These tried-and-true patterns can help you catch more spring largemouth bass this year.
By Jason Haley
March Madness is upon us, and this month can be an outstanding time for landing lunkers if you pick a winning game plan. Here, we’ll cover some proven approaches to boosting your fishing success.
Put these four tried-and-true largemouth tactics in your playbook and try them on your next bass angling excursion.
1. DRAG A CREATURE
In many areas, largemouth bass are just starting to come out of their winter doldrums. Generally, their metabolism starts to increase and their diet changes from deep-water bait-fish balls to things like crawdads in shallower water.
Depending on weather patterns and water temps, expect fish to move up and down in the water column, but also to start moving greater distances for baits. In short, they become aggressive.
Now’s the time to take advantage by creeping football head jigs, creature baits and worms across the bottom. Cast shallow to the bank and begin dragging the bait out to the boat.
Keep your rod tip down. Sweep it sideways, ever so slowly, staying in contact with rocks and other habitat. Assume the offering is being studied. Give them a chance to eat it. Don’t pull it away too fast. Stop at about 15 feet and re-cast.
Once you get bit, target that depth zone. I prefer custom jigs in March, with the heads painted brown and orange. I use Reaction Innovations Smallie Beavers in natural colors for a trailer, and always split the tail at the seam.
If I’m having trouble getting bit due to weather or targeting smaller fish, I’ll fish just the Beaver on a brown football head jig, and fish it on a spinning rod with 8-pound fluorocarbon.
Whether I’m bait-casting or spin-fishing, I’m tip-dragging a few inches at a time and sweeping the rod the same direction on hook-sets. Submerged creek bottoms or drains in 10 or 15 feet are great areas to target, especially if the banks are flat directly above and the channel is only a few feet deep.
When the crayfish imitator falls off the submerged bank and into the channel, the strike will typically occur. Expect it. Be ready. You might only get one chance at an early-spring bass, depending on water temperature and how things are trending in your area.
2. DEAD-STICK WORMS
The water is mostly clear now, without major storms to muddy things up. Bass like to sun themselves and feed on shallow flats and points, but are typically spooky.
Try making long casts to these sunny spots, and let your bait fall vertically on slack line. Watch your line until it quits falling and your bait stops. Let it sit for a while before slowly reeling the slack out. Once the line is tight, gently lift it — not to move it, merely to see if a fish it holding it. If there’s any doubt, set the hook.
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If not, move the bait a foot and dead-stick it again. Just wait. Repeat. Grab a sandwich from your lunch box. Retie your shoes. When you pick back up, there she often is. I like Texas-rigged Roboworms for this technique or Senkos in natural colors. I use a spinning rod for both.
I look for long tapering points, flats near deep water and 45-degree banks on the south-facing sides of lakes or creek arms. I’m just fishing for bass that want to be shallow. That’s a small percentage this month, but they usually mean business when they slide up.
Set the hook as soon as you bring the line tight. Keep a hook-remover handy. This technique can hook a fish deep.
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3. DEEP-WATER REACTION
Not all of the fish are moving shallow to scavenge. Most are moving up and down with the sun and weather each day and still keying on large bait balls or stocked trout in open water. It takes certain conditions, proper baits and techniques to get these fish to fire, but execution can reap heavy rewards.
Wind, mudlines or deep-water cover can increase your odds of cashing in on suspended fish. Use spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, cranks or Alabama rigs.
Sometimes bass can get too good of a look at these gaudy baits in clear water. But wind can mitigate that, disturbing the surface and creating the illusion of baitfish that are about to get away.
Wind can turn on a bite like nothing else, even in winter. I landed three big fish in a winter tournament last season on an umbrella rig, mixing it in only when the breeze was sufficient. My co-angler hooked a nice fish in the wind at the same moment on a small swimbait. The fish were revved up.
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The mudlines created by wind and waves or even boat traffic provide buffet-like conditions and new ambush cover for these predators. Slow-roll white or chartreuse blades through a mudline and into the clear water and, boom, there it is! Sometimes fish relating to the horizontal limbs of submerged trees or snags can be coaxed out by running a motion bait slowly by.
Suspending rip baits are a great choice this time of year, as well. Designed to dive and suspend at key depths, the right rip (or jerk) bait can be stopped in front of schooling bass long enough for them to stare. The next twitch of the rod tip might stop it cold with a hard-fighting bass.
Find the right cadence. It matters. It might be jerk, jerk, pause or three jerks and a long pause, or just reeling down to depth and making an occasional twitch. Once you find what they want, give it to them again and reproduce that presentation in other likely areas of the water body.
If your lake gets stocked with trout, don’t overlook trout-style swimbaits or glide baits. Some bass will still be keyed in on that food source this month. It’s normally the eye-popping big girls.
Drop-shot rigs are a pain to tie if you’re not familiar, but easy to fish. Any kid can drop one over the side of the boat and land bass. And what started out as a deep, clear-water technique to target lethargic, suspending winter bass, has evolved into an ultra-versatile application.
Typically, anglers use their fish finders to locate schools of fish and drop into them. An 18- to 24-inch leader (or drop) is tied below a small specialty hook and anchored by a pencil or tear drop weight. Any aggressive fish in the school will hit the bait as it passes through or follow it down and bite.
Sometimes you have to hold the line tight and motionless for several seconds or shake the bait in place to get bit. Setting the hook requires simply pulling up and reeling.
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Experienced drop-shot anglers sometimes shorten their drop to 6 inches and actually cast toward shore and work the bait back. The risk for hang-ups increases with this technique, particularly if there are submerged trees with horizontal limbs or large rocks. But it’s a good way to get the bait down instantly and cover water in search of aggressive fish.
Fishing through grass is easier and popular. You can even fish through heavy pads with the right setup. This form of “power-shotting” has become popular in fisheries with big largemouth. Anglers use heavier line, a heavier (sometimes 1/2-ounce) drop-shot weight, and short lead. The idea is just to punch through the grass vertically, tighten the line and then shake it a time or two.
I had a co-angler catch a 6-pound largemouth on a drop-shot and Roboworm combo last season. It’s not always about big baits. As my fishing buddy likes to say, “Keep it simple.” Enjoy the madness!