Once again, Mega Bass Pro Matt Magone has shared another article with me. Very informative.
Although the Spring goes hand in hand with “Head Hunting” shallow water bed fish, anglers fishing deeper Pre-Spawn structure spots can often experience intense action on quality Large mouth Bass. Bass begin to make their move a lot earlier than the majority believe. In late January and early February, there’s no coincidence why a small population of bass are visually seen active in shallow water while others seem to be piled up like sandbags in 30-50′ of water. While some remained shallow year long, others have begun their search early for hospitable nesting spots. I call this the Pre-Pre Spawn. Regardless, the health of a fishery is based solely on the Bass’s reproductive cycle. While many go undetected in shallower water, the goal in mind for the average angler is to weed through the little ones to achieve a bass over 10#’s being it’s the one time of year big bass let their guard down.
Assuming on your home lake, there are 30 boats a day, 210 boats a week and roughly 840 boats a month. Out of the 30 boats each day, a safe assumption would be that 10 will fish bed fish and conservatively will catch 4 fish a day per boat. That’s 40 fish a day, 280 fish a week and then 1120 fish a month. Common sense tells you, the same bass WILL be caught multiple times not to mention the few that are brought home for dinner. Factor into 40-80 boat bass tournament circuits and the numbers increase. This is always a touchy subject that often results into a 5 hour long debate but the fact of the matter is, as bass fisherman our #1 objective is to preserve the health of our fisheries.With that being said, anglers need to keep a close eye on how they handle, care for and then release their bass as this time of year Bass are in their most vulnerable state.
Instead of directly targeting the fish that have already paired up, I’ve learned that I can still take advantage of some extremely exciting fishing by targeting the fish that have yet to make their journey shallow. It just so happens that these are the egg laden females at their heaviest weight of the year. The first thing I do is ask myself a couple key questions to ease myself into understanding where I need to start to locate Pre-Spawn fish.
In years past, what part of the lake offered the best Spawning locations?
Based on current water level, what primary structural element were these fish relocating from?
What is the KEY feature on that spot that offers fish the most comfort?
What technique do I employ to catch these fish?
Running down the lake in the early season, I’m going to take notice on what my lake has to offer. For instance on Diamond Valley, we have more to work with than the average angler may think. The lake has absolutely no shortage of key structural features and a great deal of cover to begin my search. From points to creek draws then grass to buck brush, the lake truly does have a lot to offer. The first thing I’m taking into consideration is my water temperature. When I begin to see the water reach 60 degrees I know it’s time to start looking for Pre-Spawn fish. While the textbook claims that 67 degrees is the most optimal Spawning temperature, anglers must realize, that like you or I, fish are individuals. Looking towards our everyday lives, when the early days of Summer bring air temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s, some of us are already cranking up the air conditioner and staying indoors while others are heading to beach for a sun tan. Same thing goes for fish. It’s all relative. They’re all individuals. In an otherwise cold environment, I’m going to put my main focus on “Rock” as it retains the most heat. By rock I’m referring to hard bottom areas with the most direct sun exposure throughout the course of a day such as East facing dam, point, rip rap, etc.
Once I’ve found areas with hospitable spawning features and have located the random fish or two, I’ll back-track out to the first major break and look for some form of structural element that led them in from deep water. This could be a point, ridge, creek channel, hump or flat. I want to envision the lake bottom in my mind and think like a fish. Fish have the ability to move up and down due to their swim bladders. Too much, too soon can result in barotrauma which we as angler witness when we pull a fish up from deep water too fast; too soon. Seeing as fish need to gradually make the adjustment through the water column, Bass will stop on key cover/structure between deep water and their intended spawning location whether it be a rock pile, brush, ledge, boulder etc. These Pre-Spawn areas are often high percentage big fish spots throughout the year.
When targeting these Pre-Spawn areas, I like to do so with my 1/2 punch. While the swim bait is an extremely powerful tool to locate numbers based on it’s drawing power, I favor The Football Head Jig and The big worm as they are effective in sampling size of fish off a spot since they’re not as intrusive to wary bass.
The Football Jig is an effective tool not only by covering water fast but also remaining effective in picking a spot apart. Assuming you locate a potential area and all ingredients seem to fit. There may be a rock pile in relation to a creek channel bend, 2 creek draws that come together with a a primary piece of cover at its intersection or an outer edge rock pile on the deep side of a main or secondary point. For all you know, you may have found the Holy Grail! While many areas seem to be perfect, your timing, angling pressure that day or inhospitably at that single moment in time may be off. This is where you need to sample your spot as fast and efficiently as possible to find active fish. For this you need a bait that can be effectively fished at a higher rate of speed in order to cover water quick and that’s the Football Jig. Often times I opt for a 3/8oz jig in water shallower that 30ft and a 1/2oz jig in water deeper than 30ft. Wind, current, and activity level area all things to be taken into consideration. Wind high or high activity level often dictate a heavier or faster retrieve, while flat calm and neutral or negative feeding moods often dictate a lighter weight jig. There are always exceptions, and as an angler you need to adapt. Colors this time of year are dictated by water clarity, depth and forage base. Keep things simple and pick a jig and trailer combo that best matches the food chain and without a doubt you’ll get bit.
Once a spot is deemed worthy, I’ll often milk a spot with the big worm as it’s a delicate follow up approach. Often times this year I’ll come through an area and straight blow the doors off them with a jig but after a fun heavy hitting session the spot will seemingly shut down. Whatever the case may be, the fish may have gone into a neutral or negative feeding mood from the intrusion you’ve caused or the fish may have moved up and changed location. This is where the majority of anglers will often pick the trolling motor up and rotate new water. If the Pre-Spawn spot is in a primary junction between deep water and a prime spawning flat, the odds of more and more fish funneling up at different times throughout the day are high. Being able to be there when the fish move in is what often separates a banner day from a mediocre. This time of year, a lot of fish I’ve noticed won’t show up on the fish finder as they’re moving in and out different times throughout the day. This is where I’ll pull out a Texas Rigged plastic worm in the 8-12″ range. The “Big Worm” is a high calorie meal that a bass doesn’t have to expend more energy to hunt down than the amount of caloric intake it’ll receive. With weight size I often go as light as I can get away with but my decision is always based on the conditions. Generally I’ll opt for a 1/16oz -1/4oz and pick my colors, like the jig, based on forage base and water clarity. Two prime colors for me this time of year are Black Grape and Chocolate Blue Vein. As always Let the bass be the deciding factor.
Without a doubt, fishing Bedding Bass is one of the most exciting, impressive and frustrating times of the year, but instead of intruding on mother natures way of reproduction, I urge anglers to take advantage of the angling possibilities a little deeper in the water column. With these transitional fish, care in handling and releasing of fish should all be observed. I don’t know about you but to me, catching a double digit fish weighing in its entirety is a heck of a lot better than catching an 8 pounder that should have been a giant 2 weeks prior.