Now’s the time to enjoy an amazing spring bass bite almost any way you like it. These tips will help you catch even more.
By Jason Haley
April showers bring more than May flowers.
Picture full, healthy lakes and rivers; increasingly stable, sunny weather; and bass fattening up on everything they can find to eat. Now’s the time to enjoy an amazing bass bite the way you like it. Here’s how.
Most lakes should be fishing like dynamite. Key to catching spring bass, however, is recognizing the spawning stage of the bass. It will vary by region, latitude and, sometimes, individual waters. Surface temps, water levels and local climate all play a part.
The Spawn Is On
You can bet all popular bass species are trying to spawn right now, if they haven’t already, with some exceptions. Fish shallow. Look for flats and coves near deep water. Avoid muddy bottoms. Sometimes, buck bass sweep it off to find gravel or hard bottom but will generally gravitate to more suitable areas.
If there’s any water clarity, cruise the shoreline and sight-fish (i.e., look for bedding fish or shallow cruisers). The key is gauging their mood. Ideally, daily waves of pre-spawn bass are heading to the shorelines. These will be easiest to catch and you can enjoy some magic days.
It’s not always “lonely on top.” This month, topwater fishing for spring bass can be stellar. One of the best May days I’ve experienced came throwing a dual-prop plug. My journal entry was noted, “May — Topwater (Crazy Shad – Smokey Joe color).” Despite not having fished the lake in a calendar year, we started blindly casting poppers.
Presentation was key. You had to hit within 6 inches of the bank, let it sit until the last impact wave dissipated, then give it a tiny twitch, just enough to move the blades and move the bait less than a foot. Crunch! Nearly every big female bit in that fashion, except one that was farther offshore on a rocky flat.
Many anglers neglect topwater until summer. But anytime water temperatures exceed 55 degrees, I give it a chance. If you observe a fry-ball, back off and cast within striking distance. Mama or daddy will usually arrive quickly.
Fly Rod Facts
Fly-fishing for bass is an overlooked fishing technique. While the tournament-winning, marabou float-n-fly we’ve heard so much about in recent years is a clear-water, winter pattern, topwater popper-type flies and large deer-hair flies can catch good numbers now.
The riprap along dams is a good place to start, as well as the still backwaters where large boats can’t reach.
May fishing can vary wildly with weather but also by region. One day, waves of bass are coming at you in a creek, canal or spawning bay; then, a cold storm backs off the fish and makes it impossible to hold the boat or see what you were doing before. Be ready to adapt.
You can also find what you want by traveling. Spring in the Southwest might arrive in February, but spring in the Pacific Northwest could be as late as June.
I fished a May tournament where it was 105 degrees outside. It was so hot, the boat vinyl started melting!
The winner found a bank loaded with big females glued to beds. I caught my fish throwing Texas-rigged worms and crawdad cranks in deeper water. Another buddy did better flipping to suspended fish in tree tops. Not all bass are on the same program.
One big-fish hunter I know sits out early spring and targets monster bass with monster baits this month. In 2015, he landed a 10.2-pound spotted bass on a big glide-bait. Even though some of these pigs sport monster bellies, many aren’t ready to spawn yet and are still chasing their preferred food in deep, open water.
Chart A Course
Eliminate dead water fast by charting out your day. Guys will be beating the banks this month, as they should, but sometimes popular, pressured fisheries require something different. Offshore humps, flooded timber, rock piles, old road beds, etc., can harbor the bass that people are struggling to find.
Local knowledge and history help, but a good mapping program helps more. Before a trip, I typically glance at topographic contours, spawning areas, hazards, launch facilities, floating restrooms and other features of a fishery while sitting in my garage. This saves time.
Last May, I entered a large open area on a natural lake I was only vaguely familiar with. On the first day of practice, I was flying down the lake and noticed shallow water and submerged timber on my graph. I slowed to eyeball it and saw three inches of a green willow sticking up, way offshore. I would have never noticed it without my chip, which includes 3D views, satellite overlays, photos and countless lakes in 12 Western states. Boaters contribute fresh chart data and users can update their charts daily. I weighed fish from this spot over the course of the three-day event and never had company. I almost felt guilty stumbling onto the spot.
More spring bass tips
- Pro Bass Tips for Weekend Anglers from 48th Bassmaster Classic
- 10 Questions with Pro Bass Angler Keith Poche
- Quick Tip: Flipping Bass on the Head
- America’s Best Bass Fishing 2018
- Bass Fishing: Now Is Time for Suspending Jerkbaits
Rivers warm slower and come-on later than lakes but should be awake now. My tournament partner’s pops, Mark, honed his bass skills on a local river. The two of them enjoy great bass fishing every year in his Tracker. It’s high-elevation water and it’s cold in the winter but slow-moving and ripe in late spring.
Channel bends equal bent rods. There’s a reason lake maps identify historic river channel swings. Find where the current overflows the low-water channel and slows to backwater before hitting the bank. If there are stumps or trees, that’s even better. That’s where the bass should be stacked with their noses into the current. Throw a spinner or float a worm downstream on slack line. We used to catch a ton of river bass on good ol’ Rooster Tails in green, brown or black.
If the bass are not on the river bends, they’ll be nearby. Milk the area. One of my favorite spots on a well-known Western lake is where the historic river channel makes a series of bends within a short distance, forming point bars and oxbows. The area pulls fish for miles.
Feeder creeks also form nice washes or bends as they enter the main river. Once, a friend and I caught smallmouth bass all day where a creek dumped into the main river. The sweet spot was about as big as a car hood. Keep an eye on water temperature, if possible, though; sometimes, the temp on a tributary is right and sometimes it’s a deal breaker.
Using current to bounce a jig along the bottom is effective, as is pulling a small crankbait and drifting bait trout-style.
Match The Hatch
I took my son on a smallmouth fishing trip years ago on a great Western river. It was a beautiful, private meandering section loaded with bass. I had no doubt we’d catch them our way and probably educate our guide in the process.
There was one problem. My stuff didn’t resemble the food source in the river and my favorite baits weren’t working. I was amazed. We followed advice and retied some shad-colored Zoom Super Flukes and curly-tail worms on round-head jigs. Like magic, we started catching fish.
Flies are a great way to match the hatch. Expect major salmonfly hatches this month, so go with that. Match your leader and tippets accordingly for above or below water. Cast toward the bank with adult flies. You might need to fish a foot or two below the surface with a larvae imitator early this month.
Bass scavenge on the bottom just like trout. Use line selection or a split-shot or jig to sink it, if necessary. Have a good selection ready and don’t skimp. Stick with brown, black or orange patterns, but it is mostly profile and presentation.
You can find whatever type of spring bass experience you’re looking for this month, so fish smart and enjoy!