By Mark Lassagne
This is the time of year when most of the mature bass will go shallow. Neil Manji, Chief Fisheries biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game says that for many bass, this (spring) is the only time they will go shallow all year meaning many large bass live deep all year except for during the spawn.
In springtime the mature bass move from their deep water haunts, feed up, make a bed, spawn, recover, guard the fry and then move back to deep water. This is the normal process, however, it’s important to remember that not all bass are alike and it’s good to keep an open mind while trying different depths and techniques.
When do the bass move up?
This depends on different factors that you as an angler should be aware of. Weather, water-temperature, daylight and moon phase effect it, in that order.
Weather plays the most important role in bass movement any time of year and can move these spring time fish in or out in a hurry. After a few nice days the fish will move up shallow but a cold snap will put them right back in deep water. The next factor is water temperature. When the water hits 47-52 degrees and rising, bass will move up and when the temperature moves into the high 50’s and low 60’s, the fish will make a bed and spawn. How quickly the water temperature increases will affect how fast they move up. When the water moves into the high 40’s and low 50’s, crawfish become active so crawfish are the main forage for a staging bass. As we move past the winter solstice the days get longer. You will notice an extra half hour of daylight when these fish start moving up. The last factor in bass movement is the moon phase during the spring with each full moon and new moon bringing a new group of fish up as long as the other conditions are right.
Where do they move to?
During the winter, most bass live deep. Depending on the body of water, they’ll be from 10 to 80 feet and sometime deeper. When things start to change, they make a move. It could be similar to when you get the itch to start fishing after a winter break, or when the wife wants you to do a little spring cleaning. Where they move is the big question! Keep in mind not all bass are the same so they don’t all take the same route. For our purposes will use generalities regarding where the bass are and where they are going. Looking at a map or spending time on the lake will help you find spawning areas, work your way out to deep water from there until you contact fish. Sounds easy, but if it was, everyone would be catching lot of fish.
Spawning areas consist of: shallow water, a protected area, lots of sunlight and hard or sandy (not muddy) bottom composition. If you have a large area like this you could have a good population of spawning fish moving in and out. If it’s a small area with only a few good spots the number of spawning bass will smaller. Keep these factors in mind when you’re searching for staging areas. Note, when you go into a cove, take your rod, paddle or push pole and touch the bottom and see how it feels, if it’s hard with some gravel then its good or if its muck or silt then you won’t have many (or any) bass spawning there.
A staging area will be an area with a good supply of food and close access to deep water combined with some type of structure. Rocks, ledges and points are key areas however not all points, rocks and ledges will have bass. Look for the spawning area, then back out to the nearest point, rock pile or ledge, this is the route the fish will be moving through. As the weather changes the fish will move from the staging area to the spawning area and back. Finding both of these areas will be a key to your success. Rocks are a big plus this time of year for several reasons. Rocks hold several types of crawdads along with other species of prey. When the sunlight penetrates down to the rocks it forms algae which is food for the bait fish and crawfish. Note: when crayfish have an abundant supply of vegetation to eat, they their under-sides turn red where a lack of vegetation turns them blue. This is why the black and blue jig work well in the winter and why often, red is better in the spring. In addition to rocks, shell beds hold bass. Note: ledges vary quite a bit from lake to lake. In Florida a ledge can be a one or two foot drop while here in California reservoirs, a ledge is usually a 10 to 20 foot drop.
Some other things to keep in mind is creeks and running water as these areas can get washed out or muddied up and cold water can change the bite dramatically. If you find fish in these areas just beware that with some rain it all could change in a hurry.
With an idea of where these bass are, how do we catch them?
Chris Lane, BASS Elite series pro says he targets staging fish with a Zoom Shaker searching for a bite or two to pin-point their location. When looking for fish that have moved shallow he opts for a Cane Toad as his search bait. Once Chris has found fish in either location he will slow down and target the bigger fish using an ACE by Gambler lures.
As bass move up, from staging to spawn, they are in need of food for the rigors of spawning. Crawfish are the main forage this time of year and they provide a good meal with calcium and protein the bass need. Note: crawfish are nocturnal feeders so with a full moon the bass have the opportunity to gorge themselves on these slow-moving crustaceans.
Lure choice and retrieve speed are dictated by water temperature. When the water warms to around 48 degrees a good choice would be a jig, worm or deep slow moving crankbait. As the water warms into the 50’s the fish move up and the bite improves greatly. This is where a Rattle Trap / Zoom Shaker, a spinnerbait like a Damiki red/black Charade spinnerbait, Jackall Squad Minnow, Lucky Craft Stacee, Lucky Craft Pointer, black or black and red Chatter baits , Crank baits like a Speed Trap or a Jackall MC 60 in Craw colors, or a swimbaits are all good choices. Talking about swimbaits, you have many choices but if you’re just starting out, keep it simple with a few River 2 Sea bottom walkers, Optimum Double Diamond or Pro Swimbaits paddle tails. The Double diamond and Pro Swimbaits work well with a Revenge swimbait head; all three of these swimbaits are inexpensive and can be fished anywhere in the water column. When the water get into the high 50’s and low 60’s a Zara Spook is always a good bait, a SPRO Frog or Cane Toad, the new Reaction strike revolution shad or the optimum AC minnow and Zoom trick worms can also be deadly. The frog is an excellent way to find bass on the beds because many time they will just swirl on the bait and not take it, you then go back with a worm or other slow moving bait to clinch the deal.
Note: taking a rattle trap type bait letting it fall to the bottom then ripping it up and letting it fall back to the bottom can be a very effective technique.
When the water warms into the 60’s the fish most likely will be spawning which leads into a whole new venue of baits and methods, however, two methods that are especially deadly on spawning fish are the drop-shot or a Senko. Drop-shot a small bait like the Sniper Bolt in a bright color so you can see the fish eat your bait. The Sniper Bolt is a three inch worm shaped similar to a Senko.
Once the spawn is over some fish will move back out to the staging area and then into their summer patterns. Other bass usually males will stay in the shallows and guard the fry for a week or two after the spawn. Remember weather is the most important factor to locating and catching bass. If the moon is full and the water 65 degrees, bass will be on or near the beds but if a major cold front rolls in it can still move those fish back out.
Good Luck and happy fishing!