As a fishing guide pursuing bass — smallmouth, largemouth and spotted alike — across the Midwest and Northeast, this time of year Capt. Doug Dingey rarely reaches past his rack of crankbait boxes to catch pre-spawn bass.
“Crankbaits are king in the spring,” he explains. “I typically have at least four totally different crankbaits rigged when springtime bass fishing. Most will be Rapalas and vary from shallow-running No. 14 Husky Jerks, No. 18 Original Floaters and No. 9 Shallow Shad Raps, to various medium- to deep-divers like the plastic Rattlin’ Rap and wooden Fat Raps and Shad Raps, both shallow and deep X-Raps and X-Rap Shads, Jointed Shad Raps, Tail Dancers and the newer Shadow Rap and Shadow Rap Shad in both deep and shallow models.
“Productive colors and finishes can be anywhere from bright and flashy to extremely dull and can change hourly,” Dingey continues. “Again, let the fish tell you what they prefer. Different colors can also work at different locations. And here’s a hint: The color that catches the most fish rarely catches the biggest fish, so, again, you need to experiment.
“I usually prefer the largest of lures at this time of year,” Dingey adds. “All of the past season’s baitfish have made it through winter and are about a full year old. Since these baitfish, which continue to grow in size, are what the bass have eaten all winter long, most times 4- to even 8-inch-long lures will catch the most and largest bass.
“But again,” he advises, “always let the fish tell you what they prefer. I always start large and gradually work smaller in the size of my lures to let the fish tell me what they want to eat.”
According to Dingey, the speed of those early-spring presentations is more important than at any other time of year when it comes to eliciting strikes.
“I usually start out with a medium-speed constant retrieve on my lures,” the guide explains. “But as with lure size choices, if I’m not hooking up, I will also vary my retrieves from super-slow up to super-fast, and also with some very erratic actions to find out what triggers the most fish. As with the most productive color, the best lure speed can vary by the day or even by the hour, so be different and experiment.
“The most important tip I can give to catch any species of bass in the early spring is to follow the wind. Wherever it blows you is most likely the best place to find the most active baitfish — and therefore, the bass.
“The second factor is water temperature,” he explains. “Seek out the warmest water, as it will most likely attract the most baitfish, be they minnows or shad.
“A two-degree variance in surface temp can be a lot at this time of year. Because the southern sun is aimed the most at the northern shores, these areas are usually where the warmest water will be found. Incoming water at this time of year can also often be warmer, so it will also usually draw baitfish. If the baitfish are there, so too — usually — are the bass.”