Trappin Early Season Bass

Bobby Burnett with Rat-L-Trap bass from 43 degree water.

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Statistics indicate this is the coldest spring we've seen in the upper Midwest since 1951. Perspective on this factoid depends on how old you are. When I look in the mirror and see a face that's been around since '51 looking back at me there are more wrinkles than freckles from more than a half-century out in the wind, rain and sun doing what we love to do.

Thousands of days on the water spent with hundreds of buddies, clients and fellow pilgrims have provided a considerable knowledge base. When coupled with average angling ability there are enough building blocks on lower tiers of the Fishing Success Pyramid to ensure confidence that every trip holds potential for a productive day on the water.

A few years back I used to spend an unholy amount of time fishing and guiding at a place called Apple Canyon Lake in northwestern Illinois. This private 400 acre water body was-and is-one of the best bass lakes in the Midwest.

The 'Canyon came into being with placement of a dam on one small fork of the pristine Apple River about 40 years ago. For the first 30 years my boat was in the water there more often than not.

Those bass in Apple Canyon taught me many lessons. Our brutally cold spring presents an opportunity for Lake-Linkers who spend most of their time on waters subject to closed seasons to benefit from knowledge gained from this old guide on waters which freeze but seasons never close.

Ice is almost always gone from states with closed bass seasons by the time opening day arrives most years, with water temperatures in some areas of the average lake in the mid-50's.

Small, slow presentations like the venerable 'jig-n-pig' fished close to cover in shallower water next to the first deepwater breakline is a great way to hook up with these "early season" bass.

Water temperature is a major key in early season bass location. Fish are cold blooded. After ice out they will seek the warmest water available. In many lakes this water is found over shallower water with a dark bottom with the greatest exposure to the spring sun-typically the back end of bays with northern and northwestern orientation.

On this part of the planet streams which feed most lakes enter from some northern vector. Many of these feeder streams carry silt from upstream which drops out of the water column as current dissipates when entering the lake.

Herein lays the recipe for building a dark-bottom with greater sun-absorbing capacity than a light bottom like sand.

Conventional wisdom from anglers subject to seasonal restrictions on game fish know that the jig-n-pig, a slow-rolled spinnerbait or an essentially dead-sticked suspending Husky Jerk Rapala or Rattlin' Rogue worked patiently in the backs of shallow, dark bottomed bays with a northern exposure is a productive strategy for hooking up with bass in early May.

However, this is NOT a conventional spring! In many instances water temperatures in those places where folks typically find 'opening day' bass will still be in the low 40's.

Thirty years of chasing bass right after ice out on Apple Canyon Lake revealed an astonishing pattern for catching largemouth which anglers in Wisconsin and Minnesota can put to a "once in a lifetime" test over the next couple of weeks.

Try burning a Rat-L-Trap or white spinnerbait along the shoreline of those northern exposure, dark bottom points and bays in 2-10 feet of water when the temperature first warms to 43-48 degrees after ice out.

A crawdad pattern Rat-L-Trap always gave up the most fish on the ultra-clear waters of Apple Canyon. If water clarity on your opening day lake is less than five feet you might try a firetiger or gold color.

Makes no sense? Maybe. I've given this phenomenon a great deal of thought over the years on the way home from another successful trip on Apple Canyon Lake. The most logical conclusion is that fish are responding with a reflexive strike when the 'Trap comes thumping past their noses.

Bass don't have the capacity for higher thought. Their behavior is entirely based on survival. The "warmer" 43 degree water feels good. A 'Trap comes whizzing by and they respond like you would expect a predator to respond.

Why does this pattern end when water warms to 48 degrees? Maybe because metabolism has increased to a point where the bass finally 'realize' that they are prey as well as predators and glide away from sunny flats to a more survivable environment like the root system of a flooded stump where they can "think" about flaring gills and slurping in that jig until waters warm to 62 and its time to move out for some serious pre-spawn cruising.

If this tactic works for you this spring, please share your experience on this site. We're all in this together.

- Ted Peck

Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures and Cottonmouth Lures. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River. It is available in the Lake-Link Outlet.

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