Stabilizing The Spring Bite
For many bass anglers, the early spring bass fishing season is one of anticipation mixed with frustration, primarily because unstable weather patterns leading to rapidly changing water conditions can make locating bass (and getting them to bite) challenging. The following information gleaned from professional bass anglers will help you achieve success during your upcoming bass outings and slam more bass!
Each spring, adult largemouths go through three critical reproductive phases: pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn. While winter and summer are fairly distinct and uniform periods of time, the springtime spawn phases for largemouths are more nebulous and overlap considerably.
Timing for the spawn varies by latitude and elevation. And, depending on late-spring weather, the spawn’s timing in one lake can vary slightly from year to year. By breaking the spawn phases down and taking a deep dive into each of them, we not only gain a better understanding of how bass behave in these three phases, we ultimately catch more fish. After all, any time we hit the water—regardless of the time of the year—identifying the proper seasonal patterns is the first step to success. It tells us where to start our spring bass fishing campaign, and nothing’s more important than that.
Pre Spawn Spring Bass Fishing
Once water temperatures begin to warm following winter lows, bass take notice and the pre-spawn period begins. Signs can be as subtle as finding bass near shallow cover and structure—and away from the vertical structure associated with winter holding areas—to more obvious signs on the fish themselves: You may catch an occasional male bass in or near traditional spawning areas that has a worn and bloody tail from sweeping its nesting areas clean.
Typically, the first bass to spawn each season is among the biggest. Legendary underwater filmmaker Glen Lau surmises that the bigger bass can handle the cold better and are less impacted by it.
The period when many or most bass are in pre-spawn mode is a great time to be on the water. These fish tend to be active and feed heavily in preparation for the mating ritual. They move shallow and eat more—both habits making them more vulnerable to anglers. By targeting cover and structure near protected bays and coves where they’re likely to spawn, you could hit the mother lode.
Lure selection at this time is less critical than proper location. As tournament standout Edwin Evers puts it,
“The wrong bait in the right place will catch them every time.”
Your first job is to figure out whether the pre-spawn fish are still staging on drop-offs near deep water, or have progressed to the point that they are actively feeding in shallow water. That’s why you use baits that cover a lot of water. If your day starts at dawn or under low-light conditions, start shallow, favoring locations with rock or wood cover that would allow active bass to ambush forage fish.
If you find the fish on predictable types of shallow cover (blowdowns, stumps, or weed lines) or structure (rocks and shallow creek channels), you can slow down and fish that cover more carefully with weightless soft-plastic stickbaits like Senkos or Yum Dingers that appeal to fish because they look tasty and are easy to catch.
If the fish are not shallow—or time of year and cold water suggest it’s unlikely they’ve gone shallow yet—try fishing deeper staging areas along creek channels, ledges, and points. You’re looking for places that deep bass can use structure to ambush prey. The best structure to probe will be close to the shallow feeding and spawning flats that the bass will eventually move into as water warms.
The depth of pre-spawn and spawning fish is heavily influenced by water clarity. The dirtier the water, the shallower they’ll spawn. Eggs need the warmth of the sun to incubate and hatch. If water visibility is measured in mere inches, you can focus your efforts on just a few feet of water. But if the water is extremely clear, it’s not unheard of for bass to spawn in 15- or even 20-foot depths.
And while the moon phase is important, a full moon does more to concentrate spawning activity than to control it. You’ll likely find large waves of bass spawning around the full moon, but a thorough search of a spawning area can reveal them during other moon phases as well.
In general, however, Lau believes the key period in this annual process begins six days before the full moon once water temperatures reach the 50s. It will likely peak when temperatures are in the 60s and continue for the final stragglers until temperatures are in the 70s. Lau has spent more than 13,000 hours underwater studying the largemouth and has observed thousands of spawning bass.
“At six days before the full moon, female largemouths will congregate around a log or other piece of cover, which they rub and bump their bellies against,” Lau says. “I believe they’re loosening the eggs they’re carrying so they’ll be easier to lay. This bumping activity takes place for about three days.”
While the females are readying themselves for the spawn, male bass are starting to build the nests. They’ll often start to build a nest by fanning in an area, but stop if they find too much mud or silt, which can suffocate the eggs and prevent them from hatching. While the male is building his nest, the female will wait nearby. Sometimes the male will drive a female to his nest by nipping, biting, and pushing her to the exact spot where he wants the eggs to be laid.
It’s important to remember while spring bass fishing. Water temperature is the single most crucial factor determining bass location and activity level in early spring. Bass (as well as baitfish and crawfish) are cold-blooded, meaning their body temperature matches the temperature of their surroundings. Bass instinctively gravitate to warmer water in order to maximize their feeding opportunities — to “fatten up” prior to their upcoming spawning season. Even a one-or two-degree water temp difference can be huge during the spring months.
Volatile weather patterns typical of early spring also impact bass behavior and ultimately have an effect on spring bass fishing. Heavy rains send muddy water gushing into reservoirs, this murky runoff is often considerably warmer than lake water and can draw bass surprisingly shallow. A cold front – typified by bluebird skies north winds and a sharp temperature drop – commonly follows spring rainstorms; here, bass will usually hold tight to rock and wood cover and remain there until conditions stabilize.
Early Spring Bass Fishing Lure Options
- Squarebill crankbaits
- Use across submerged wood and rock cover in murky reservoir tributaries.
- Lipless crankbaits
- Comb reservoir flats, near rocky points and weedlines in natural lakes.
- Swim jigs / Jigs
- Pitch jigs to isolated stumps, logs, and rocks, especially during cold fronts.
- Use on steep banks in clear lakes with a jerk/pause/jerk retrieve.
- Shaky head finesse worms
- Target submerged rock and wood. Using a hop/stop/shake retrieve.
Where to Cast When Spring Bass Fishing?
North Shore – For early spring bass fishing, the water on the north shore of the lake is often 5 degrees warmer than elsewhere. Hit this area hard on your first bass outings of the season, keying in on isolated cover in protected coves and pockets.
Riprap – Rock often trumps all other bass cover in early spring. Riprap at the mouths of murky reservoir tributaries can be a major bass magnet now. Bass stack up here to gorge on crawfish, a perfect scenario for a squarebill crankbait.
Channel Banks – Bass follow submerged reservoir channels like highways, using them to move progressively shallower as the water warms. In clear lakes, slice-cast a jerkbait to these structures, in murky lakes, target scattered rock and wood cover along the bank with a jig.
Peak Spawn Spring Bass Fishing
After the female makes several passes over the nest to deposit her eggs, the male will fertilize them with his milt. The egg-laying process will often give the female a bloody tail. This is caused by the way she scoots through the nest to deposit her eggs, not from fanning the nest. Fanning is a male thing.
“After a female has deposited all of her eggs,” Lau says, “she establishes a wide perimeter around the nest and will hold there for up to five days, though it’s often tough to see that she’s present. Eventually, the female will retreat to deep water to recuperate for anywhere from two days to a full week. She feeds and moves very little during this time.”
Once the eggs are laid and before they hatch, it’s usually necessary to antagonize the bass by representing a threat to the nest in order to get a strike. They won’t actively feed, but they will often protect the bed by attacking predators or picking them up off the nest and carrying them away. Bed fishing in that way is a controversial topic among anglers, but it may present our best opportunity to catch the biggest fish of the year.
When you fish beds, choose a bait that looks dangerous to eggs, such as a salamander, crawdad, or scavenging small fish. Move that bait into the nest and let it rest on the bottom, moving it just subtly enough that it looks like it is searching for eggs to eat. You want the bait to anger the bass. Some color on the bait will help you see whether the bass picks it up—the bite may be too soft to feel.
Post-Spawn Fishing Notes
Bass movement after the spawn is predominantly the reverse of pre-spawn movement. Many females head for the first structure break leading to deeper water—creek channels, ledges, and points. Here they rest for a few days, but then begin to feed more actively as they recover from the spawn.
Again, use search baits until you find what depth and structure the bass are favoring. Though bass feed less immediately after the spawn, it’s likely that you’ll be fishing over some fish that have recovered and are active since not all bass spawn at the same time. In fact, some of the active fish may be pre-spawn bass holding right next to bass that have already recovered from the spawn.
While spring bass fishing, anglers who are patient enough to figure out where most of the active fish are will catch more bass at any stage of the spawn. For every bass hooked, note critical variables: depth, structure, temperature, size of fish, and, of course, what bait they bit. Build an evidence set of where the active fish are, and you’ll fill your livewell.