April 27, 2022
- This bass-fishing article was featured in the Midwest edition of the April's Game & Fish Magazine. Learn how to subscribe.
As a bass angler, there’s a lot to love about April. Winter’s chill is mostly over—though there’s still enough cold weather blowing through to keep one eye on the forecast. It’s often very warm—but certainly not summery.
Meanwhile, bass are either preparing to spawn, already in the process of spawning or have just finished spawning. There’s just enough going on to keep you guessing—wondering if you should zig…or zag. However, despite all the anticipation for spring bass fishing trips, the excitement often turns to frustration over the bass you don’t catch.
The moral here is: Don’t count your bass before they’re caught…even in the spring. So, consider simplifying your fishing. In fact, you can trim your bait selection to three classic lure types that cover the top, middle and bottom of the water column.
Sometimes simpler is better, and that’s certainly true for spring bass fishing.
Who doesn’t like catching bass on topwater baits? There’s something magical about a good fish annihilating a surface lure that just can’t be duplicated with a subsurface strike, and over much of the Midwest, April is the first month to produce consistent topwater action.
If the weather and water are very warm, various topwater baits can produce, depending on certain variables. For instance, walking baits like the Heddon Zara Spook are great if the bass are active, but it takes an aggressive retrieve to get them to “walk.” Buzzbaits often require a faster retrieve than bass liken this time of year. Poppers are fine, but anglers often fish them too fast.
However, one style really stands out—prop baits like the Smithwick Devil’s Horse, Berkley Spin Rocket and River2Sea Chris Lane Big Mistake. What makes the prop bait special at this time is you can breathe life into it in a small space and with the slightest twitch of your rod tip.
When the likely strike zone is measured in a few short feet, the prop bait gives you the most action per inch, tempting bass that may be lethargic, protecting a nest or guarding fry.
Ply the top when the water is in the high 60s or 70s or when you suspect bass are in the extreme shallows for spawning or feeding. In the early part of the spawning season, look to protected areas in the northwest part of your favorite fishery—where the water warms first—and target shallow cover like brush, stumps, grass and boat docks.
A key to being a great prop bait angler is accurate casting. You can’t be timid when casting these lures, which have two or three treble hooks, if you hope to fish the best cover. Good gear will help. A 7-foot, medium-action casting rod and medium- or high-speed reel spooled with monofilament testing at least 14 pounds is best. As an alternative, use braid as your main line along with a short monofilament leader, but under no circumstances should you use all braid or fluorocarbon. Braid without a mono leader will tangle in the front prop; fluorocarbon sinks, destroying the action of the lure.
IN THE MIDDLE
For generations, bass anglers have considered the jerkbait to be a cold-water lure, but that’s not entirely accurate. Jerkbaits are great lures whenever bass are holding in the mid-depths (4 to 10 feet) and especially when they’re targeting baitfish or are a bit lethargic.
Recent successes on the national tournament trails have brought a new focus to the jerkbait. Hank Cherry posted back-to-back Bassmaster Classic wins in March 2020 and June 2021—both on jerkbaits and under extremely different conditions.
Lures like the Berkley Stunna, Megabass Vision 110, Smithwick Rogue and SPRO Mike McClelland McStick are just a few examples of outstanding jerkbaits that are proven fish catchers. The best colors tend to match the baitfish in your waters, and suspending models often outproduce floaters because they stay in the strike zone longer. 12
Spring jerkbaiting is often best just before the bass move into spawning areas and right after they leave the nesting grounds. That’s when they can be found off points, around weed lines, near riprap, in standing timber or suspending off docks and bridge pilings.
The best jerkbait retrieve is something that varies from day to day or even hour to hour. Experiment until you find the cadence that bass respond to at that moment.
A good general rule for jerkbait retrieves, though, is to give the lure a few hard snaps to get it down near its maximum depth before shifting to a series of sharp twitches. A lot of very successful anglers will default to a twitch-twitch-pause retrieve in which the pause varies in duration based on how lethargic the fish seem to be. If the water’s cold (below 60 degrees) or the action’s slow, the pauses get longer.
ON THE BOTTOM
Before we dig into the bottom approach, one note is important. Bass can be bottom-oriented in two feet of water or 40 feet of water, and this time of year, the best depth is likely to be nearer the former than the latter, especially if the bass in your waters are spawning.
Any number of bass baits can help you ply the bottom and get strikes, but one moves to the head of the class—the jig and soft-plastic trailer.
Why the jig over the plastic worm, a deep-diving crankbait or some other bottom-crawler? There are a couple of reasons.
First, the jig is likely the best crayfish imitator in the lure world, and crayfish are becoming abundant over much of the Midwest throughout April. After hibernating through the winter, they’re now out and very vulnerable.
Second, the jig is extremely versatile, snag-resistant and a renowned big-fish bait. You can cast a jig into just about any cover and expect to get it back, often attached to a nice bass.
There are lots of different jig styles on the market, but two in particular outperform the rest this time of year—the swim jig and the flipping jig. Head styles vary between the two, but the biggest difference is usually the hook. A flipping jig hook will be of a much heavier gauge, requiring heavier line and a rod with a heavier action. The swim jig will likely have a more streamlined head and a lighter wire hook.
The swim jig is a great tool for covering water in the spring. You can cast it around shallow cover or structure and slowly swim it back to the boat, much like slow-rolling a spinnerbait.
The best retrieve is often one that hugs the bottom and bumps into anything and everything that a bass might call home. After contact, be prepared to set the hook.
The flipping jig is best in heavy cover, in dingy water or when the situation calls for precise presentations to tight spots. Here, strikes are most likely to come on the initial fall.
Successful jig trailers can range from the chunk style to small creature baits with lots of wiggly appendages. Generally, you should choose your trailer based on water temperature. The colder the water, the less action you want. If the water’s in the 50s, start with a chunk. If it’s in the 70s, go with something that really moves.
SPRING SWEET SPOTS FOR MIDWEST BASS
There are several Midwest hot spots where the spring bass fishing action approaches “can’t-miss” status. If you’re looking to trailer up the boat and go, check out these five options.
- Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri: With 54,000 surface acres, LOZ (as it’s often called) has plenty of water to go around and more different bass species than you can shake a graphite rod at. Boat docks are the key shallow cover here, and a well-placed jerkbait might just tempt the pre-spawn lunker of a lifetime.
- Kentucky Lake, Kentucky: At 160,000 acres, Kentucky Lake is legendary bass water that extends from the Bluegrass State into Tennessee. Invasive carp have adversely affected the fishery, but the fishing is still excellent, and April is a great time to fish here. Hit the backs of pockets as bass prepare to spawn. Work the 5- to 12-foot depths with jerkbaits and jigs, then—as the month progresses—move shallower with jigs and prop baits.
- Newton Lake, Illinois: Covering just 1,750 acres, Newton is one of the smaller lakes on this list, but among the most impressive. Recent changes to the regulations of hot-water discharge here—namely less generation—may be impacting fishing pressure more than the bass, which are still larger than average.
- Lake Wanahoo, Nebraska: This tiny lake (637 acres) offers lots of cover, and its many shallow, rocky areas are ideal for April jerkbaits. If the weather’s cold, increase the length of your pause between twitches.
- Table Rock Lake, Missouri: Another Show-Me gem, Table Rock can be extremely clear, even during periods of spring runoff. Make long casts and choose natural colors. Jerkbaits shine here in the spring.
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