Black bass reign supreme as the most sought-after game fish in America and also the most aggressive. With voracious appetites and short tempers, black bass readily feed on small fish, crayfish, worms, lizards, insects, mice, small birds and frogs — anything they can get into their large mouths. Primarily considered residents of the Midwest and Southeast, bass also call the lakes of the southwestern U.S. home, and fishermen pursue them with great zeal. Bass are usually found in and around cover, typically hiding next to logs, docks, underwater ridges, submerged brush and rocks, or near abrupt drop-offs.
March marks the transition from cold winter waters into warming spring waters in most southwest lakes, which serves to stimulate bass appetites and reproductive urges, creating a bass fisherman’s Nirvana. According to Hookup Outfitters Guide Brian Senick, bass move up to shallower water, cruise around scouting for a suitable spawning location, and finally move into the coves and flats and the spawn begins. Spawning can last 3-4 weeks or more. March finds bass in all three phases of the spawn. It is an exciting time to be bass fishing in New Mexico.
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Senick offers the following tips: Early in pre-spawn, fish begin to stage on primary points — jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits and jigs are very effective then. Sometimes you should let suspending jerkbaits rest for up to 30 seconds and other times keep them moving continuously. Lipless crankbaits are usually run with a fast pace and jigs are worked fairly slowly. Use the same lures plus spinnerbaits as the spawn advances, but simply speed up a bit.
Once fish are on beds, soft plastic baits such as crayfish, lizards, and jigs continue to work. If sight-fishing bedded fish, simply toss the bait on the bed and work it based on the fishes’ reaction, trying to irritate them into striking.
Once fish move off the beds into post-spawn mode, topwater baits begin to shine. Also, continue to fish jerkbaits, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jigs at this time. Crayfish and shad colors are popular.
Although not a consensus, the following suggestions represent what some of the bass experts and Game and Fish Department officials consider to be the top southwest bass destinations.
Discerning fly-fishermen have long recognized The Land of Enchantment as a quality trout destination. Sound fishery management has made it a distinctive warmwater fishery as well. Nearly a mile high, most New Mexico lakes warm later in the spring. Many also endure significant level fluctuations because of summer irrigation drawdowns; thus, these lakes are highly dependent upon annual snow/rain to maintain healthy levels.
Shawn Denny, New Mexico Game and Fish warmwater fisheries biologist, advises watching the weather in early spring before heading out to fish. Avoid cold and/or windy days as the wind really dampens success. He says the bass will move into shallower water when there is no wind. Fishing normally begins to heat up from mid-March and into April.
Conchas Lake State Park
Conchas Lake on the Canadian River some 30 miles northwest of Tucumcari, holds plentiful smallmouth and some largemouth bass. It has about 70 miles of shoreline consisting of canyon walls, beaches and numerous coves, but limited shore access. Conchas is principally a smallmouth fishery. Fish will be found in typical smallmouth habitat — rocky points, cliff walls, underwater rockpiles and ledges. Bass dine on gizzard shad, sunfish and crayfish. Although there are some serious line testers in the lake, you can anticipate catching lots of average-size bass here.
Eric Frey, NM Game and Fish Sport Fish Program manager, says spring fishing should be great here since heavy rains last fall flooded Conchas, drowning lakeside brush. Move up Canadian Arm and hit the flooded juniper and cobble shoreline on the western shore just northwest of the marina and further up in the Jose Maria canyon area. Also try the gravel bar points extending into the Canadian Arm water. Large boulders provide cover there for good-sized smallmouth. On the south side of the main lake there are several small, brushy islands now submerged 10-15 feet deep which should be good in the spring.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park
Elephant Butte Reservoir on the Rio Grande is 5 miles northeast of Truth or Consequences. Essentially, it is two big basins joined by a narrow, 4-mile canyon. The upper lake is shallow with flooded brush and cedar and some rocky flats. The lower lake is deep with some shallow coves and brush-covered points. Bass gorge on a diet of threadfin and gizzard shad throughout the lake. Elephant Butte is a shore fisherman’s delight with excellent access, particularly around the Rock Canyon Marina.
Largemouth can be found throughout the reservoir while smallmouth are more common in the deeper lower basin. Richard McDonald, NM Game and Fish public affairs officer, recommends exploring the north end near the marina where the cliffs descend down into the water. Fishermen should also look into the beach area and acquatic vegetation in McCrae Canyon. On the southeast side of the lake, scout out the Jungles where there are lots of deep coves and points — mostly rocky with limited vegetation.
Navajo Lake State Park
Navajo Lake yielded the state-record smallmouth, yanking the scale down nearly to the 7-pound mark. It certainly is the best bet in New Mexico for big smallmouth. Big canyons and steep shoreline mark this lake and preclude much shore access. It is a deep lake with plentiful rocks, ledges and cliffs. Some largemouth reside in the shallower habitat around the rockslides on the upper end of the lake, but Navajo is primarily a smallmouth lake. Smallmouth are well distributed throughout the lake. Mark Wethington, NM Game and Fish Department, suggests checking rocky points in the canyons and coves up in the San Juan Arm, particularly La Jara Canyon, Francis Canyon and the Pine Arm.
Ute Lake State Park
Thirty miles northeast of Tucumcari, Ute Lake offers shore fisherman good access and several public-access areas. With a solid forage base of sunfish and crayfish, smallmouth are prospering. Frey suggests exploring several small canyons and coves on the main lake west of Ute Creek. Canyons come out into rocky points and there are a lot of fish amongst the huge boulders in the water. Fish the points around the Ute Creek entry, which is shallower and warms earlier. On the north side of the dam, big smallmouth hide out on the gravel flats that drop off into deep water. The flats are a popular pre-spawn staging area. Ute Lake is also a good choice for New Mexico anglers hoping to catch quality largemouth. It is a fertile lake with high growth rates and there are some real linebusters there.
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