February 10, 2016
We know how special this time of year is, chomping at the bit to get the boats out again and return to our home away from home on the water for that magical prespawn bass fishing season. The fish are as big and as hungry as we are to catch them, and we have years of experience and know EXACTLY what we need to do to catch more than enough to get that beautiful bass thumb. But what many people don't know is that there are some very simple adjustments you can make that will dramatically improve your results.
You're Not in The Hive
I can not stress enough how important it is to have the proper rod and reel setup in each specific location. Without a doubt the most crucial aspect of any bass fishing trip during any time of year is presentation, but it is MOST significant now.
Why? Because this early part of the year sets the tone for what's to come. The sooner you have a big day, the quicker you can build confidence, get in a groove, and start to make yourself the envy of all your friends week after week after week.
If I'm in a place where there's little to no current, fishing a reaction bait, I'm using a 7' or 7'3 medium action rod, with a 6.3:1 reel, and if I'm in current or there's a significant wind pushing me, I'm using a 7'6 or 7'9, with a 6.6:1 and I'm going to be adjusting the angle of my presentation until I find what I like to call "The Hive".
"The Hive" is the combination of retrieval speed, depth, distance, and boat travel per cast. Each bait has a depth and retrieval speed that is optimal in terms of how likely a bass is to eat it, like a bell curve. A jerkbait, for instance, might be most effective when retrieved at a medium pace in 6 feet of water. There have been countless times that I was able to out fish buddies in the same boat, on the same bait, because I was casting at a different angle, with a different rod and reel pairing, that put my bait in The Hive longer than theirs'.
Now, I can't tell you that "This is the angle you want," but I can tell you that if you fan out your casts properly, so that you are covering the entire perimeter over a period of multiple casts, you'll find it by process of elimination. Remember that the fish are aggressive, so this time of year does not require long hours of searching.
You're too Close
For many of us, we do what we've always done. We get in the boat, drive to our favorite stretch of shoreline, and start beatin the bank with our jigs and spinnerbaits. We catch tons of fish, sometimes we even get lucky and get a good one. The problem is that a lot of prespawn bass are spooky this time of year; they're not adjusted yet to the boat traffic, and they're leery of predators (land and aquatic).
Smallmouth (in particular) which spawn sooner than largemouth, will shut down if you roll up on them. The best thing to do is to stay as far away as you can. This requires extra long casts, longer rods, new line, and proper tuning.
Not only will you not spook the shallow fish, but you'll be able to trigger bites from the staging fish that are suspended off that first piece of deviated structure (whether it be grass, or a ledge) because you'll be bringing your bait through that area during your retrieve. If you're staging in that area, or inside it, you'll miss those fish entirely, and this is often where you'll find the bigger females.
You Aren't Using a Swimbait
Leave your jig-n-pig and chatterbaits at home when you go prespawn bass fishing, and dedicate time to learn how to throw a swimbait. You need a good rod, a great reel, and the right swimbait. If you don't want to dive in with a $450 handmade 10-inch trout replica, you can start with a five inch Reaction Innovation on a jig head. The biggest key to success is resisting the urge to give up after a couple hours, and grab your jig.
You need to commit to it. The thing that's hardest to learn is the retrieve. My favorite setup for small swimbaits is my 13 Fishing Concept A 6.6:1 reel on a 7'3 M Omen Black. This is the best time of year to learn because the fish are aggressively seeking shad.
Do You Mendota Rig?
There's the way we were taught to rig a plastic craw or tube, and then there's the way we should do it moving forward. If you haven't used a Mendota Rig, you're missing out on a different take of an old school hit. The bait will fall different, and you'll be able to slide under a dock or through an opening, softer and quieter.
Also, I talked with the creator, and he asked what I thought was most significant about the bait and I told him that at the risk of sounding crazy, I really believed the bass responded to it different because they weren't closing their mouth on a big weight (the weight-first design puts the sinker in the back of the mouth, not on the lips) and when I said that he smiled and said he thought so too. I fished that bait a lot last year, and there were times--prespawn being one of them--when I was able to catch over 100 fish a day on it.
Get in Stealth Mode
Prespawn bass fishing is not a race you win by traveling the farthest in the shortest amount of time. Consequently, you don't need to stand on your trolling motor pedal all day long. I don't care how quiet your trolling motor is, it's not quiet. Try to use it less, before you step on it ask yourself if you need to, or is it habit? I keep a drift sock and if the wind is pushing me too fast I'll use that so I can remain as quiet as possible. If the bigger fish aren't alerted to your presence, the likelihood that they'll respond to your bait increase dramatically.
You Aren't Playing Donkey Kong
Last spring Larry Mazur turned the smallmouth world upside when he took me out on Lake Erie and showed the secrets behind his success to GIANT prespawn smallmouth bass fishing. The "Donkey Kong" rig, as he calls it, is a ¾ oz football head jig with a 5-inch swimbait. That might not sound like the most revolutionary idea, but how he presents it is mind blowing, and requires a unique understanding of how to use your electronics.
You need to have a sandy bottom in 25-40 feet of water. You'll know you're in the sand because it'll look like waves on the bottom. You'll want enough wind so you can drift (5mph). Cast off either side of the boat behind you roughly 40 yards, let the bait fall to the bottom and start dragging the rig. Switch to downscan, zoom in to see the bottom 5 feet, and look for little humps on the very bottom.
These smallmouth are practically buried in the sand and if you're not zoomed in close enough your graph won't pick them up. Oh, and hold on tight to your rod. Sometimes there's just a little "tick", and other times they'll hit like you owe them money.
Your Timing is Off
There's a great creek I love to fish for about 2 weeks in the spring that can produce some of the most magical bass fishing I've ever witnessed. You can hit the creek at sunrise and catch a couple, but if you understand a little bit about the weather you can really score big. You want to find a marshy/swampy area that's fairly large (over 100 acres), protected by trees on the edges, and that feeds into your body of water.
When you have a day that's mostly sunny, with warm temperatures (maybe 15 degrees above average), the sun convects tremendous amounts of heat into the swamp, raising the water temperature there nearly 30 degrees by early afternoon. When the main lake water is still in the middle 50s, tens of thousands of fish will migrate into this 80 degree water by 2 pm and not only will you be able to catch huge numbers of fish, you'll see some spectacular schools of fish, in the hundreds.
The first time I saw this I thought my graph was wrong. It was 67 degrees in April in Upstate NY, but the water temp was registering between 78 and 81. The next day I went back at 6 am but the creek water was in the upper 50s, only one or two degrees higher than the lake, and the fishing wasn't at all what we saw the day before. We left, and when we came back in the afternoon after it had warmed up we found the conditions to be more like we had seen the day before with higher temps, and much higher numbers of fish.
Hopefully these tips will help you have a great prespawn bass fishing season. For more tips like these, check out my website, www.JimRootFishing.com, and like my Facebook page Jim Root Fishing. Good luck!