March 01, 2021
By Ken Duke
Editor's Note: This timely bass-fishing article is featured in the West edition of the March issue of Game & Fish Magazine, currently on sale at newsstands across the country. Learn more about the March issue. Interested in a subscription ($8 annual)? Click here
Technically speaking, the first month of spring starts in winter. In March, there's usually a chill in the air and the water alike. Depending on how far north you live and fish, there might even be some ice.
The third month of the year is not when most dedicated bass anglers expect to catch great numbers of fish. Bass can be finicky and the weather unpredictable. Little things can prevent fish from biting in big numbers. Maybe the water's too cold. Maybe it's dirty. Maybe melting snow has caused levels to rise.
Even so, March is still the best month of the year to catch your personal best largemouth bass. Big fish get big by surviving better and eating more than other fish. Lunkers feel the urge to feed and to procreate, and they're leaving their deep-water haunts to do so. That benefits the intrepid angler willing to brave chilly weather, fish hard between bites and go after these giants when they're shallow and most vulnerable.
To help put that fish of a lifetime on the end of your line, we sought the advice of three top bass pros who know their way around western trophy waters, and who count on March to produce some of their biggest bites of the year. Jared Lintner hails from California, Josh Bertrand calls Arizona home and Luke Clausen is from Washington. They're all standouts on the Bass Pro Tour, and they all have a passion for and insight into March lunkers, whether they're fishing Southern California, deep desert impoundments or the lakes and rivers of the Pacific Northwest.
LOCATE A LUNKER
Once you've put yourself on a body of water capable of producing a new personal best, it's time to zero-in on the spots most likely to hold such a fish. The farther south you're fishing, the closer your bass are to spawning and the greater the influence the mating ritual will have on them.
"March is the major pre-spawn month for us in California," says Lintner. "It's the time to focus on secondary points and the outer edges of shallow flats and bays. I'll spend my time looking for big fish in 5 to 15 feet of water with little or no current. You might find smaller bass up shallower, but the big females will be out a little deeper."
Bertrand agrees. On the desert impoundments where he does much of his March fishing, he believes everything this month is related to the spawn. He targets similar areas to those favored by Lintner.
Farther north, Clausen notes that some waters will likely still have ice on them in early March. But by late March, water temperatures take a turn that leads to lunkers.
"The bass will start to move from vertical structure, like bluffs, to nearby flats," Clausen says. "If you can find some isolated wood and a dark, muddy bottom, you know you're in the right place. That stuff will warm up over the course of the day, and the bass there will get active."
BAITS FOR BIG FISH
Because March is not yet spring with a capital "S," Clausen, Bertrand and Lintner opt for lures that can cover water, but not for high-speed retrieves. They all choose baits that offer action at slow speeds and that work down in the water column.
For Clausen, that means a tandem spinnerbait like the 3/8-ounce Z-Man SlingBladeZ (Colorado and willow blades) or Power Finesse (Colorado/Indiana) in chartreuse and white with a 4-inch white DieZel MinnowZ trailer. The former Bassmaster Classic and Wood Cup champion likes to slow-roll the spinnerbait and bump it into cover to trigger a strike.
If he suspects that the spinnerbait is not slow enough for the cold-water conditions, Clausen reaches for a 3/8-ounce Dirty Jigs Compact Pitchin' Jig or 1/2-ounce Tour Level Pitchin' Jig in black-and-blue with a matching Z-Man Goat Twin Tail Grub as a trailer. As with the spinnerbait, a slow retrieve is usually best.
Because the water in desert impoundments is usually quite clear, Bertrand generally has to go deeper for his March bass. As with Clausen, he likes the jig, but prefers a 1/2-ounce football jig in green pumpkin or brown with a matching Berkley Chigger Craw trailer.
"I also like a deep-diving crankbait like the Berkley Dredger 17.5, 20.5 and 25.5 in Sexy Back or Irish Gold," Bertrand says. "The crankbait has a lot of drawing power, especially when early-season runoff has turned the water dingy."
And in the world-class trophy bass waters of California, Lintner never hits the water in March without a 1/2-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer in a dark color. He'll crawl it on or near the bottom so it impacts every piece of available cover.
Lintner's other March favorite is his go-to in dirtier water. That's where he likes a Jackall TN/70 lipless crankbait in a reddish hue. Between the rattle and the vibration, it gets the attention of bass and triggers strikes as it bounces off cover on a slow, steady retrieve.
REGIONAL HOT SPOTS
When it comes to best bets for a March lunker in his home region, Lintner recommends Clear Lake, the California Delta and Diamond Valley Lake. Bertrand points to Lake Havasu and the Salt River chain of lakes. For Clausen, it's Lake Coeur d'Alene in Idaho and Newman, Silver and Liberty lakes in Washington.
Just about any bass water in your area could produce a personal best if you get out there in March and follow our experts' advice, but genetics can really put things in your favor. If a fishery has Florida bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus) genetics, the bass will have a greater propensity for growth than pure Northern-strain largemouths. Florida genetics have had a greater impact on producing record-class bass than any other factor. Check with your state fisheries office to see if there have been any Florida bass stockings in waters near you.
All three of our experts agree that timing can be everything in March. Just because a spot doesn't produce in the morning doesn't mean it won't pay off in the afternoon, especially after it's had a chance to warm up.
"Sometimes you can find big bass in super-skinny water late in the day," says Clausen. "But even if they're not extremely shallow, it's likely they'll be more active late."
"If you have a spot that looks like it should hold pre-spawn bass, it probably does," says Lintner. "You just need to keep cycling back through to find them when they're active. That's often between noon and 4 o'clock p.m., when the water is warmest."
BIOLOGY & BIG BASS
How much heavier is a pre-spawn female?
How many times have you or a buddy caught a post-spawn bass and said, "She would've weighed 2 pounds more before she spawned!"?
Well, don't bet on it. A roe-laden bass—even one that looks ready to pop—is only 5 to 10 percent heavier than she is without the eggs. That's probably enough to get your 9-pound, 8-ounce fish into double digits, but it won't make a 10 pounder a "teener."
The real reason so many state- and world-record-class fish are caught during the pre-spawn has little to do with the eggs and everything to do with the spawning ritual and how anglers respond to it. As bass prepare to spawn, they feed aggressively and—more importantly—they move into the shallows, where anglers are more comfortable, more adept and more numerous. It's no wonder so many big fish are caught in the early spring.
A RECORD-SETTING MONTH
Three Western state-best fish caught in March
Nationwide, six state largemouth records have been set in March, including top bucketmouths in California, Nevada and New Mexico—plus one fish that nearly obliterated the world record.
- NEW MEXICO: On March 24, 1995, Steve Estrada used a black plastic worm to set the Land of Enchantment's record at 15 pounds, 13 ounces. He caught the fish from Bill Evans Lake, which measures just 62 surface acres—proof that it doesn't take big water to produce the biggest bass.
- NEVADA: Michael R. Geary set the Battle Born State's largemouth record on March 8, 1999, on Lake Mead. His giant weighed 12 pounds even.
- CALIFORNIA: Though larger bass have been recorded in the Golden State, California's official largemouth mark is 21-12, taken on March 5, 1991, by Michael Arujo from Castaic Lake. A week later, Bob Crupi caught a Castaic bass that weighed 22.01. It would be the state record, but Crupi released the fish without getting it certified because it was several ounces short of the world record he was seeking and he didn't want to stress the trophy by holding it through the official certification process.
March's biggest monster came in 2006. That's when Lake Dixon in San Diego County produced a 25-1 for Mac Weakley. The fish, a popular and elusive target that local anglers had named "Dottie" for a distinctive mark on her gill plate, exceeded the world record by nearly 3 pounds. However, Weakley unintentionally foul-hooked the fish on the side of the head rather than in the mouth, making the catch ineligible for record consideration.