Back Up For March Bass
September 28, 2010
This month is a transition period for largemouths as they prepare for the coming spawn. But weather patterns can advance or retard that schedule.
Throughout the bulk of the South, March is not the peak month for bass to spawn. But as those of us who live south of the Mason-Dixon line are fond of saying, "It's fixin' to be."
This month sees the bass engaged in a major transition from their winter patterns to the shallows they use to spawn. Depending upon just where in the South an angler calls home, and the type of water body fished, the bass are in various stages of moving to their spawning sites. Balmy weather will accelerate their shift from deep to shallow, while any of the sudden cold fronts the month is justifiably famous for can slow the process down and may even send them back to deeper water for a while.
The bass can do some serious moving this time of year. But savvy anglers have one ace in the hole. Those who have identified the spawning sites the bass use know where the fish ultimately wind up. Once that data is acquired, expert anglers adopt a "fishing in reverse" strategy.
They start their search for March bass beginning from the spots they know the fish are heading toward. Then, they just backtrack along the migration routes the fish will use in moving from their deep-water haunts, to find where they are currently holding.
Locating the spawning sites is a key first step. Veteran anglers rely on previous experience, but even newcomers to the lake can up their odds if they just ask a few questions from the local marina operators. As to what questions need be asked, that depends upon the type of water body being addressed.
Bass are bass anywhere you find them, but the environment they live in largely determines their habits and responses. Given the diverse habitats available in the South, anglers can expect differing behavior on different types of lakes. Here are some tactics for the water you are likely to encounter.
These lakes are characterized by the abruptness of their depth changes, a tremendous amount of deep water, and a notable lack of aquatic vegetation. The primary cover for bass in these waters is rock, wood and submerged bottom contours, such as points, drops, ledges and rock walls. They can be some of the more difficult lakes to fish during the pre-spawn, since bass may move tremendous distances from their winter habitat to their spawning sites.
The peak spawning on these lakes generally occurs well after March, but this month sees the bass moving to the spawning areas. Those prime spawning sites are seldom on the main lake itself. Open lake waters often are not stable and protected enough. Instead, look for bass to move toward any coves or creek arms -- particularly those that do not have water flowing through them. You are looking for calm, shallow and stable conditions to find spawning bass on these lakes.
Within these stable areas the bottom composition largely determines the spawning sites. With a lack of hard sand bottoms and vegetation, the most popular spawning sites consist largely of pea gravel. This is what the bass move toward from the deeper waters. The word "toward" is key here.
The transitional process on these lakes is very gradual, and since the spring is one of the most unstable weather periods of the year, the transition becomes equally unstable. A weeklong warming trend may see bass almost at the spawning sites, yet one hard cold front can send them back to their winter homes virtually overnight.
The areas used for the earliest spawns are often in the north or northwest portion of the lakes, since these are the most sheltered from cold north winds and receive the most direct sunlight at this time of year. Sheltered waters in these areas often warm to proper temperatures a couple of weeks before other portions of the lake.
Once the spawning areas are located, points and creek channels are the logical migration routes from the main lake to them. For that reason, it is important for anglers to first determine where the bass will spawn, and then gain an understanding of the entire structural layout within the area. In that respect, a quality topographical map is almost mandatory. If you can identify the wintering areas and the spawning areas, the routes the fish take between the two become visible.
While submerged points and channels are pathways to the spawning sites, sometimes the bank itself serves the same purpose. It's not uncommon for a sheer main-lake bluff bank to bend around into a cove, change to chunk rock on a shallower slope, and then change again into a shallower sloping pea gravel bank where the fish will spawn. Regardless of what route the bass are using to move to the spawning sites, expect them to be deep.
The top pre-spawn lures on these lakes are diving crankbaits, and keeping a few ultra-deep divers on hand is a good idea as well. Getting them to the bottom with a stop-and-go retrieve can produce.
Other top choices are a swimming jig-and-pig bounced down a sloping bank, as well as a Carolina-rigged worm or crawfish. In some cases, slow-rolling a heavy 3/4- to 1-ounce large-bladed spinnerbait down a sloping bank can also be effective.
If warm weather has moved bass more shallow, don't overlook flipping a jig-and-pig around any wood you can find, including docks. These can be some of the last stops for the bass before the pea gravel.
These impoundments are often considerably shallower in their maximum depths, frequently contain a variety of aquatic vegetation, and usually feature a maze of submerged creek channels. As on upland reservoirs, bass move into creek arms and coves to spawn. Unlike upland lakes, the fish also have a lot of prime spawning cover along the shorelines of the main lake itself, as well as any manmade canals that are common on some of these lakes.
Because of the abundance of spawning cover, it's very important that anglers pre-determine the most popular and traditionally used bedding sites. Once those are found, you can narrow your search considerably because the bass tend to spend much of the year far closer to their spawning sites than do fish inhabiting the upland lakes.
Another factor that makes life a bit easier on these lakes is that they generally warm more quickly than the upland waters. March may well see a significant number of bass in the final stages of the pre-spawn and located in relatively shallow waters.
In the earlier pre-spawn stages, bass often first show on the deeper channel ridges. As the weather warms, look for those fish to move to main-lake points leading to spawning sites. The next s
tage sees them moving to the outer edges of weedlines, other vegetation or fallen trees on the outer edges of the spawning areas. As water temperatures continue to warm, the bass move to the inside edges of the grass lines and ultimately to the spawning sites.
Weather changes can move them forward or backward. But one characteristic of lowland reservoirs is that once the fish reach the main-lake points, it takes a severe and prolonged cold front to drop them back to the channel ridges. Once they hit the points, anglers can normally concentrate on the areas from there to shallower water.
Another characteristic of bass in this environment is that during their migration to the spawning areas, they often stack up on certain definable depths and cover situations along the way. This may be a tree line or a hydrilla wall lying on the first or second major breakline outside the spawning areas. They may spend days there. And if they do move up and get interrupted by a cold front, they often go right back and hold there. If you find bass on this type of cover early in the month, and a cold front appears later, go back and check that spot! The chances are excellent that's what the bass are doing.
The most effective lures are dependent upon the depth and cover at which the bass are found. When prospecting a main-lake point, it's hard to beat a Carolina-rigged worm or lizard, a bottom-digging diving crankbait or a swimming jig. As the fish move to shallower and thicker cover, aggressive baits like large-bladed spinnerbaits, countdown crankbaits and 10-inch plastic worms often trigger strikes from the larger bass.