The anticipation of springtime to a fisherman is like the anticipation of Christmas morning to a child. As soon as the lakes shed their ice cove, adventurous souls begin their annual pilgrimages to behold the awakening of a new open water bass fishing season. It’s too bad that this enthusiasm can’t be equaled with a full livewell. During the earliest stages of spring, the water can still be very cold, which reveals a less-than-ideal fishing circumstance. Largemouth during this time are sluggish and unwilling to strike. For this reason, many early-spring fishing escapades begin with high hopes, but end with a causal “get-’em-next-time” attitude. The key to finding early spring bass often lies in one’s ability to find the warmest areas on a given lake or river. When you hit the chilly water this year, consider these hotspots of early spring. They’re guaranteed to put plenty of bigmouths in your boat.
Running creeks that enter a lake or river are one of the best areas to hit when the initial bass season begins. Shallow creek water warms quickly. As they enter a lake, they have the tendency to increase the proximal water temperatures adjacent to the confluence. This attracts fish to the area. Most active creeks are associated with impoundment-type lakes where the old creek channel forms a long finger section of the lake over the submerged channel. The back ends of these fingers attract bass very early in the year, especially after a heavy rain. But creeks are not limited to reservoirs. Creeks that enter a lake or river anywhere – even the smallest, most incidental trickles – can attract good numbers of spring bucketmouths.
Cold water bass are especially cover-oriented. Look for bass to be clinging tightly to any stumps, deadfalls, or beaver lodges associated with the creek vicinity. If the creek is large enough with a considerable amount of water flowing into the lake or river, look for bass to be right up in the stream itself feeding on minnows or crawfish. On lakes that have become too shallow due to siltation around the creek mouths, bass can be found situated reposed in the actual lake relating to the submerged channel. Use your flasher or graph to locate the channel and slowly bump a jig and pork combination or jigging spoon tipped with pork or plastic around breaks and cover associated with the channel.
On sunny days in the early spring, largemouth can be found hanging around riprap. Rocks have the capability to absorb and hold heat from sunlight. As they warm, they have a tendency to raise the temperature of the water around them. Consider, for instance, a railroad trestle lined with dark-colored granite. On a sunny, 45-degree day in March, those rocks might be downright hot after being in the sun for a few hours. The heat that those rocks absorb warms the water coinciding in riprap areas considerably. Bass will flock to such a situation.
Look for isolated areas that have been lined with rocks to protect the shore from erosion. Riprap that is located inside a creek finger or sheltered, secondary lake bay is a high percentage area because these bays are shallow and may have already begun to warm. The presence of warm rocks enhances the already productive area. Riprap that occurs on the north side of a lake or bay is also productive as it is more likely to receive direct sunlight for more hours in the day. The more sun the rocks get exposed to, the warmer they become, and hence the warmer the waters become. Sea walls, wave breakers, and black-topped boat ramps or roads that enter the lake are other forms of riprap that also have application for the absorption of heat.
A productive way to attract springtime riprap is to position your boat away from the rocks and cast perpendicular to the bank. This allows you to find the depth at which the bass are using. On a clear, sunny day, bass may be shallow and holding tight to the rocks. On an overcast day, they may drop back and suspend off the riprap over deep water, or they may subsist at the point where the riprap meets the bottom of the lake. Begin by casting a slow-moving bait such as a suspending stickbait or big-bladed spinnerbait against the rocks and slowly retrieving with a stop-and-go pattern along the contour of the rocks. After you have isolated the depth the bass are relating to, you can concentrate on the strike zone by working a more specific bait like a Carolina-rigged lizard or jig and pig. Tube jigs, plastic worms, and grubs have also similar application when fishing riprap.
SHALLOW, BLACK-BOTTOMED BAYS
In lakes that have become silted in with dark, rich muck, largemouth will congregate very early in the backs of shallow bays. Often less than two-feet deep, these places attract bass the same way riprap does with absorbed heat. The dark bottom of the lake takes in sunlight and releases it slowly, which warms the proximal water. These muddy areas are also very fertile and have an abundant supply of food. Combined with warmer temperatures, black-bottomed bays can be prolific fisheries. Bass won’t necessarily spawn in such a silty area, but they will use black-bottomed bays as a pre-spawn feeding ground. If there’s a high, beating sun, the temperature of the bay may rise as much as two degrees in the course of the day. This puts bass in an aggressive mood.
Anglers can capitalize during this situation with faster-moving crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and jerkworms fished near the surface. Again focus your efforts on area cover such as docks, fallen trees and stumps. But especially look for these bays to be supporting the first vegetation growths of the year. Bass will congregate in small, isolated patches of weeds.
Some natural lakes, ponds, and pits have none of the three areas mentioned. When this is the case, northern shorelines attract early spring bass. The principle behind the northern side of a lake is the warming trend caused by a prolonged exposure to the sun. It’s not that the direct sunlight will warm the whole northern end of a lake before other lake areas warm. Bass will rise out of the depths to feed and bask in the distributed light as it protrudes into the water. A northern shore may be no warmer than the southern shore, but bass will actually ascend to depths of sometimes less than eight feet to reach the nearest layer of undispersed sunlight. They will use this protruding sunshine to warm their cold-blooded bodies. In this instance, deep banks, bluffs, and near shore drop-offs are productive places to try. Clear, sunny days see linesiders suspending along such places. Suspending crankbaits, jigging spoons, and even live baits such as minnows are good choices for catching the sunbathing largemouth.
On residential or recreational lakes, boat channels or canals can also attract bass early in the spring. These areas are usually condensed and shallow. They, too, warm faster than the main lake. During the cold, early portion of spring, pleasure boat traffic inside of residential channels is at a minimum. Bigmouths will use these areas for feeding and sometimes spawning. Much like the active creek situation, bass will hold on fallen trees, stumps, and beaver lodges. But also look for bass to be occupying boat docks, covered boat slips, and riprap associated with the channel.
Early spring bass fishing, especially in the north, is a hit-or-miss affair. Weather plays a big role in the game of productive angling. You may have to contend with a long bout of cold weather that keeps the creek channels pretty cold. And the sun doesn’t always shine down to warm up other areas, but a freshet is always good no matter when it occurs. A freshet is a torrent of water brought on by the sudden onset of a heavy rainstorm. Although you can’ t pattern your trips around the randomness of rain, freshets deserve mention. Some of the most prolific springtime bass angling can be found within the confines of a murky rain-borne waterfall.
Early spring bass are attracted to those areas of a lake or river that warm the quickest. Find one of them on your favorite body of water, and you’ve undoubtedly found a place that sings with cold water potential. Fish slowly and bundle up. Some of the most enthusiastic fishing occurs with the onset of open water. Fishing the warmest areas of a lake will make sure your enthusiasm is met with plenty of bass.