March 30, 2022
Your computer freezes up or behaves strangely. What do you do? You find a troubleshooting guide that helps identify the problem and how to fix it.
You do the same when your car is making a funny noise, your lawnmower is acting up, or your refrigerator’s ice maker is on the fritz.
While the term “troubleshooting” most often applies to technology and mechanical devices, it’s equally relevant to fishing, especially when bites get tough.
When good anglers can’t get largemouth bass to bite, they troubleshoot the problem. They rely on experience to determine why fish have lockjaw and then dig deep in their bag of tricks to find what works.
March is one month when the angler’s ability to troubleshoot is particularly important. Changing weather and water conditions this time of year make fishing more difficult than easy. And when bass don’t bite, quick workarounds are needed. Toward that end, let’s identify some common challenges anglers face in spring, as well as their solutions.
1. PROBLEM: Too Much Prey
Say you’re fishing a lake that was covered with snow for much of winter. Submerged weed beds died and decomposed due to a lack of sun. This has exposed forage animals like small sunfish and minnows, and bass are now gorging on the bounty. Because of this, fishing is difficult.
SOLUTION: Natural Swimbaits
In this scenario, fishing gets tough because easy prey is abundant. Bass become picky, and artificial lures are less likely to trick them. However, a natural-looking finesse presentation can still fool fish.
Few baits look more natural than a swimbait, so that’s a go-to lure for any savvy angler in this situation. The key is matching its size and color to those of the most abundant forage. If you see lots of little perch, use a perch-colored swimbait 3 or 4 inches long. If bluegills or shad outnumber perch, go with a properly sized bluegill or shad pattern.
Pair the soft-plastic body with a 1/8-ounce jighead in water shallower than 5 feet deep. When deeper, increase to a 1/4 ounce. Fewer weeds mean fewer snags, so leave the hook point exposed to increase hook-ups.
Cast the swimbait as far as possible and reel it in slowly—the slower the better. Hold your rod at a 10 o’clock position and ensure there’s a bow in your line between the rod tip and where the line enters the water. When a bass strikes, don’t rush. Pause until you feel the weight of the fish, then set the hook. This prevents you from pulling the lure away from a fish when it just has the tail in its mouth.
2. PROBLEM: Bright Sunlight
In this scenario, bass are moving into shallow water during part of the day as they prepare for spawning activities. The water is relatively clear, and the day is projected to be calm and bright with a cloudless blue sky. The most productive fishing times for big bass will likely be low-light periods in early morning or late afternoon. However, you’re hoping to make the most of your time on the water. You want to find and catch bass, even when the sun is high.
SOLUTION: Seek the Darkness
Naturally, when too much light is present, find areas with less of it. Namely, look to deeper areas, spots beneath disturbed surface water and places below shady cover.
The first approach to this situation is fishing deeper water with deeper presentations from mid-morning until mid-afternoon. Aggressively feeding bass will still come up to strike, especially with lures you can work slowly, such as deep-diving crankbaits and soft plastics (worms, lizards, Slug-Gos) rigged with lighter weights.
Second, try windy shorelines. Wind often produces surface ripples, which help reduce light intensity in the water below. Those same ripples also stir up small invertebrates that attract baitfish. And where there are baitfish, there are sure to be predators like bass.
Consider shallow areas with shady cover, too. This might be manmade cover—piers, docks or bridges—or natural cover, like vegetation, logs or brush. Pitching or flipping a weedless soft-plastic lure or jig-and-pig is a great way to fish such spots.
Either tactic allows your lure to enter the water quietly and lets you work your bait longer in the shadows. If you’re lucky, you might find a still-thriving bed of submerged vegetation like coontail or pondweed where bass enjoy perpetual shade, cooler temperatures and abundant forage. These tend to be real hot spots.
One additional suggestion for fishing shallow water on bluebird days is to experiment with various colors of soft plastics, including different two-tone baits with contrasting tails. One slight change often triggers more strikes because bass can see better and rely less on vibration and outline for prey identification. Be stealthy and make casts from longer distances to avoid spooking your quarry.
3. PROBLEM: Light Rains
Rain is a common factor in spring fishing. In this case, a light rain has been falling for several hours, and the cover-filled shoreline shallows where you caught bass earlier in the day now seem devoid of fish. You can’t buy a bite.
SOLUTION: Find the Flow
Rains are often several degrees warmer than lake water—warm enough that they can draw bass away from potential spawning sites to places like small tributary creeks where rainwater flows into the lake. The move from one locale to the other may be abrupt. You’ll often know it’s occurring when you see largemouths start chasing small baitfish around these smaller in-flow areas. Bigger tributaries, like rivers, also flush warmer water into the system. However, fish usually avoid these if the in-flow is too muddy or full of debris—as it often is in the spring.
Because warmer water stays on top of colder water, good lures for tributary creeks include small crankbaits and spinnerbaits you can work through the upper strata. Unfortunately, runoff activity rarely lasts longer than a couple days because the water gradually cools as it disperses and the bass slow down accordingly. That’s a good time to move to the larger tributaries and try the same techniques if the water there has cleared.
4. PROBLEM: Rising Water
Here, light showers have turned to storms, and the downpours have caused water in your favorite bass lake to start rising quickly. This seems to have given bass a severe case of lockjaw.
SOLUTION: Seek and Destroy
When water levels increase—especially when they do so quickly—bass often scatter. This makes it harder to find them. More and more cover areas flood, giving fish access to new territory, and bass seldom stay concentrated in any one spot. Instead, most will be suspended and moving around like nomads. Normal fishing patterns go out the window.
So, keep moving until you find some of these scattered fish wandering and gorging on the abundant food stirred up in the system. Keep a fish finder on; when you see suspended fish, toss out a marker buoy and fish the area thoroughly.
Pinpointing these roamers isn’t always easy, but remain patient and cover lots of water. Eventually, you’ll zero-in on a roving school that can turn a dismal day into a good one.
When the water level peaks and stabilizes for a few days, look for bass suspended and holding tight to offshore cover. Fish know the water will soon drop away from the banks; their instincts tell them to seek deeper water until things settle down. Try fishing jigs, worms, deep-diving crankbaits and big spinners slowly, and work each bit of cover thoroughly.
5. PROBLEM: Super-Clear Water
Later in the year, you’ll be able to catch bass in beds of lush green aquatic vegetation. But right now, those weed beds are gone. In fact, all vegetative growth, including the countless micro-organisms that cause water to be dingy during warm months, is at a minimum. The lake you’re fishing is clearer now than at any other time—so clear that bass are spooky and you’re finding it hard to get a bite.
SOLUTION: Be a Magician
This situation can be especially frustrating, but if you approach clear-water fishing properly, you should still be able to score consistently. In clear water, bass can see your offerings and will readily chase lures. If they can also see you—and the less realistic aspects of your offerings—then you have an issue. This isn’t Vegas and you’re no David Copperfield, but you need to put on your best disappearing act. Or you simply need to fish at times that offer less visibility.
First, wear clothing with shades of blue or gray that blend in with the sky. When practical, use thinner line to make presentations harder to detect. Go with 8-pound mono instead of 15, for example, or try a skinny braid instead of a thick monofilament. It‘s also best to make long casts, staying well away from any cover you’re fishing to avoid spooking fish.
Similarly, if you’re trying to remove any evidence of fakery, why not consider a natural bait? Crayfish or shiners work great in clear-water conditions, largely because there is nothing phony for bass to observe. If you’re set on using artificials, stick to smaller versions and utilize a faster retrieve. This gives bass less time to inspect them and make their decision.
If stealth tactics aren’t working during the sunniest portions of the day, fish the darker times. Limited-light periods are often very productive on clear waters. When the sun’s high, bass move to deep, shady areas to avoid bright light. But in the early morning and late afternoon, light penetration is minimal, and bass move into forage-filled shallows to feed. Cloudy days are good, too.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
Do early spring bass pose unique challenges to anglers? Absolutely, they do. However, with the right tactics and a bit of determination, all can be overcome.
Just do a little troubleshooting. Identify the problem you’re facing, land on a solution and then apply it. There are few things more satisfying as an angler than solving problems that others can’t.