If outdoor humorist Ed Zern was alive he might draw a cartoon of a spring bass angler holding a sign that says, “Coming Soon: How to Catch Bass Using IRS Tax Forms.”
Well, if finishing or just contemplating those dreaded taxes has increased your blood pressure and anxiety, then spring bass fishing ought to be a good antidote. That’s especially true if the water’s warm and the bass are already shallow where you fish, meaning that they may be aggressive. On the other hand, if the water’s cold and the bass are still pretty sluggish, spring fishing may not be a piece of cake and you’ll have to try harder, which, like the bumper stickers say, is much better than many other things you could be doing.
Take the Temperature
It helps if you’re focused on the right places to fish and the right tools to fish with. Many people think that spring bass angling is synonymous with spinnerbait use, for example, but a spinnerbait shouldn’t be your only lure. Likewise, concentrating solely on the shallows or on obvious woody cover is simply too limiting.
The first thing I do wherever I’m spring bass fishing is try to gauge the water temperature and the activity stage of the fish. Generally, the cooler the water, the slower and more deliberately you should work lures. Although bass are classified as warmwater fish, and most people associate fishing for them with pleasant weather and at least moderate water temperatures, bass can indeed be caught when the water is extremely cold, even just after the ice has melted in northern waters.
Keep in mind that the most favorable temperatures for bass are in the upper 60s through mid-70s, which is achieved between early and late spring depending on your latitude, and that they spawn during spring when the water temperature is roughly in the low 60s.
It’s especially important to remember, particularly in northern regions, that a recent warm spell that increases shallow temperatures doesn’t automatically move bass shallow, cause them to eat aggressively, or start constructing spawning sites. It takes a while for bass to acclimate to temperature changes, and it often takes a period of sustained warmth before they move shallower and/or really become active.
Top Places for Catching Bass in Early Spring
Top places to catch bass in early spring, before they spawn, are where the water warms up quickly. Rocks, stumps, and wood, for example, are likely to retain warmth from the sun, so fish around these on sunny days. Places with healthy vegetation are also good, and some waters may already have aquatic plants that will provide a bit of warmth plus cover.
If the temperature is nearing the spawning range, make sure to fish around rocky and gravelly bottoms, and don’t bypass riprap shores. Flats, backwaters, sloughs, and many bays and coves warm up fast because they’re shallow or protected. Concentrate early efforts here and in immediately adjacent areas. Note also that as a general rule, shallow ponds, lakes, or stillwater portions of rivers warm up quicker than other places and can be more productive in the early going than larger bodies of water that take longer to warm.
Go Slow if the Water is Cold
Varied lures do the trick for catching bass in early spring. Certainly a spinnerbait gets a lot of well-deserved use in and around shallow cover. This lure definitely appeals to active fish, but it’s often a tougher sell when bass aren’t aggressive; if that’s the case, fish a single-bladed spinnerbait slowly, and deeper, maybe even lifting and dropping it in mid-depth areas away from the shallows, like on breaklines or dropoffs, as well as on the deep edge of cover (like the outward edge of a lay-down tree).
Don’t be in run-and-gun mode while the water is still cool and before bass have spawned. Fish likely areas deliberately and thoroughly, not in a rush; saturate an area where you catch a fish before leaving. Shallow- medium-, and deep-diving crankbaits are top lures to try, as well as lipless crankbaits and assorted jigs. Fish them slowly if the water is still cold. Use a stop-and-go retrieve for crankbaits.
A particularly good hard lure to fish is a suspending jerkbait. Read this article about how to fish jerkbaits in general, but when the water's cold and fish are not aggressive, a slow retrieve and a multi-second pause is often what gets a light strike. That means the fish don't pound the lure; they just slurp it and suddenly are "there." Jerkbaits that suspend or that sink very slowly while staying horizontal are especially effective. Be patient and deliberately slow when you twitch them.