By Dr. Hal Schramm
Bass fishing is a dynamic, ever-changing process, and that is especially true in the spring as bass transition from winter to pre-spawn, to the spawn, and then post-spawn. Throughout the pre-spawn—spawn—post-spawn sequence, bass are aggressive and tend to be shallow—a perfect combination for a lot of bites and for the fish of a lifetime. A perfect time to make memories.
Lake Nacimiento, California: spawn
This dragon-shaped, 18-mile long central California lake is home to largemouth bass and Alabama spotted bass. (Note: biologists now know that what was formerly considered spotted bass is a group of closely related species. The Alabama bass is the larger of the bass in the “spotted bass group” and is the fish that was introduced to California waters. Most anglers know this fish as a “spotted bass,” and I’ll retain that name.) It is the bruiser spotted bass that fascinate local tournament ace Ken Sauret. Here are some tips to help you connect with spawning spots.
Plan A: Sauret starts his search for spawning bass in small coves and pockets on the north side of the lake. Look for males preparing beds. “Bass like to protect one side of the bed if they can. Check shallow cover like brush or logs first; this is the most likely place for a bass to build a nest,” advised the California pro. Sauret entices bites from spawning spotted bass drop shotting a YUM Sharp Shooter. Morning Dawn is a good color, and Sauret prefers the 4.5-inch size.
Plan B: Clear water or lack of cover pushes the spotted bass deeper to spawn, and bass may bed as deep as 10 to 12 feet. Look for hard-bottom areas, and blind cast a Booyah Swim’n Jig to cover water for aggressive bass protecting their beds. Sauret opts for a black/chartreuse jig with a green pumpkin/purple YUM Christie Craw or Bad Jamma trailer to resemble nest-robbing sunfish. “Thread the trailer on the jig so the appendages are vertical, not horizontal, to better resemble a bluegill or other nest-robbing fish,” suggested Sauret. “If you catch a male that releases milt when you land him, he probably is well into spawning. Keep working the area because it is likely a bigger female is nearby. Keep the male in the live well while fishing for the female.”
Pro pointer: Larger females tend to pair up with larger males. “f I notice a larger than average male on a bed but not paired up yet, I will place a waypoint on that spot and check it again around the full moon. More often than not a big female will show up. Also, when you are looking at bass on a bed, be very quiet; don’t hit the trolling motor or even rock the boat by moving quickly when you are close to the bed. The waves created by the boat will spook the fish and make them even tougher to catch. If you can see the fish, they can see you. And they can feel you! Use your shallow-water anchors to hold the boat still, especially in breezy conditions when the boat always seems to drift right over the bed.” In shallow water, a push pole will aid a stealthy attack of spawning bass on a large flat.
Beaver Lake, Arkansas; pre-spawn and spawn
Anglers fishing this 28,000-acre Ozark Mountains impoundment will have a choice of pre-spawn or spawning bass according to FLW Tour pro Pete Ponds. I spoke to Ponds while he was practicing for the FLW Tour event there April 14-17. Ponds offers tips for catching pre-spawn and spawning bass in late April and early May and some advice for stretching the spawn bite.
Plan A: It’s been an unusual spring, and the normally clear water of Beaver has been replaced by dingier water in the mid-lake reach where Ponds forecasts that bass should still be pre-spawn. Ponds searches for pre-spawn bass in creek-arm pockets opening to the west. “Start fishing about half way back in the pockets and fish to the back,” advised Ponds. “The shallower sides or the inside turns of the pockets are generally more productive.” Ponds starts with a 300 Series Bandit in a brown crawfish pattern and switches to a 200 Series as he moves back into the pocket and the water gets shallower. Use 10-pound test fluorocarbon line to help increase lure depth and get the Bandit bumping bottom. Use a slow, steady retrieve, and expect the bite to be a ‘soft load’ on the rod.” Ponds recommends extending the pre-spawn bite by fishing east-opening pockets and main-lake pockets and main-lake islands later in the spawn cycle.
Plan B: Ponds expects the spawn to rev up with the full moon the last week in April in the clearer water at the dam and uplake. Ponds relies on a weightless, wacky-rigged YUM Dinger for spawning bass. He fishes the Dinger with a spinning rod, 10-pound braid mainline and a 4-foot fluoro leader. Beds appear as faint light spots. He casts to every light spot he sees as he moves toward the back of pockets, but he continually is blind casting to the center of the pockets while searching for beds to increase efficiency.
Pro pointer: Use the right series of a crankbait so you can feel the bottom. Not all coves and pockets heat the same. Use afternoon water temperature and sun exposure to determine pockets where bass will spawn early or will spawn later in the spring.
Muskogee Pool, Arkansas River, Oklahoma; pre-spawn, spawn, and post spawn
This 11,600-acre Arkansas River lock and dam pool offers anglers 157 miles of shoreline to search for pre-spawn and spawning bass. Intel for how to intercept and catch these Muskogee Pool largemouth is provided by Bassmaster Open pro and upper Arkansas River ace Eric Porterfield.
The weather has been a roller coaster—a couple nice days followed by several cold days and heavy rains has kept the water from warming. The weather rules, but Porterfield forecasts the spawn to be in full swing by late April. To help you cover the bases, here’s what is working right now, and what should work for spawners and post-spawner in late April and early May.
Plan A: Head for the backs of creeks and fish your way out. Expect the bass to spawn on stumps and hard-bottom areas in the creeks in water 1- to 5-feet deep. Use your electronics to find the areas with harder bottom. “The bass are really eating a spinnerbait,” exclaimed Porterfield. “Try the Booyah Tux and Tails Spinnerbait, white/chartreuse with a single, gold Colorado blade. Hit every piece of cover. Bump logs, rub rocks. Try to develop a pattern.” Porterfield backs up the spinnerbait by pitching a YUM Wooly Hawg Craw under a 3/8-ounce tungsten weight to every hard target he sees. “Spool up with 20-pound fluoro to wrestle the bass away from cover.
Plan B: post-spawn. “Stay in water less than 5-feet deep and fish every big log between the spawning flats and the creek mouth with a buzzbait and a squarebill” recommended Porterfield. Porterfield has two buzzbaits on deck. He starts with the Booyah Buzz. This is a noisy, aggressive buzzbait. If the bass snub the Booyah Buzz, he fishes the quieter Booyah Counter Strike Buzz. “Sometimes the bass just want a buzz bait that purrs.” If the bass won’t leave the shelter of their logs for a buzzbait, knock on their door with a squarebill.”
Pro pointer: Short strikes on spinnerbaits become especially frequent from bedding bass. Porterfield uses a trailer hook when he is fishing cover other than vegetation. “The trailer hook and a white twin-tail grub with red-tipped tails often turns nippers into gulpers.”
Middle Arkansas River, Arkansas and Oklahoma; late pre-spawn, spawn, post-spawn
Fortunately, not all anglers fish the same way. Above, you read how Eric Porterfield puts bass in the box in Muskogee Pool of the Arkansas River. Below you will learn how BFL and Bassmaster Open pro and 2015 Bassmaster Classic qualifier Chris Jones relies on river fish to help him earn tournament checks on his “home water.” His approach is especially effective in a wet year like 2016 when heavy rains have muddied the backwaters with creeks flowing in. Most bass will be spawning in these middle Arkansas River pools as you read this, but the areas that Jones fishes will put you on pre-spawn, spawning, and post-spawn bass, and his presentations will catch all three spawn stages. Thus, there is only a Plan A.
Plan A: Look for good habitat out of the current; relatively clear water is an asset but not a necessity. Good habitat may be weed beds with newly greening vegetation, rocks (including wing dam rip rap), or “laying” logs. Areas out of the current may be large bays or slack-water areas behind wing dikes (jetties). “There are a lot of bass that live in the river, and I doubt that they swim all the way to the backs of creeks and backwater areas just to spawn,” asserts Jones. “If there’s good habitat, a hard bottom, and protection from the current, there may be bass there. Be mobile. Keep searching likely current-sheltered areas until you find active bass.”
Jones presentations are compatible with his search-and-explore method of finding bass and the persistence of shallow-water (generally less than 3-feet deep) bass in the Arkansas River. Indeed, Jones shared that “you can’t fish too shallow,” and he relies on four presentations:
- Casting or pitching a Texas rigged YUM Christie Craw or YUM Lizard under a 1/8 to 3/8 ounce sinker. Jones prefers watermelon/red for clear water and black/blue for muddier water (visibility less than 1 foot); he’ll fish a junebug Lizard when clarity is 12 to 15 inches.
- Casting or pitching a black/blue Booyah Bankroll Jig to every piece of good cover he sees.
- Casting a Booyah Double Colorado Spinnerbait, chartreuse and white skirt. Jones likes to modify his spinnerbait with a red “kicker” blade (the first blade) when fishing in dirtier water.
- Banging a chartreuse/black back square bill off any hard structure.
Pro pointer: “Use a bobber stop when flipping to control the movement of the weight. I like to add a red bead between hook and weight to give a little rattle and irritate those spawning bass.”