April 24, 2017
Get the edge on spring bass: These tricks will up your angling success.
By Jason Haley
While gobblers are "King of Spring," the most popular game fish in America is right up there, possibly Queen. This month can be epic for bass angling if you employ these proven tactics.
1. FLIP OUT
Flippin' started with giant rods. Anglers held heavy mono in one hand, pulling it sideways before guiding the rod over heavy cover and releasing the line, flipping the bait into likely hidey holes. The technique evolved to include pitching — more common now. The terms are interchangeable.
Pitching involves similar mechanics, but shorter rods and longer casts, still placed perfectly into perceived strike zones. Hold your bait in one hand and drop the rod tip toward your feet. Using a pendulum motion, extend the rod tip deliberately, but swiftly, toward your target while releasing the bait from your hand. Watch those hooks! Ideally, you're slinging the bait across the water on a low trajectory to land softly, without splash. Just slide it in.
Jigs are ideal. Cover water and react to targets you see: pilings, docks, down trees, boulders casting shade — whatever. Slide a jig in and let it fall on slack line. When it hits bottom, carefully lift it or give it a soft shake. Then retrieve rapidly, so as not to get hung-up. Recast immediately.
Bass are ambush predators. They wait. They lurk. Show them a bluegill imitation jig and they'll woof it immediately, if they're going to bite. No need to work it all the way back.
Senkos, Texas-rigged worms and weedless tubes also work for flipping. Worms work better in grass. This month, there are bedded bass, some post-spawn fish, and plenty of pre-spawners.
The spawn stage should determine your pace/action. In post-spawn, look for fry balls, bass suspending on tree tops or deeper fish. Try moving faster and look for a reaction bite. For bedded females, slow it down. You may have to entice them. Prespawners should be eager. Don't spend too much time in one place. They should bite quickly if present.
You can flip with a spinning rod, also, just avoid heavy cover. Grab that line, open the bail and flip your bait into a likely spot. Shorter rods are great in tight quarters or for bank anglers hiking spot to spot. Practice in your yard with a hula-hoop or similar target. Try to land it in the circle, softly.
2. CHUCK & WIND
Casting lures is simple and dated. It still works. We're talking cranks, spinners, and swimbaits, which can be thrown with spinning or bait-casting equipment. There are subtleties within each discipline. Get familiar.
A well-placed spinnerbait is a great baitfish imitator. I prefer a roll cast, and it requires a bait-caster. A medium rod with slick guides is fine. You want the rod tip somewhat limber, with power in the rest. Use the soft tip to sling the bait. Use your thumb to reduce spool speed and backlashes. Again, practice in your yard.
Spinnerbaits can be slow-rolled near cover or fan-casted in all directions, covering deep and shallow water. Blades are great search baits. Pick off aggressive fish or observe chasers in an area. Now you've located fish. Slow down and use another tactic, if necessary.
Cranks excel in open, rocky habitat, but also over submerged grass. Tick the tops with a slow, steady retrieve. That's usually enough. If you get hung, snap it loose. That can also trigger strikes.
Swimbaits and glide baits are increasingly popular. They excel year-round, but particularly pre-spawn. Try large ones with a slow, steady retrieve to target trophies.
According to Colby Pearson, a swimbait specialist who routinely catches giants, "There's a big difference between the beginning of this month and the end." He targets "holding locations," not spawning destinations, and believes truly big bass hold in the same deep-water haunts near spawning zones before and after the spawn. He throws "conventional stuff" but has become deadly with glide baits.
Experts like Pearson consider approach, angles, cadence and map study, among other things. "Uphill" retrieves can be effective, mostly on smallmouth, he said, as the fish crowd prey toward the surface/bank. He noted that big fish don't feel comfortable up shallow very long. Pearson typically prepares for one cast, but caught his most recent donkey in open water on the fifth cast by going deeper and changing cadence.
Little paddle-tails crept along the bottom will catch numbers. Smallmouth and spots are particularly susceptible.
Bass track, follow and strike swimbaits using visual cues, but crank bites tend to happen after bouncing off targets. Kill your spinnerbait retrieve in open reservoirs with steep banks. The vertical fall will trigger strikes. Snap the rod tip to get the blades turning again. Oftentimes, the rod will load up simultaneously with a fat bass.
3. RISE TO THE TOP
It's lonely on top, but not always. Most anglers neglect topwater patterns until summer, but it can be lights out now. All species should be shallow and relatively close to bedding areas. When water temps reach the upper 50s, brace yourself.
I love poppers for targeting beds or structure. I use a spinning rod. Long, precise casts are the key. Hit your target and twitch it a few times without moving it from the strike zone. Let the ripples dissipate before moving it and make sure you see it go under before coming tight.
Buzzbaits perform better post-spawn and excel in grass. The River2Sea Whopper-Plopper, a stick-bait with swiveling rubber tail, is deadly. It takes heavy tackle to throw, and practice. They cast a country mile.
Walk-the-dog baits like Zara Spooks allow anglers to really cover water and search. Bass targeting baitfish in open water are susceptible. We're talking smallmouths and spots. The smaller "puppies" are perfect for spinning rods. Place your rod tip down after landing. Raise slightly and pop it down a few inches. Reel the slack to keep the line tight while watching the lure. Let it correct itself before twitching again. It's designed to walk, so don't overpower it. You'll find rhythm.
Topwater is addicting. Strikes are visual, and big and small bass can be fooled.
4. SHAKE IT UP
My tournament partner's pops, Mark, honed his skills on a river. He coined the phrase "shaking the hell out of a worm." We all laugh, but it works!
Bass can go deep, even in May, come pre-spawn cold front or post-spawn sun/high pressure. You may have to fish 30 feet deep with finesse baits. Try 6-inch straight-tail worms, Texas-rigged, with tungsten bullet heads and fluorocarbon. Carbon is invisible under water and has less stretch. Tungsten offers a smaller profile and better feel of subtle bites at depth.
Get your bait on the bottom and reel the line tight. Gently lift up and feel what's there. Sometimes there's a tap, but often something just feels wrong. Reel the slack out slowly as you lower the rod. Jerk! That's all there is to it. You may have to shake the bait in place rapidly, rather than slowly pulling up. You'll feel the bottom clearly as you gain confidence. Shake, shake, shake — all the way back, working your way through whatever lies below.
This technique is a great way to mentally map out the bottom, without electronics. You'll distinguish hard from soft bottoms, rock piles, trees, etc., and can target the habitat from there.
5. SET YOUR SIGHTS
Many anglers live for May, so they can cruise the shallows and observe bass. "Sight fishing" is used to describe fishing for visible bass — the opposite of blind casting. It's effective, particularly when instincts to spawn and protect are strong.
Whether it is bed fishing or pitching baits in the path of bass cruising shoreline, controlling distance and noise help. It takes practice and experience. Above all, gauge the fish's mood. Males are typically smaller and more aggressive. Sometimes females are finicky and just want to move intruders away from the nest, rather than eat. Removing the male can help. Put him in the livewell while you fish for the big girl.
Conventional wisdom says white baits for visibility, but there's no rule of thumb. Find what works. I use nest-raiding imitators like Beavers or Chigger Craws in natural colors.
Watch your line and the fish. Don't react to her movement or seeing your bait move. Easier said than done! Make sure your line goes tight before setting or you'll be starting over. When a fish moves toward your bait and goes nose down, she'll usually take it.
My tournament partner, Logan Miles, uses aggressive tactics at times. He hooked a smallmouth last season with a jerkbait. It took repeated casts and multiple follows, but the bass eventually grabbed the rear treble. Bed fishing can be fun and rewarding, but release females to spawn.
6. GO LIVE
There's nothing like live bait. Minnows, crayfish or night crawlers from the nearest tackle shop catch bass when nothing else will. That's why most professional guides include it in their arsenals, depending on clientele and their objectives.
If you prefer to bank fish, or just want to take the kids to the pond, you're money ahead with shiners under a bobber. Drop anchor in a favorite cove and watch that bobber dance. Wade the river and drift nightcrawlers or sun worship with your pole on a forked stick. It's prime time, no matter. Go catch 'em up.