May 12, 2017
Thunderstorms with plenty of wind, rain and hail leave behind rising water levels and water clarity something to be desired.
What's a bass angler to do? Go old school, that's what.
So says Dakota Jones, a young man I met a while back while he was at Dallas Baptist University, fishing on one of the top collegiate fishing teams in the country.
These days, with diploma in hand and a new job as a marketing man with Temple Fork Outfitters fishing rods, Jones is busy proving himself on regional and professional tournament circuits.
And that proving ground often means fishing in the desired times of the year in less than desirable conditions.
"Without a doubt one of the most anticipated times of the year for any bass angler are the few weeks leading up to the spawn, or the pre-spawn," said Jones. "The fish are roaming the shallows, just waiting for the time to be right to reproduce, snacking on any forage that crosses their path."
But just as surely as you can count on springtime bass to move shallow, you can also count on inclement spring weather at times. Some years it's a little, other years it's a lot.
"No matter what part of the country you are in, when spring finally comes, it seems like it brings muddy water with it," said Jones. "Whether it comes from snow runoff up north, heavy rains down south, rising water levels (anywhere) or all three of the above, muddy water will always be a factor during the pre-spawn."
What can an angler do to combat dirty water when the bass are going into the skinny stuff? Throw a bait that takes advantage of various forage species on the bass' menu (think bluegills, shad and crawfish in most waters) along with the innate desire that a bass has to move up shallow and breed at this time of the year.
"Knowing that the fish want to be shallow and are feeding to bulk up for the spawn, I target areas that are close to the flats," said Jones. "Since I anticipate finding bedding bass in a few weeks, I want to remember that the last deep water close to a spawning flat is almost a sure bet to hold large numbers of hungry bass."
Jones indicates that anglers can find these spots by looking on their GPS/Sonar units.
"Just look for where deep water meets a shallow flat," he said. "When you find this in the backs of creeks or bays on a lake, it will be your best chance at pinpointing big pre-spawn fish."
Once the Dallas-area angler has put himself in likely areas, then he focuses on tightening up his presentations.
"Much like (we reach out to feel objects while) attempting to walk around in a dark room, bass will hold tight to cover (as they) push shallow in muddy conditions," said Jones. "My bait selection is critical in these conditions and I must do everything in my power to help the fish find the lure."
What baits can help that happen?
"My favorite lure for muddy, pre-spawn conditions is a spinnerbait," said Jones. "I can fish it shallow and the blades create a lot of turbulence (in the water). The thump will grab the fish’s attention."
Since stained water is often brought on by rains that raise lake levels, Jones likes the spinnerbait because it is tough to get the bait hung up.
"I can fish it through many kinds of cover effectively," said Jones. "As the fish roam the shallows, I will cover as much water as I can with my spinnerbait to potentially locate the active feeders I'm looking for."
If this sounds old school – especially for a young gun kind of angler at the beginning stages of his career – well, it is.
But Jones doesn't care, as long as it works. And by banging a spinnerbait into cover, he gets reminded often that old school can often be as effective as new school can be.
"Chunk and wind is a common term among anglers, but a key to getting bites with any bait is deflection," said Jones. "With a spinnerbait, you want to roll it over a stump, pop it out of grass, stuff like that.
"But if there is little cover present I will pop or twitch my bait as I (actually) retrieve it," he added. "Not constantly but every so often just to change up the blade rotation and demand a reaction from the fish that can see it."
According to Jones, blade selection is an important consideration when an angler is fishing a spinnerbait in these conditions.
"The three things I look at when choosing a blade combo is first, what is the depth I intend to fish the bait," he said. "Second, what is the amount of available sunlight that we have. And third, what is the water clarity."
In many cases, anglers opt for either the double willow leaf blade set-up or a combination of the willow leaf blade and the Colorado blade.
"Those will handle most situations, but it is important to understand where each fits in," said Jones. "The smaller blades will naturally cause less drag while painted blades are a better option in cloudy conditions than a metallic color (is)."
What does Jones use specifically when it comes to spinnerbaits?
"This time of year, I want my spinnerbait to stay shallow, so I choose a #2 Colorado blade at the front and a #4.5 Indiana blade behind it," he said. "These two blades cause so much resistance that it will help the bait stay shallow and give off more vibration."
What about colors? Jones says that is pretty much a personal preference although he is almost always tossing a white-and-chartreuse spinnerbait here.
"I build my own spinnerbaits, using components from BOSS tackle and fishing skirts.com," said the young Texas angler. "I also fish the V&M Baits Pacemaker series Big Easy spinnerbait."
To help keep the bait shallow, Jones will throw it on 17-pound Hi-Seas Fluorocarbon line spooled to a medium speed 6.3:1 gear ratio baitcasting reel.
"The rod I use is a Temple Fork Outfitters Pacemaker," said Jones. "This rod was designed by 2013 Bassmaster Classic winner Cliff Pace and he did so specifically for fishing a spinnerbait. And dude, it is sweet!"
Speaking of sweet, that's a good way to describe the old-school tactic of throwing a spinnerbait in muddy, pre-spawn water.
"This technique - with the proper set up - can be killer on pre-spawn bass in muddy (conditions)," said Jones. "The key is to be sure that you are getting the fish's attention."
And there are few better ways to do so when springtime brings stained water than by throwing a spinnerbait.
Toss one out and see if the bass in your local pond don't agree.