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Finding Early Spring Patterns

By Don Applegarth

 With the approaching of the new spring, I thought that we should discuss some strategies that should help everyone. While I do not claim to be an expert on many issues of bass fishing, I do like to talk to others, and get responses to many questions that I have asked, or have answered for others, and see how much they differ. Anglers are very much individuals, and many do not follow the textbook patterns for seasonal bass fishing, or even fishing under certain conditions. Many times, I fall into that category, but I know that I am not alone.

It is always a good start, to go to your fishing log, and check entries from the past several years, at the same time. This will give you some good do's and don'ts for starting your search for those big pre-spawn sows, as they begin to migrate toward the warming waters in the shallow sections of the lake.

I like to start my search as the waters approach the 50 degree mark, but often in high 40's as well. Here, that is usually mid-February, but it can vary as much as 2 or 3 weeks depending upon the weather, and the fish will be in a Transitional state. Many times these bigger fish will start to move, and then severe cold fronts can stall them out, and make them go into a sort of holding pattern, until it becomes more stable. Notice, that I said stall, not retreat! That is an important fact.

I believe that the bigger bass usually are affected by weather changes more so than the smaller ones. Usually, if you search out areas that these bigger bass use as a migration route, you will find plenty of them, and once located, they can be followed for weeks, or even a couple of months, depending upon the weather.

I can remember a few years ago, here on Lanier, we had lactated some big fish, stacked up near a point at the mouth of a large cove off the main river channel. These fish ranged from about 2 1/2 lbs to almost 6, and one went just a hair over 7. These fish were there in late January, and we could count on 10 - 20 each day in this creek. The water temps were around 46 whenever we first located those bass, and as the days, warmed, and the water temps rose, the fish slowly worked their way towards the back of the cove, which is about 1 mile long. The first time we caught them, we were throwing Crawfish colored Crankbaits, on the point at the mouth of the cove, and catching fish from about 10'-12' of water, but we were casting into about 30 - 40' of water. The fish were on the point, but suspended about 20' deep. They would come up and take the baits, but we had to use a technique very similar to a jerkbait. We would make long casts, an then crank the baits down, and use a pull, stop, pull, stop technique all the way to the boat. The fish would just swim up and suck them in, and whenever you went to pull, there would be a slight heaviness on the line. Not a bone jarring strike, just pressure.

After about three weeks, these fish had moved into the first 1/3 of the creek, and there was a small feeder creek that ran into this one. There was a huge rock point at the intersection of these two places, and those fish stayed there for about another three weeks as temps would limb and fall, depending on the weather. We continued to catch these bass even when the weather changed.

During warmer days, they would move shallow along the point, and feed more aggressively on Rat-L-Traps, Spinnerbaits, and Flukes, but then if a cold front moved through, they would just back out about 20' off the point, and suspend a little deeper. Then it was time for those Crankbaits again. During this time, we won several tournaments, and placed high in a couple more, usually taking Lunker honors as well, while others ran around the lake searching for a fish here and there.

The point I am trying to make is not what a great angler I am. I want to try and illustrate the fact that you can locate fish, and follow them without giving up, if they don't appear to be located where they were last weekend. During that period which lasted until about the end of March, we were always amazed at the number of times we would sit there, and watch as 25 - 50 boats per day, would go past us, and all the way to the back of the creek, and flip jigs into the massive heavy brush and timber there. They would run in, fish for 15 - 30 minutes, crank up , and run out. Rarely did they catch anything back there, but we would spend the entire day in that one spot. When the fish moved, we could again locate them, and concentrate our efforts on a small area, about 50 - 100 yards long. There was no reason to leave...the fish didn't.

I can not tell you how many times we saw well known guides fishing with clients run to the back, stop, fish, and leave. One day one of the better known guides stopped across the lake to see why we were always on this one spot. Sometimes we would be a few yards away from where we were last week, but never too far.

So many people think that you HAVE to flip jigs or use spoons in late Winter/early Spring to take bass. This is not always true. Now that does not mean that I don't use jigs, I do...actually very often, but whenever the fish are found, and you can get them to take a faster bait, you are going to catch MORE fish. They may not always be BIGGER fish, but usually they will be more, as far as numbers go.

Once the water warms into the high 50's to low 60's most people are going to start looking for the beds, and shallow fish cruising. That is when I usually try and find flats adjacent to the spawning areas that I have found in the past years. I know the smaller males will be shallow an working diligently on their beds, getting ready for the spawning ritual, but the bigger females are going to be a little deeper, unless actively feeding .

I try to find flats where the water rises up from a ledge or creek channel, into about 8 - 10' , and then stays at that depth for some distance, and rises again into shallower water, say 4' - 6'. This 8 - 10 foot range seems to be the holding place for the bigger females until they commit to the beds. I use small crankbaits, and Carolina rigged Lizards, to fool these big bass, over the flats. Staying out along the deeper water, I try to cast to the next ledge, (4-6') and then cover the whole flat that I know these fish are using to feed, and wait for a few more degrees of warm water. They are usually spread out here, and it might take several hours to find a limit, but they will all be good bass when you catch them. If the flat is slightly shallower, which is sometimes the case, say the 5-8' range, I will also try spinnerbaits, and rat-l-traps worked in these areas. Best colors now seem to be Natural Baitfish colors such as white, chrome/blue, chartreuse, etc.

Once the water has reached the 62 - 65 degree mark, many fish will be bedded, and of course can be seen, and caught using a variety of baits, and techniques. I personally do not like bed fishing for several reasons, but that is another issue.

While I said that MOST bass will begin bedding then, I did not say all. They will take from 3 -4 weeks to bed, and several fish will bed even later than that. Whenever I start to see beds, and fish on them, I begin to search for WOOD! Remember that...it is an important fact. Big females will begin to roll, against large trees, stumps, or sometimes even brush, for a day or two before they go on bed. This helps to loosen the eggs inside them, and also stirs up a lot of food for them. They are VERY aggressive then, and you can really catch some nice fish.

I use baits like Flukes, Blades (spinnerbaits), and even jigs and worms,
to target these trees, and other forms of wood cover. I try the faster moving baits first, like the spinnerbaits, then switch to the fluke, and if I still can't get them to bite, I will flip a jig, and / or a worm into the thickest part of the wood, and try to make one hit it. Every tree is not going to produce, but many will.

If you are fishing in an area where there are many trees, such as a flooded flat near the spawning area, how do you know which trees to fish? There are several things you can do that may help you eliminate the unproductive ones, rather than just fishing them at random...for instance, try the Larger trees first. They will be the ones that are the oldest, and closest to the actual Creek Channel. It is easy to find the creeks that way in open water areas. If they are not on those, then perhaps you should try targeting a particular type of tree such as oak, or maple, etc, and see which ones seem to have the fish holding on them.

Once you have determined the ones that hold fish, and which bait they seem to be hitting the best, you are ready to just get the job done...the hard work is over, and you are going to catch some nice bass. I know that these are not the only areas that hold fish, and not the only patterns that will produce in early spring. Each individual angler seems to have his/her own unique patterns for this time of year, and they will all work.

My point in this article has been to offer some alternatives when things are not working, and you want to try something different from the rest of the field around you. Many times, that is all it takes to have some of the best days you ever have.

I know that my fishing style is many times radical, and sort of goes against the grain , so to speak, of traditional patterns, but that is the way that I many times find fish that others miss, or that are receiving the heavy fishing pressure from the thousands who frequent these waters in early spring.

There is nothing wrong with traditional methods, and you will see me using them often too, but sometimes you have to go with your instinct, and do what your gut tells you. It might not always be right, but it will give you more confidence than fishing an area, or lure that you really are not comfortable with. If you like crankbaits, and catch most of your fish on these, then that is what you need to throw whenever the fishing is tough. While it might not produce any better for you, at least you will have the confidence, in both your ability with the lure, and the lure itself, to catch some bass, and you will be more focused on presentation, and retrieve, and therefore, many times catch more bass.

Hopefully, this will give some insight to the mystery of early spring bassing, for many of the readers, and help them to have a starting point. Find the right starting point, and the rest of the spring becomes much easier, and enjoyable.

Good Fishin'

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