By USA Guest Columnist and Pro Angler Gary Klein
You’ve made it through the winter—although there were times when you doubted you would, what with all the cold weather and subsequent fall off in your fishing activity. But take comfort in the fact that March and April are two of the best months of the year for targeting big, pre-spawn bass. Yes, they made it through the winter, too. These bass are easily some of the most aggressive of the year and are relatively easy to find, especially compared to the deep, offshore fishing that is so common during the winter.
March and April are the time of year when nature calls the fish to the shallow water to begin preparations for the spawn. Granted, in some latitudes (Florida, South Texas and further south) the fish are already spawning, in most places the bass haven’t started yet. They are moving shallow to be adjacent to spawning flats and to take advantage of the warming temperatures. As the sun warms the air, it’s the shallow water that warms up the fastest; and where there’s warm water there are baitfish.
To begin my search for bass in March and April, I start by considering the environment in which I am fishing. In North America, bass are found in only four types of fisheries: river systems, natural lakes, man-made lakes and tidal systems, each with its own set of environmental factors that determines where the bass will be. But for the sake of this time of the year, I prefer to simplify the classification of the fishery into just two selections: clear water and stained water.
Clear water generally has a lot of aquatic vegetation in it and the bass will relate to the edges of these vegetation lines much as they would a shoreline, though the edge of the vegetation line may or may not be near the shore. In stained water, where there is less vegetation through which the water is filtered, the bulk of the bass will be relating to the shoreline. In both cases, expect to find the bass in less than 10 feet of water.
What I am looking for in both fisheries are areas of protected water. In a man-made reservoir, I would be looking for little pockets, places out of the wind and current, whether the current is created by the wind, the drawing of water or the influx of water from feeder creeks and rivers. In a natural lake, north shores are good places to start since they are protected from the cold north winds while still able to benefit from the warmth of a south wind. Once I have located these places through scouting of topographic maps and the use of my on-board electronics, I begin to piece together the pattern within the pattern.
The good news is that once you’ve located the fish, the chances of there being a lot of bass in the area are quite high. The bad news is that there might be many locations within a fishery that fit the criteria of where the bass like to be. By figuring out the subtle differences between the multiple, sheltered areas, you can cover water much more quickly and efficiently.
In stained water, for example, bass might be relating heavily to tree stumps. To catch these bass, I rely on either a big jig or a Texas-rigged Berkley Power Lizard to reveal how to approach these fish. Using an 8-foot flipping stick and a high-speed baitcasting reel spooled with 25-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line. With either a ½- or ¾-ounce jig (green pumpkin for clear water; black and blue for stained) tipped with a PowerBait Chigger Craw or a 6-inch PowerBait Power Lizard rigged with 5/0 hook and a ¼- or 3/16-ounce weight, I rely on pinpoint accuracy to flip or pitch to these targets. Once I determine where they are on the stumps (behind, sun side, leeward side, middle), I translate that information to subsequent stumps, allowing me to cover more water.
In fisheries with lots of vegetation, spinnerbaits and topwater baits fished near the grass lines seem to work best. Whereas bass in stained water seem to rely on their lateral lines to detect motion and feed, bass in clear water feed much more by sight and are much more likely to leave the shelter of the grass line and pursue a moving bait. Using a 7-foot fiberglass rod, a standard-speed retrieve baitcasting reel spooled with 30- to 50-pound SpiderWire Stealth, I make long casts with a Colorado-blade spinner bait (the big, round blades move more water) or a Berkley PowerBait 5-inch Jerk Shad. If I see fish coming to the top and breaking the surface or notice bluegill sunning near the top of the water column, this is a sure sign to switch from the spinnerbait to the jerk shad. With the jerk shad, I rig the bait on a 5/0 extra-wide gap hook and throw it on 17- or 20-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line using a 7-foot medium-heavy casting rod, keeping the bait in sight; not letting it run too deep. Fished slowly, I am much more successful with this bait if I can see the strikes.
In both types of water, you don’t have to be too concerned with finessing bass these times of year. The water is warming; they are actively feeding in preparation for the spawn, so there’s no reason to downsize your baits. Big jigs, heavy line and powerful rods used in conjunction with pinpoint casting and plenty of on-the-water fish-locating practice will help you find these bass while they are holed up and transitioning towards the spawn.