Spring Fishing Tactics for Multispecies Success
by Dan Johnson
Spring is prime time for fast fishing on lakes and rivers across the continent. To help you catch the most fish possible on every trip, we’ve assembled the following tips and tricks for bass, panfish, catfish, walleye and trout from some of the country’s hottest sticks.
Longtime guide and lifelong bass fan Tony Roach throws slender stickbaits for spring bass and says you should, too. “Suspending or slow-falling jerkbaits like the Rapala Shadow Rap Deep are deadly on largemouths and smallmouths, from early spring into the post-spawn,” he reports.
“Fish them with a snap-pause retrieve in a variety of areas, from fast-warming bays and creeks to flats and boulder-strewn breaks,” he continues. “Make a long cast, rip the lure down to the strike zone and experiment with sharp snaps and subtle pauses—making sure to let the bait hang there on a slack line. Don’t be afraid to pause 10, 15 seconds or more. If bass follow the bait to the boat, you’re not pausing long enough.”
Roach also relies on paddletail soft plastics, rigged on jigheads with an exposed hook. “Storm’s 360GT Searchbait and Berkley’s PowerBait Ripple Shad are great examples of baits with big, hard-thumping tails that spring bass can’t resist,” he says. “The presentation is as simple as it is effective. Retrieve the bait low, slow and steady, bumping bottom and deflecting off rocks and other objects.” For best results, he recommends a superbraid mainline and fluorocarbon leader for both jerkbaits and paddletails.
Panfish on Plastics
“Classic shallow feeding areas are hard to beat for spring panfish,” says Scott Glorvigen, veteran panfish hunter and proprietor of USA media ally Wired2Fish.com. “Look for places where the water warms first, such as old reed beds, canals and dark-bottomed bays protected from the wind. Active fish often cruise depths of six feet or less.”
Glorvigen gears up with a spinning outfit spooled with light line. “Two-pound monofilament is hard for fish to see and gives the bait a natural fall,” he says. He slides a small, clear casting bubble on the mainline, then ties on a small swivel and adds a 2-foot leader of 2-pound mono before capping it off with a 1/32- to 1/16-ounce jighead. He prefers artificial tipping options such as miniature minnow and creature baits from softbait stalwarts like Berkley and Northland Fishing Tackle. “I try to match the hatch, but it pays to experiment with different heads, bodies and color combinations,” he says.
Tipping and jig depth are tailored to the forage base. “Crappies feeding on baitfish love a minnow-shaped plastic suspended 1½ feet beneath the surface,” he notes. “When panfish scoop bugs from the mud, fish an insect imitator close to bottom.”
Glorvigen swims the jig with pulls and pauses that produce a pendulum action. The baseline presentation entails casting the rig out, letting it settle, then pulling it about 12 to 18 inches and letting it settle a few seconds before moving it again. However, the pace is often tweaked to match bait style and mood of the fish. “I typically fish minnow shapes faster and bottom-hugging bugs more slowly,” he adds.
UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 member Pat Muehling of Florissant, Missouri, is a diehard catfish fan and fierce tournament competitor. Blue cats are his favorite quarry, which he pursues on the lower Missouri and Mississippi rivers, as well as legendary reservoirs like Wheeler and Lake of the Ozarks.
Muehling seeks forage-rich areas in spring. “Big blues are typically close to baitfish,” he says. “March through early April, I typically anchor and fish cut gizzard shad in a variety of areas from scour holes to shallow sand flats, depending on the conditions,” he says.
“As water temps get between 50 to 60 degrees, blues spread out and feed more aggressively as they move upstream toward spawning areas,” he notes. “Bumping skipjack on bottom during controlled drifts over fish-holding area is my go-to. It’s a blast. On fisheries like the lower Mississippi, you can catch 30 to 40 fish on a good day, with a decent shot at 80- to 100-pound giants.”
’Eyes of Spring
Tournament veteran and Bass Pro Shops pro Keith Kavajecz says the hottest new way to catch spring walleyes is an aggressive form of snap-jigging that excels from ice-out into the early post-spawn period.
“It’s a brand-new technique that covers water fast and triggers reaction strikes by aggressively fishing Berkley’s Snap Jig, which generates a darting, gliding action,” he begins. “Lighter versions are great for swimming with a side-to-side action over emerging weeds or shallow structure. Heavier options lend themselves to aggressive maneuvers over slightly deeper flats, reefs, points and other structure.”
Kavajecz tips 3/16- and ¼-ounce Snap Jigs with live bait, a 3-inch Berkley Gulp! Minnow or 3-inch PowerBait Minnow. Larger jigs are dressed with bigger softbaits, like a 3.4-inch PowerBait Champ Minnow or 4-inch Gulp! Minnow. “Avoid paddletails and curlytails or the jig won’t glide correctly,” he warns.
Snap Jigs are fished on medium-light to medium power spinning gear spooled with Berkley FireLine Ultra 8 mainline, tipped with a short fluorocarbon leader. “Make a long cast, let the jig glide to the depth you want to fish (touch bottom if snags aren’t an issue) and begin a pop-glide retrieve,” Kavajecz advises. “Sharply snap the rodtip upward 12 to 18 inches, then let the jig swim down on semi-slack line and repeat the process.
“Over clean bottom or sparse grass, occasionally let the jig glide to bottom, then reel in the slack, snap it back up and resume the pop-glide cadence.” he continues. “This is great for finding bottom. But the long fall and touchdown also trigger strikes.”
Spring’s cool water temperatures allow lakers, rainbows and brown trout to roam virtually anywhere in the lake. To find fish fast, veteran Colorado guide and Transport Workers Local 556 member Bernie Keefe targets these sweet spots.
“Long, slow-tapering points with deep water at the end are hotspots,” says Keefe. “It doesn’t matter whether the bottom is mud, gravel or boulders, but light conditions are critical. Sunny, calm weather won’t cut it. This is a low-light, heavy overcast or wind-driven pattern.”
The top of the point is the strike zone. Keefe fishes a midsize stickbait like a Berkley Skinny Cutter 110 with an erratic retrieve. “A combination of twitches, pauses and pulls usually trips their trigger,” he says. “Experiment to determine the right cadence. In general, keep it slow if the water temperature is less than 40 degrees. Speed things up once it’s over 50.”
Tributaries are fonts of life in spring. “Baitfish and certain trout species move in to spawn,” says Keefe. “Other trout feed on eggs and small fish. You get the whole food chain.”
Targeting eater-size trout, Keefe rigs a worm or Berkley PowerBait Floating Trout Worm on a small jig or split-shot rig and drifts it through the shallows with the current, either in the creek or where the inflow enters the lake.
For larger trout, he casts deeper water near the tributary. Stickbaits get the nod in low light, while jigs rule under sunnier skies. “When they’re not raiding the inlet, big fish stage in depths of 10 to 25 feet, often in groups, where their competitive nature makes them easier to catch than loners cruising solo,” he explains.