Regardless of the type of lake you fish, there is no better time to tangle with the largest bass you have ever caught than during the March to April period.
This is the spawning season, and every mature female bass in the lake is finning its way towards shallower spawning cover. That puts the majority of the lake’s biggest bass in shallower areas that can be easily identified. There is no real need to cover the entire lake, since you know where the bass are going. If you can zero in on that small section of the body of water the bass want to occupy, your chances of connecting with a trophy fish have just increased significantly.
Just how an angler does that largely depends upon the type of water they are fishing. The South offers anglers everything from deep, rock bound, highland reservoirs, to shallower lowland reservoirs, and even some shallower natural lakes. In the more northern sections of the region, bass may just be thinking about spawning, while the extreme southern portions may see the spawn in full swing, or largely done.
The key to success during this productive season is to understand how the bass on your lakes are relating to it. That can vary by lake type.
Man-made highland reservoirs are characterized by abrupt depth changes, a lot of deep water, stark rugged contours, a notable lack of vegetation, and relatively clear water. All of these factors combine to make this type of lake the last to see significant spawning activity each spring, and the spawn is normally compressed into a much shorter period than on other lake types.
On most such lakes, actual spawning begins sometime in April, and may extend through the month of May.
March normally sees the beginning of the pre-spawn. Bass begin moving from their winter haunts to the spawning areas. The biggest factor during the first spawn of the year is finding quiet, protected water with the right bottom composition. On highland reservoirs that bottom is normally pea gravel.
This transitional process of moving from deep winter haunts to spawning areas is rather gradual. And since the spring months present one of the most unstable periods of the year, the movement process can be equally unpredictable.
A key for anglers is knowledge of the lake contours in their area. If you know where the bass tend to winter, and know where they spawn, finding their travel routes between the two is not always difficult.
An important piece of the puzzle is finding the areas they spawn in, since that is where the bass are moving to. That information can often be gleaned from simple conversation with local bait and tackle shops.
Once a number of spawning sites are determined, the next consideration is what portion of the reservoir should be checked first. As a general rule, the first spawn of the year occurs in suitable areas lying on the north, northwestern, and west side of the reservoir.
Bass are looking for calm, stable, and protected waters, and these areas are the most sheltered from the chilling effects of the northwest and north winds that accompany spring cold fronts. As well, they also receive a slightly longer exposure from the sun in its southern winter position. Thus these waters tend to warm a bit more quickly than other portions of the lake.
That doesn’t mean that legions of bass migrate to these areas. What it does mean is that the bass that live there become more active than the bass living in colder, more exposed waters.
Once you know where the bass are headed, and what part of the lake they come from, it’s simply a matter of figuring out where on the migration route the bass are in.
On some highland lakes, that migration route may be on the deeper banks themselves. It’s common for a bluff bank of sheer rock on which bass winter, to change into a more sloping bank of "chunk rock" and then to an even more gently sloping bank of pea gravel where bass may fan beds. In other cases, main-lake points leading to creek channels are staging areas.
When it comes to lure techniques during the pre-spawn, be aggressive! Larger baits can often trigger a territorial strike response, when more subtle baits may be ignored. Slow-rolling large, bladed spinnerbaits, or banging a bulky deep-diving crankbait down a sloping point may get a response when a small plastic worm does not.
Lowland reservoirs are characterized by being much shallower in their maximum depths, and they frequently contain a variety of aquatic vegetation and standing timber that can be very important in terms of the cover that bass have available to use. In addition, they are frequently criss-crossed by a maze of submerged creek channels at shallow depths.
Spawning cover may be the inside edges of grass lines, hydrilla bed edges, or shallow buck brush. In some lowland reservoirs that have become silted with age, the prime spawning cover may be a collection of fallen timber or sunken logs at the proper depth for bass to simply fan the mud off a stump and make a bed.
If you are fishing a lowland reservoir during the March through April period the most important thing you can do is find those general areas where the bass traditionally spawn. In lowland reservoirs there is a wealth of suitable spawning cover,
but bass frequently return to the same areas each year. Local tackle shops are good sources of information for locating those.
Another important factor is taking into account water levels. If the lake has recently undergone an extended period of low water, shallow areas that may have been too silted for spawning purposes can have dried out and been rejuvenated. They may be some of the best spawning sites on the lake!
If you’re not familiar with the lake, the time it takes to ask such questions is well spent.
If you’re fishing the early spawn, by all means consider confining your efforts to the north, northwest, and western portions of the reservoir, for the same reason that highland reservoir anglers do.
In many cases, these lowland reservoirs also feature darker water that warms more quickly than the clearer upland lakes. That results in an earlier spawn. On some lakes, the peak of the spawn may be in March and extend to the middle or end of April.
Once spawning areas are determined you know where bass want to ultimately wind up. If they have already arrived fine! If not, which is likely due to March and April weather being notoriously unstable, backtrack to find the holding and staging sites the bass are using. These should be along the creek channels and points leading from their winter haunts to the spawning areas.
Natural lakes are rare in many areas of the South, but are characterized by shallow depths and an abundance of vegetation. Those weed beds may include emergent plants and sub-surface grasses. That vegetation plays a major role, and unlike the two previously mentioned lake types, little spawning actually occurs along the shoreline. Key spawning areas are in the vegetation, inside the outer weed line, and generally at depths of 2 to 4 feet.
Some natural lakes occur in the northern portion of the southern region, and March may well host the beginning of the spawn. Most, however, are at more southerly latitudes. On some lakes, February is the peak of the spawn. Others see their peak in March, and by April the bedding is nearing the end. But, just because the spawn is at or near the end, there is no reason to leave the shallow vegetation the bass used to spawn.
While anglers on highland and lowland reservoirs dread the post-spawn period, natural lake anglers welcome it. Once bass on this lake type leave their beds, they are ready to feed, and they don’t have to move much to do it. Several different species of panfish move immediately into the areas where the bass just spawned to use them for their own spawn. That provides a ready food source for the bass and they take advantage of it.
Look for bass to move slightly outward, and deeper in the vegetation. Key depths are 3 to 5 feet. Such sites become major holding areas for bass after the spawn, and before the high temperatures of summer send them to deeper cover.
Depending upon the lake, this key area may be the outer edge of a grass bed or the inside edge of a hydrilla field. Bass generally feed on the edges of this cover during dim light, and retreat within it at midday.
Topwater plugs, whether hard baits or soft plastics are deadly early and late in the day when bass are roaming. If bass misses the surface bait, shifting to a jerkbait tossed in the same area can draw the fish back for another try.
Another effective bait, especially around scattered early season hydrilla along inside hydrilla edges, is a quick-moving countdown crankbait like the Rat-L-Trap and similar offerings.
Once the sun climbs high, don’t leave cover areas where you found bass. The bass likely haven’t left, and savvy anglers start flipping thicker cover within that area. This action can produce some real lunkers.