Murray cut his teeth on Lake Pleasant bass. Murray likes to use big, slow-motion lures like large spinnerbaits, a jig-and-pig or a jumbo crankbait for these deep-water pre-spawn bass. These lures let him cover a lot of water and still present the bait slowly. He concentrates on ridges, channels, dropoffs on the edges of flats and steeper structure.

Murray crawls these lures on or close to the bottom, especially in areas with salt cedars or other trees in the water. These thickets will hold entire schools of bass, Murray said. He will go in the back of a wash and look for the thickest patches of trees (a tree top can be sticking out of 35 feet of water in some of the coves), then start out slow-rolling a big white spinnerbait or hopping a jig-and-pig. If you catch one, you can be sure there are others in there.

When you're fishing these giant thickets you really have to pay attention to where you catch your fish. There will be what seems like miles of brush, and for some reason all the fish will be on one or two spots.

Murray likes big tandem willow-leaf blade spinnerbaits with a long ribbon-tail trailer. Use shad colors such as white with silver blades or white

with silver and a trailing gold blade. A touch of light blue in the skirt can be attractive to Lake Pleasant bass.

Murray's lure choice is strictly a matter of cover. He chooses the bait that will best probe whatever cover he's faced with. Often the bite feels like someone cut your line. With a spinnerbait, it will feel like the blades have gone missing. If the vibration changes or something just feels different, set the hook.

If he feels like he has completely saturated a good area with a spinnerbait, Murray will go over it again with a jig-and-pig. He'll also use a jig-and-pig if the fish have been pressured.

Spoons
It would be totally remiss to talk about fishing deep at Lake Pleasant without discussing spoons. Almost every seasoned Pleasant angler has a spoon tied on at all times. If you see a cluster of boats out in the middle of open water in Coles Bay, you can bet they are all ripping spoons off the bottom.

Some of the favorites are the blue and silver Crippled Herring, Kastmasters and a good old Hopkins spoon. Use at least a 3/4-ouncer.

If you see bass on the graph, you can drop a spoon down to them. Just let it fall over the side and wait until it hits bottom. Reel the line up taut, then give it another crank or two to get it up off the bottom. Then just start ripping the spoon and letting it fall on a taut line. If you let it fall on slack line, you'll miss the bite.

Be prepared to catch white bass or stripers when you're fishing spoons. There are a lot of them in the lake.

SHALLOW TECHNIQUES
Jerkbaits
One of the absolute best shallow-water baits for pre-spawn bass at Lake Pleasant is a jerkbait. There are so many little coves and cuts at Pleasant that you couldn't possibly fish them all in a day, but a rip bait will let you cover quite a few of them.

Murray likes clown Rogues (red head and yellow back). Other high-production rip baits at Pleasant include Pointer 100s by Lucky Craft, Bomber Long A's and Sebile ACAST Minnows.

For some reason, that clown color really works with the Rogues, but in general, you can stick to natural shad colors, maybe with a touch of blue.

Rip-bait king Gary Dobyns chooses rip baits by depth. He picks up a rip bait that will fish close to the bottom.

John Murray concentrates on depths of less than 8 feet when he's fishing for shallow pre-spawn bass at Pleasant, so fairly shallow-running rip baits are ideal.

Just cast to shore, and cover as much water as you possibly can. Get your jerkbait past any stickups and work it so it passes close by. In that clear water, your biggest problem will be trying not to jerk it away from them when you see them dart out of the brush to take it.

Swimbaits
Dean Farrell catches big fish at Pleasant on swimbaits and crankbaits. He has one swimbait that looks like a small carp. It's really ugly and the bass smack it like crazy. It's an Osprey Swimbait, and Farrell fishes it slowly.

"They'll hit it twice," Farrell said. "They either stop it, or they take it out of your hands. They're vicious strikes."

Because of these hard strikes, Farrell uses braid and a Carolina rig pole.

"Most guys don't throw swimbaits enough. They just don't stick with it long enough to realize what great lures they are, especially for big fish," said Farrell.

Ben Koller likes a swimbait by Top Shelf. The smaller one is ideal for moving around quickly and covering water for lots of action, usually with smaller fish. The bigger one targets big bass, especially those big pre-spawn females that are looking to feed up before spawning.

"Make long casts and reel it back slowly," Koller said. He likes to find lanes between brush and trees, especially in shallow areas with quick access to deeper water. Points, flats, ledges, humps and reefs are all good.

Koller will also look in deep water for those submerged trees whose tops are several feet under the surface. Running a swimbait over those is an often-overlooked way to bag a trophy.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

  •  There are two marinas at Lake Pleasant now, so getting gas and supplies is easy.

  •  There are restaurants at the lake as well as stores, plus it's so close to Phoenix that you won't have any problem. The Hook-Up (623-412-3474) is on the east side of the lake. Call for current fishing conditions or to inquire about guide trips.

  •  Shore-fishermen can find access to good water all over the west side of the lake. Enter through the county park.

  •  A map of the park is online at www.maricopa.gov/parks/lake_pleasant/Maps.aspx.

  •  The Agua Fria River arm is closed to boat traffic from Dec. 15 to June 15 for nesting eagles, but that leaves a lot of lake to fish.
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