Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Consistent success on early-season bass requires proficiency with a wide variety of presentations aimed at the many habitats these fish use at this time of year.
Whether you are talking largemouths or smallmouths in rivers or lakes, spring is a time of rapid change for bass. Following a winter of limited activity, warming water and the need to feed trigger initial early-season movements to the shallows. As water temperatures increase, serious nesting begins.
Another transition happens following the spawn as fish gradually disperse from the shallows, eventually setting up in areas that provide the proper blend of food and cover for the summer season.
Much is happening in the world of bass right now, which means they likely won’t be doing the same thing from week to week, sometimes even day to day. The successful angler will do whatever is necessary to adapt to these changes.
What follows is a look at several early-season presentation options that cover a variety of situations from open water to heavy cover, in still water and flowing currents.
In an effort to avoid targeting bass when they are actually on their beds, these tactics are geared toward the pre-spawn and post-spawn periods. Also, before uncovering the boat for that first spring fling with bass, be sure to check your state’s regulations for restrictions on springtime bass fishing.
SKIRTED AND BUCKTAIL JIGS
Early-spring bass, largemouths in particular, make use of a variety of habitats where a skirted jig is an ideal lure selection. Coupled with a natural or artificial frog-shaped trailer, this offering seems to trigger bites from the larger bass during the spring, particularly during the pre-spawn period.
Skirted jigs employ a heavy wire hook, weighted head and a multi-strand synthetic skirt. Some models also feature rattles.
Skirted bass jigs fall into the power-fishing category, and are best suited for being pitched into thick cover, such as weeds and wood. Laydown trees, especially those exposed to the warming rays of the sun, provide springtime largemouths with cover and warmth. The same can be said of brushpiles in shallow water, as well as beaver lodges. Many good-quality bass lakes feature quick- growing submergent weed cover at this time of year that will harbor largemouths when the conditions are right.
Pitching and flipping skirted jigs typically is not a finesse tactic. Relatively heavy casting tackle, such as a 6-foot, 10-inch rod with 16-pound-test fluorocarbon line, makes an ideal setup for working snag-choked cover.
There are exceptions to the skirted jigs-heavy cover relationship. Some of my most productive early-spring largemouth fishing has been on coverless flats adjacent to secondary creek channels.
During warming trends, 4- to 6-pound largemouths hit the flats to feed. The hot lure is usually a small, skirted jig — 1/4 to 3/8 ounce — dressed with a pork trailer and hopped across the flat.
Simple yet deadly offerings, bucktail jigs are composed of a leadhead jig with a 3-inch body made of hair, such as deer hair. Though natural bucktail works well, the hair can be dyed a variety of colors. Commonly, the head of the jig is painted, too, often complete with eyes.
If one word summed up the attributes of the bucktail jig, it would be versatility. A bucktail can be jigged, swam, snap-jigged and vertically jigged. It can be worked around cover and in open water. One of the primary attractions of a bucktail is the way the hair “breathes” underwater. This action suggests a living creature.
Bucktails can be fished bare, or may be tipped with a live or artificial trailer.
Bass, smallmouths in particular, will often go on a bucktail bite, and at times, these jigs heavily outproduce other presentations. I’ve seen this happen on natural lakes during the pre-spawn period when the fish were holding in short, newly emerging grass along a dropoff. By snap-jigging bucktails as the wind pushed the boat along the dropoff, good numbers of 2- to 4- pound smallies were taken. Bucktails work best fished on medium-power spinning rods with a fairly fast action. A good outfit is a 6-foot rod coupled with 8-pound-test copolymer line.
Soft-bodied tube lures are also versatile bass baits, applicable in many early-season scenarios. Whether you’re fishing the thick cover of a reservoir to a quiet eddy on a smallmouth stream, tubes are something every bass angler should carry throughout the season, especially during the spring.
As the name implies, the tube lure is a hollow, cylindrical soft-bodied bait that measures 3 to 4 inches long (in models intended for bass). The tail of the tube is tentacle-like, often called a broom tail. Tube bodies may be found in a vast array of colors.
On the flowing waters that are home to smallmouth bass, quiet pockets close to shore tend to collect fish at this time. River and stream smallies will be found in faster water during the summer, but springtime fish tend to shy away from strong current. Bank sections crowded with rocks or boulders often provide the current breaks smallies prefer at this time.
The point where the water quickly breaks into deeper pools is a situation in which a tube fished on an insert-style leadhead jig is ideal. The leadhead is pushed up through the hollow body of the bait. When completely inserted, the line tie is pushed through the body of the bait. The head of the insert-style jighead is narrow and tapered so it may be slid into the bait without ripping it up. Wetting the jighead for a bit of lubrication aids this process.
The tube may also be rigged the opposite direction, by inserting the point of the hook at the spot where the line tie will be. Work the hook and then the leadhead into the tube until the line tie is at the original point of entry. Leadheads that feature weed guards must be rigged in this direction.
One-eighth-ounce jigheads are about right in most flowing water situations.
For the boat angler, it is usually best to allow the boat to drift with the current while pitching casts to the pockets of quiet water next to shore. I like to slow the drift of my boat just a bit, making occasional steering corrections and just enough thrust to slow the boat’s downriver drift.
Early spring is one of the best times for the shore or wading angler to score well on spring smallies. It’s a simple matter to locate slow-moving pools on large creeks and small rivers, places where bass will congregate until the water warms. Hop a tube jig along the bottom of the deeper pools. In the area toward the tail of the hole, where actively feeding smallies often lie, pick up the pace a bit and swim the tube just over the bottom.