May 11, 2021
By Glenn Walker
Early spring offers solid opportunities to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass—both quality fish and, on some days, numbers. However, it also presents challenges. Spring is a time of highly variable weather, and bass are constantly adapting to changing conditions. They do this largely by moving, and quite often.
It’s not uncommon in spring for anglers to spend time scouring a lake or river and locate a nice group of big bass, only for the fish to disappear the next day or even later that same day.
This occurs for several reasons, but the main one is the bass’ spawning schedule. If you find fish in a pre-spawn location one morning and the weather that afternoon or overnight warms the water enough, those bass will usually move—likely toward the bank to begin their spawn. Cold weather, of course, can have the opposite effect.
In the spring it’s up to anglers to stay ahead of fish and adjust their techniques as needed. Often, this requires a very active strategy that covers a lot of water. That said, when you do locate active fish, it can also pay to take a slower, more finesse approach if bass aren’t consistently hitting your offerings.
Here, we’ll look at where bass are moving to and from, and the aggressive and more subtle approaches for catching them.
When bass are in pre-spawn mode, they like holding in areas of a lake or river that place them in prime position to move into spawning areas once the time is right. They also want to be in spots where they can feed up prior to the big event. Often, these are transition areas strategically located between a bass’ wintering or late-fall stomping grounds and their spawning grounds.
The form of cover or structure can vary greatly; the key point here is location. Many pre-spawn bass in lakes hold on secondary points just on the outside of spawning bays or possibly the first steep break on a shoreline with good spawning cover up shallow.
On river systems such as the Mississippi, current plays a major role in when and where bass will position themselves. During the spring months, water levels and current flow tend to increase substantially due to snowmelt and spring rains entering the system.
Bass typically position themselves behind current breaks, which give them a chance to rest up and pick off food as the current pushes it by. Once those bass are ready and the water temperatures are right, they’ll make their final push to spawning areas.
POUND THE WATER
Covering water quickly in the spring is crucial. By doing so, you eliminate unproductive water and, when you do find a group of bass, quickly discover just how active that school of bass is. Below are several key presentations I use for to cover lots of water in spring.
One of my favorite tactics for spring bass is to slow-roll a spinnerbait. With this technique, I can keep the bait in the target depth range for the longest amount of time possible. A spinnerbait will also come through emergent vegetation and laydowns, or bounce off stumps, without getting hung up.
I have two go-to springtime blade configurations. The first is a single Colorado blade for when the water is cold and/or muddy. The big, single Colorado blade on a Booyah Covert Series spinnerbait emits a lot of vibration. As the water warms, or the clarity improves, I like a Colorado/Indiana tandem-bladed War Eagle spinnerbait. That bait still emits a good amount of vibration but has more flash to it for getting a hungry bass’s attention. Depending on the water depth and if I am fishing a river with a lot of current or a little, I’ll use either a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce spinnerbait.
Similar to a spinnerbait, with a vibrating jig—such as the popular Z-Man Jackhammer—the size of the bait and the speed of retrieve give the angler the ability to cover multiple depth ranges. Where a vibrating jig shines in the spring is when water is stained or when intense vibration and erratic action are needed to trigger bites. When I’m looking to cover water—points, flats, shoreline—and I’m not quite sure where bass might be holding, I’ll usually toss a Jackhammer. This bait often helps clue me into where bass are positioning on that day.
Several styles of crankbaits make great lure choices in the spring. The first is a medium-diving bait, like a Strike King Pro Model 5XD or Rapala DT6 or DT10. These baits are prime when bass are set up on mid-lake points and sitting in 6 to 12 feet of water.
As water warms and bass begin cruising flats, a lipless crankbait becomes an optimal choice. A favorite is Booyah’s One Knocker. If grass is starting to emerge, make sure the bait comes in contact with it, then rip it out if it gets hung. This usually triggers a reactionary strike from lethargic bass.
As bass move closer to the bank, cast and retrieve a shallow-running crankbait through shallow-water cover like laydowns, stumps and riprap. The Booyah XCS will deflect off the cover and entice hungry spring bass into biting. To modify your crankbaits’ diving depths, alter the pound-test of your line. For example, if I want to keep my baits up in the water column, I’ll use 15-pound Seaguar AbrazX. If I need my bait to run deeper, I’ll downsize to 12-pound AbrazX.
COAX THE BITES
When you’ve located bass but they seem less active or inactive due to a cold front or other similar change in conditions, consider switching to subtler tactics. Fish slow and present your bait from multiple angles. You’ll often get those lethargic bass to bite. This is true in both lakes and rivers, and in both deep and shallow water, depending on where bass are located in their spawning progression. Many times, simply slowing down your bait in a precise spot will garner multiple bites.
Here are three more deliberate patterns I use during the spring for stubborn bass.
A 1/2-ounce All-Terrain Tackle AT Jig in either black/blue or green pumpkin is always rigged and on my deck in the spring. Whether working down a steep break or flipping around shallow cover, it’s a solid producer for me this time of year on less-active bass. I’ll play around with different Zoom soft-plastic trailers based on the lure profile the bass want and water temperatures. Three popular choices are the Super Chunk, Super Chunk Jr. and Z Craw Jr.
When offshore structure-dwelling fish stop chasing down your crankbait, don’t just throw in the towel and leave the area. I’ll often Spot-Lock my Minn Kota Ultrex and start making long casts with an All-Terrain Tackle Football Jig. I’ll pick apart each boulder, gravel bar or point that those bass have been holding on.
Many times, that school of fish is still there. They just might not be actively feeding. Bringing along a crawfish-imitating football jig frequently entices finicky spring bass into biting.
Use the smallest size jig possible for the water depth, wind and/or current. You must keep the jig in contact with the bottom to get bit, but you also want to prevent it from getting hung up between the rocks.
When spring bass have moved into shallow vegetation and flooded timber and will only bite when something falls right in front of their face, a Texas-rigged soft-plastic creature bait is a great choice. It’s a versatile spring option capable of mimicking a crawfish or bluegill. My tried-and-true setup is a 7/16-ounce tungsten weight pegged in front of a TroKar TK133 Pro V Bend Flippin’ Hook (5/0) with a Zoom Z Craw or new Magnum Speed Craw on it.
I can flip this bait into the thickest of cover and know it’ll slide through. And when a bass bites, I’m confident I’ll hook up with it. Prime areas to slow down with a Texas rig in the spring are flooded bushes, laydowns and clumps of emergent vegetation.
GET AFTER THEM
As you start chasing bass on your favorite lake or river this spring, understand that those bass you find will often be on the move. Be ready to grab a reaction bait and cover water to find those fish again. It might take some time, but once you get dialed back in on the bite, you’ll have a rewarding day on the water. You’ll also be satisfied knowing that you were able to adapt and stay in front of these mobile bass when other anglers weren’t.