The first part of the winter in the northern states is novel and charming. The middle months of December through February are barely tolerable, but when March rolls in like a lion, anglers that are buried in snow are losing their sanity. Cabin fever cures, like the ones we suggested in January, are no longer enough. Here are ten spring break fishing trips you can take to escape the end-of-winter blues. From largemouth bass to tarpon to tuna, we’ve got the perfect adventure for you, because T.S. Eliot was right about April, it is the cruelest month.
What to Target: Spawning striped bass. There are few places where you’ll have a better shot at 30-, 40- and 50-pound striped bass than in the early spring in the Chesapeake. These fish are fattening up for their long trek north, but they haven’t left just yet.
How to Fish: Check the most current regulations, as some baits, such as eels, are illegal to use during this time of year. However, traditional striper lures that work along the coast, including big swimbaits, plugs, jigs and baitfish imitations will all take big bass in the Bay. Find out the most prevalent bait in the area that you’re fishing and have an imitation on hand. Sebile Lures makes a wide variety of realistic hard and soft-plastic baits that have taken their share of big bass. Hint: The bass are likely gorging on herring in the spring.
Off-the-Water Drinks: The Boatyard Bar and Grill in Annapolis throws a party on the opening day of striper season every year. How can you beat that? Get an oyster shooter and crab cakes after landing your striped bass. By the way, you’ll want to start calling them ‘rockfish’ once you get south of Jersey.
Photo: Mike Bailey took this monster striper on the Potomac in April.
What to Target: Speckled Sea Trout. These voracious, toothy fish are quick to take a lure, live bait or a fly. Before the Texas summer begins to push them off to cooler waters, they are more accessible to wading fishermen and anglers with smaller boats.
How to Fish: The Zara Spook might be the most famous trout lure of all time. Worked with the classic walk-the-dog presentation, the topwater lure can be nearly irresistible to big trout, which are called “gators” down in Texas (not to be confused with the real ones, which will also hit a Zara Spook as I’ve learned).
Off-the-Water Drinks: Applebees! Just kidding, but there is one there if that’s your thing. The Padre Island Brewing Company has been making their own beer on the Island since 1995, so you can wash down your burger with something uniquely Texan. Try the Speckled Trout Stout.
Photo courtesy Rick Bach
What to Target: Part of the fun is fishing for your own bait, which mostly consists of mackerel, although the crew will have bait on board. Yellowfin tuna of giant proportions are the primary target in this fishery, but shorter trips for yellowtails are also available if you’re not up for a half-month adventure.
How to Fish: Hold on! These giant tuna aren’t for the novice angler. The crew will be more than accommodating to help you have a shot at perhaps the largest fish you’ll ever land. The Red Rooster is one of the more popular long-range boats off the California coast, but Point Loma Sportfishing offers a variety of charter options as well.
Off-the-Water Drinks: Point Loma Seafoods, located right near the Point Loma Pier. You can get a 32 oz. beer for less than eight bucks and Ahi tuna sashimi. It’s a win-win.
Photo: Jeff Debuys and Kathy Needham show of a 337-pound fish caught with Point Loma Sportfishing Charters.
What to Target: Enormous, pre-spawn largemouth bass that are beginning to protect their beds in preparation for the spawn. An 18-pound fish being caught in southern California is barely news anymore, and with a strong catch-and-release ethic among the most devout fishermen, these bass are only getting bigger.
How to Fish: The secret behind the growth of these enormous bass is their diet. The biggest fish are eating the rainbow trout that the state stocks every year, and easily adding pounds to their paunch. The range of artificial swimbaits designed to mimic a trout is vast and you can choose anything from a basic artificial swimbait to a custom wooden plug that you’ll be paying 100 dollars for and waiting a year to have crafted.
Off-the-Water Drinks: San Diego’s Gaslamp District isn’t far from some of the state’s most famous bass lakes, and it is renowned for its shopping, dining and restaurants. Try the Lucky Bastard Saloon before you hit the water, the luck might wear off.
Photo: Steve O. shared this photo of a 14.6-pound largemouth caught by Danny Baker
What to Target: Go for all three species. Stripers will be feeding on top if the water is warm enough, largemouths and spotted bass will be moving into the shallows. Don’t quit until you’ve achieved the Lanier slam.
How to Fish: Typical topwater presentations for striped bass, including plugs and poppers that make a commotion, can be effective during March. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits around rocks and wooded structure along shallow shorelines can bag you the other two species. If you need some help, guide Clay Cunningham grew up on Lanier and can put you all three species. Just make sure you watch this G&F video before you hit the water.
Off-the-Water Drinks: Pelican Pete’s Tiki Bar is right on the lake. With cold drinks, an interesting menu and live entertainment, you can’t go wrong. Wash down the fish tacos with a cold beer or cocktail.
Photo courtesy Rich Bach
Species to Target: Something’s always biting in the Keys. However, March can be a great month to target that tarpon of a lifetime. These fish are migrating north as the water warms and they will be patrolling the flats for everything from shrimp to mullet that are the length of your arm. A 150-pound fish is not a rarity in these waters, and your hands will still be shaking back at the dock after seeing them take to the sky right in front of your skiff. If you’re able to bring a tarpon boatside, it will make for the memory of a lifetime. Species like jack and snapper make for great fun that’s more accessible and enjoyable for the kids in the family, too. If you’re not excited yet, this awesome tarpon photo should do the trick.
How to Fish: Some anglers prefer to fly-fish for them, others are strictly lure purists, and many anglers will happily chunk a mullet if it means connecting. For some explosive topwater action, tie on a lure like Bomber’s Saltwater Grade Badonk-A-Donk, which looks too much like a wounded baitfish for any respectable tarpon to resist. Whether you’re fishing with a guide or by yourself, be sure to carefully handle and release these fish to protect this amazing resource.
Off-The-Water Drinks: Locals might burn an effigy of me for giving away this secret, but Smugglers’ Cove in Islamorada is one of the most fun places to unwind after a day on the water. The drinks are cold and stiff and the view of the water is tremendous. Visit on a Saturday for the live music. And if you need a place to stay, allow us to help.
Photo: Guide Bob Jones can put you on a Keys tarpon like this one.
What to Target: Florida offers an abundant variety for fishermen, but snook are one of the most beloved inshore species. They possess all the qualities of a great game fish: they are aggressive, hard-fighting, they grow large and they look pretty damn cool.
How to Fish: Snook are voracious predators and can be caught on any number of offerings, but my particular favorite is a shrimp-tipped jig. Take a bucktail jig and thread the tail of a live (never frozen) shrimp along the hook to create a natural presentation. You’re going to want to put your offering as close to the mangrove roots as possible, because that’s where the fish are hiding. Start with a slow, enticing jig and change your retrieve if that’s not getting noticed. Topwater lures, soft-plastic baitfish imitations and stickbaits can all be effective as well.
Off-the-Water Drinks: The area around Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater offers some great snook water and Clearwater is one of Florida’s most fun towns. Head there on the weekend for some lively entertainment and grab a beer at Crabby’s Bar and Grill on Clearwater Beach.
Photo courtesy Rick Bach
What to target: It is possible to catch redfish anytime of the year in Louisiana but the late spring is ideal for a cool and comfortable Louisiana experience. Air temperatures are tolerable for those not accustomed to the heat, and when shrimp start moving back into the marshes, redfish are quick to take advantage.
How to Fish: In murky water in the shallow marshes, a gold spoon on a medium-weight spinning rod will attract most any redfish. If the spoon’s not producing, tie on a D.O.A. Shrimp. These soft-plastic shrimp imitators have been around forever for a reason: they catch fish. Vary the speed and nature of your retrieve until you find out what works. You’ll know when your rod gets bent like a U.
Off-The-Water Drinks: If you go to the New Orleans area and visit Bourbon Street for a bar crawl, you will feel every bit like the tourist that you are. However, if you return from New Orleans and admit that you in fact did not visit Bourbon Street, you will feel like the idiot that you are. If you can make it to the end, give yourself a pat on the back. And yes, you can take that beer “to go.”
Photo: Guide Rocky Thickstun shows of a chunky red.
What to Target: Enormous largemouth bass. As the water begins to warm on Texas’ famous bass lakes, the fish move into shallower water in preparation for the spawn, making them an easier target for anglers. These fish can easily top ten pounds and we know there are at least a few 20s swimming around in the state somewhere.
How to Fish: California loves its large swimbaits, but in Texas, tradition rules. Spinnerbaits, jigs, enormous soft-plastic worms (rigged Texas-style, of course) and crankbaits can all take big fish. A rattling crankbait can be a deadly weapon in your arsenal if it’s bumped off structure on the shallow flats of famous lakes like Lake Fork, which consistently produces some of the state’s biggest fish every spring. Here are the best crankbaits to throw.
Off-The-Water Drinks: In the nearby town of Tyler, you’ll find Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q. Leaving Texas without BBQ stains on your hands, shirt and pants is just plain wrong. A full bar and live music should complete the experience.
Photo: Fork guide Randy Oldfield shows off a giant bass that is typical on Lake Fork.
What to Target: March is prime time for yellowfin tuna, and some big bluefin tuna are likely still hanging around as well. Yellowfin tuna pushing 100 pounds can give anglers a great fight on relatively light tackle, and a great meal afterward.
How to Fish: If you’ve never fished the complicated waters of the Gulf Stream, it’s best to hire a charter captain with experience. He will know exactly the temperature breaks to target, the baits to troll and the speed to troll them at. Rigged ballyhoo are one of the most popular offerings for a variety of species. Capt. Rom Whitaker is one of the best in the business.
Off-the-Water Drinks: The beararcheryproducts.comTale of the Whale Bar and Grill was founded by a man who traveled the world in the Air Force, all the while seeking out the best culinary experiences to bring back to Nags Head, North Carolina. The waterfront dining experience can’t be beat.
Photo: Get in touch with Rom when you’re on the Outer Banks.
Where are you going fishing for your spring vacation? Share with us in the comments!