Pro's Picks For Spring Bassin'
Fishing Jerkbaits For Postspawners With Keith Combs
Fishing the right spots. Combs begins, "I focus on flats, ridges and extended points on the wain lake or at the mouths of creeks. I look for such structure where hydrilla or milfoil is just starting to grow. I especially like to find young grass growing in a little depression or drain in the flat. These are places where late spawning may still be going on and also where bass that are finished spawning will school up to chase shad. Combs adds that another good structure for postspawn jerkbaiting is riprap banks. "Riprap attracts shad this time of year, and the bass follow the baitfish. So riprap shorelines, breakwaters and causeways are good places to work a jerkbait." On highland lakes, Combs focuses on major rounded points with sand or gravel bottoms. "These places are typically featureless - not a stick or stump in sight. They're just long, gentle sloping structures that trail off into deep water. Bass gang up on these rounded points to chase shad, and fast-fishing a jerkbait is the best way to find them."
Lure Selection & Presentation:
"I fish a Strike King KVD Jerkbait. This is a big bait that I can cast a long way. Also, I think a big jerkbait draws more strikes when the fish are aggressive, and the KVD Jerkbait has a great hooking power with three trebles." Combs' favorite colors are pro blue in clear water and sexy shad in water that's slightly stained. If fishing for smallmouth, Combs will use a strobe shad jerkbait. Combs continues, "I'll make a long cast over a flat or point or along riprap, and I'll start jerking the bait immediately. My retrieve has very few pauses and no wobbles. Instead, I make quick, violent jerks. I snap the bait instead of pulling it. I do this by going into a jerk with a clack line and ending it with a slack line. This imparts more action into the bait. "My goal is to not give the fish time to study the bait. I want them to think the 'minnow' is getting away and to rush it instinctively."
Fishing Jerkbaits For Postspawners April 2014 BASS Magazine (Wade L. Bourne pg. 78-80)
My Favorite Postspawn Bait Is.....
Mike Iaconelli - Rapala DT-6 Crankbait:
"The postspawn is a funny time," Michael Iaconelli says. "Lots of things are going on then." One of those things is the aggressive attitude of the fry-guarding males. Iaconelli typically bypasses these easy bass and goes for the heavier females that win tournaments. Exhausted from te spawning ritual and in a limbo between their beds and summer haunts, the females are harder to catch. They are hungry but in no mood to chase. Iaconelli calls this "a period of transfer." According to Iaconlli, Rapala's DT-6 crankbait in the parrot color triggers reflex strikes from weary postspawn bass when he fishes fertile, stained-water lakes. He believes the DT-6's moderate wobble and subtle rattle are the ideal combination for postspawn females. Even more important is the balsa crankbait's ability to quickly change direction when Iaconelli bangs it into rocks, laydowns and other bass cover. In open water, he makes the DT-6 change direction by varying the retrieve speed and snapping his rod.
David Walker - LiveTarget Blueback Herring Prop Bait:
A 5/8oz LiveTarget Blueback Herring Prop bait in the shiny sliver/blue pattern gets the call when David Walker deals with postspawn bass. The bait is heavy enough to cast accurately to the shallow cover and bluegill beds that Walker targets. "People tend to fish a prop bait too fast," Walker sys. "I do better working it slow." After the Blueback Herring splashes down, Walker waits until the ripples die. Then he gives it "a little rip" and lets it sit. "that's when the crash it," he says. To ensure pinpoint accuracy, Walker casts the prop bait with a 6'6" medium action baitcasting rod. He fills the reel with a 20 to 30 pound test super braid. A 2 foot, 20 pound monofilament leader prevents the limp braid from tangling on the lure's props and hooks. "I stay back as far as I can and still make accurate casts," Walker says. "I've never had a bass hit a topwater bait close to the boat."
Ott DeFoe - Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper Worm:
A rising star on the Bassmaster Elite tour, Ott DeFoe dotes on a straight-tailed 6.25" green pumpkin Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper Worm during the postspawn. He rigs it wacky style with a new VMC wacky worm hook that features a weedguard. A spinning outfit casts the unweighted worm farther and allows DeFoe to skip it under boat docks. Postspawn females often lounge beneath docks before moving to their deep summer haunts, DeFoe points out. "Docks in 2 to 4 feet of water are the most productive," he says. DeFoe skips the worm into the darkest shade under a dock and lets it sink while dead-sticking. Most bites come on the initial fall. He lets the worm sink to the bottom, twitches it once or twice and reels it in for the next cast. If the water beneath a dock is deep, DeFoe reels it in after the worm sinks 4 or 5 feet. The wacky worm also plucks bass from any other cover that might hold a postspawn bass, including bushes, willows and sparse grass. Wherever you cast the wacky worm, DeFoe has one piece of advise. "Don't overwork it," he says.
Stephen Browning - Z-Man Chatterbait:
Bluegill pester spawning bass to the point of aggravation, points out Stephen Browning. This is why he believes a lure that imitates bluegill can't miss when the bass come off their beds. "It's payback time," Browning says. "You eat my eggs, I eat you." His favorite bluegill imitator is a Chatterbait Trailerz in the bluegill color. It consists of a black head, a gold blade and a darkish scale pattern skirt with purple and chartreuse highlights. The middle strands of the skirt are extra long for more action. Browning dresses the hook with a 4" Z-Man Scented Paddlerz, a little boot-tail swimbait in the Houdini color. He slings this combo with medium heavy baitcasting rod and 20-pound fluorocarbon line over bluegill beds and burns it back. "I give it short, erratic pauses to make it look like a bluegill darting away," Browning says.
Edwin Evers - War Eagle Finesse Jig:
Edwin Evers mops up postspawn bass by swimming a 3/8oz War Eagle Finesse Jig dressed with a Zoom Speed Craw. It's the presentation that produced many of his bass during the 2012 Classic on the Red River, where Evers finished in 8th place. The bass at the Red River Classic were in their prespawn and spawning phases, which speaks volumes about how much confidence Evers has in this presentation. If postspawn bass are in shallow water where bluegill lurk, Evers opts for the green pumpkin color. He switches to white if shad are present. "I swim the jig 6 to 8 inches under the surface with an erratic, herky-jerky retrieve," Ever says. "That makes the skirt flare and the pincers of the Speed Craw pulsate." Even with the action Evers imparts to the jig, it makes less commotion than spinnerbait does. "That's why it works better on lethargic postspawn females," Ever says.
Jonathon VanDam - Strike King Shadalicious Swimbait:
When Jonathon VanDam fishes for postspawn bass in clear water, he appeals to the big females with a 5" Strike King Shadalicious swimbait in the Sexy Shad color. The bait is rigged with an exposed hook on a 1/2oz Strike King Redfish Magic Jig Head. "The Shadalicious is a big fish bait," VanDam says. "I swim it over secondary points and deeper flats outside spawning areas. That's where the bass first start feeding up after they spawn." VanDam usually counts the Shadalicious down halfway to the bottom and swims it back with a steady retrieve. In many of the natural Michigan lakes VanDam fishes, he picks off postspawn largemouth and smallmouth bass swimming the Shadalicious 8 feet deep in 15 feet of water. During a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at Toledo Bend in 2011. VanDam boated some of his bass by retrieving the swimbait 4 feet deep in 8 feet of water over sparse grass and stumps.
James Niggemeyer - Strike King Sexy Frog:
James Niggemeyer claims that a snagless frog is the most versatile topwater bait you can throw at postspawn bass. His go-to bait is Strike King's Sexy Frog in the tiger pattern. Niggemyer skips the Sexy Frog under docks and works it over grass, laydowns and even open water. He claims that it appeals to postspawn females and to the bigger fry-guarding males. "The key to that bait is the different ways you can work it," Niggemeyer says. "You can walk it, chug it or pop it and let it sit." Postspawn bass are moody, Niggemeyer notes. You might might have to change the retrieve action two or three times on a given day to keep the bass biting. He believes the Sexy Frog's internal rattle encourages more bites. "When I nail a bass with the frog, those big hooks and 65-pound braid keep it buttoned up," Niggemeyer says.
Gary Klein - Lucky Craft Gunfish:
Postspawn bass in clear, highland reservoirs, such as Table Rock, tell Gary Klein to fish a 3/5oz Lucky Craft Gunfish 115 in the translucent ghost minnow color. "Postspawn bass in highland lakes are bad about suspending on bluffs and in standing timber," Klein says. This is typically main-lake fishing, with the bass suspended 15 to 20 feet down in water that's 30 feet deep or more. Unlike fishing for postspawn bass in the shallows where a subtle presentation is the way to go, it takes an upbeat walking retrieve to pull the bass to the surface. "The Gunfish has a counterweight system that allows for long casts," Klein says. Because the Gunfish has only two hooks, Klein can step up to larger 1/0 Gamakastsu treble hooks without the hooks tangling. A 7-foot fiberglass rod and 65-pound Spiderwire braid sink the barbs when a bass takes the bait at the end of a long cast.
Fletcher Shryock - Berkley Chigger Craw:
Pitching a Texas rigged Berkley Chigger Craw in black with blue or red flake pays off for the Elite Series rookie Fletcher Shryock immediately after the spawn. "The water's warming up then, and the bass are more responsive to the Chigger Craw's big flappers," Shryock says. It was the Chigger Craw that carried Shyrock to victory when he fished his first Bassmaster tournament in 2011, a BPS Northern Open at Lake Norma. His Chigger Craw sports a 4/0 Trokar Flippin' hook, which is knotted to 20 pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. Shyrock prefers the speed and efficiency and provided by a 3/8 or 1/2 ounce tungsten bullet weight. But, he often drops to a 1/4 ounce weight to tempt listless postspawners. "I pitch the Chigger Craw to holes in shallow grass, to buches and to any other cover I can find between the spawning flats and the main lake," Shyrock says.
My Favotire Postspawn Bait Is... May 2014 BASS Magazine (Mark Hicks pg. 46-49)
Randall Tharp's May Lure Selection
Rebel P70 Pop-R:
Tharp's deck usually sees a rigged P70 Pop-R throughout the spring. "That bigger size is a really versatile lure after the spawn," he says. "Since it's larger, it is very unique and does things in the water that the small one can't. Plus, as big as it is, I think it looks like a bluegill, which they're keyed in on throughout the spawn." Tharp also mentions the bait's castability as a plus, enabling him to reach targets farther away than if he were throwing the standard size Pop-R. Tharp fires the plus-size topwater around spawning coves, specifically shady areas where fry-guarding bass are lurking. He retrieves it with a walk-the-dog cadence. "The retrieve is simple, but casting accuracy is paramount. You need to get it in tight spots - under brush, trees, docks and the like - that usually don't see baits," he says. Despite his claim that the bass are dialed in to bluegill, he opts for the baby bass color.
4x4 Bass Jigs Randall Tharp Signature Series:
Much like a 4x4 pickup, this jig is Tharp's versatile workhorse. He tosses it in the same areas as the Pop-R but will employ a vertical presentation instead. "I'll take this and pitch it as tight to the cover as possible and let it go to the bottom, shake it a time or two, then reel up and cast again," he says. "I'm trying to make as many presentations as possible. Again, in May the bass are keyed in on bluegill, and that jig with a big chunk is a great bluegill imitator." He adds docks to his list of targets. Golden Craw is his go-to color.
War Eagle Spinnerbait:
"After the bass spawn, there's usually a shad spawn shortly after, and a spinnerbait is hard to beat for this," he says. "I like the spot remover color with two willowleaf blades including a gold one, it's killer." Depending on where the shad are spawning - bank grass, docks, riprap or seawalls - Tharp pulls his spinnerbait along at a steady clip. "No matter where you're fishing in the country, your lake has at least one of those kinds of cover, and the shad will spawn on and around them."
Storm Arashi Crankbait:
When he knows the bass are shallow, Tharp opts for this new crankbait from Storm. He likes the smaller version, which is silent and therefore more subtle in the shallows. "This is great for targeting shallow things like dock posts, laydowns and any type of riprap," he says. Taking the natural approach, he opts for regular old silver with a black back.
What Randall Tharp Throws In May May 2014 BASS Magazine (David Hunter Jones pg. 24-25)
Topwater Tactics For Postspawn Bass With Casey Ashley
"Blueback herring spawn when the water temperature climbs into the high 60s to low 70s," Ashley says. "This is also when bass are finishing spawning, and they're migrating back out of the creeks. These herring spawn in shallow water that's close to deep water, and also where there's a hard bottom - sand, gravel or hard-pan. On the lakes I'm familiar with, the herring mainly spawn on primary or secondary points both in the creeks and main-lake areas."
"I fish three main topwater baits around these points," he says. "I typically start out with a Cordell Pencil Popper. This bait is great, especially on windy days. It has a big profile, and it stirs up a ruckus. If baitfish are present, the Pencil Popper usually scatters them, and this excites bass hanging nearby." Ashley's No. 2 topwater choice is a Jimmy Houston Heddon Super Spook. This big walking bait also has a large profile. It's good when winds are lighter," Ashley says. And his No. 3 lure is a Lucky Craft Gunfish 115 walking bait in the ghost minnow color. Ashely says this lure is his choice for "super subtlety" when the wind is light or calm and the water is clear.
Topwater Tactics For Postspwan Bass May 2014 BASS Magazine (Wade L. Bourne pg. 76-78)
Mike Iaconelli's Off The Wall Pick For The Spawn
Ike discussed the factors that ignite the spawn. "I used to think they only spawned when the water temp hit 65, with the moon, but over the years I learned there were more factors going on," he stated. "The water temp does absolutely play a part, but it doesn't have to be 65-degrees exactly. When it gets up there close to 60, that is when it's happening. The other thing is the moon. When you've got big moons, a full moon or a new moon, you usually have these fish that show up in the spawning places. The last thing is the light. It is something I noticed here in New Jersey. As the spring comes on and the days are longer, the fish have the urge to spawn, even if the other two things aren't perfect. They get up there and start sniffing around, looking for a place. When the water temp gets to the low to mid 60's, the males have built the beds and they are corralling females, the spawn phase starts."
When the spawn is on and the fish are locked, Ike gets outta the norm, by goin' old school with a technique that he learned back in the days when he fished Federation. "The bait that I'm going to talk about is always in my arsenal when I know I am going to go out and bed fish," he stated. "It may not be my first, second or third choice, but it's always there and it's something that I pull out when I cannot get 'em to go on the easy stuff. It is simply a modified floating minnow, one of the oldest baits you can think of, literally guys were fishing this bait in the '70s. There are bunch on the market, but the one I use is one that is still my favorite from when I was a kid. It is the good, old, reliable staple size 9 Rapala Floating minnow. Ike prefers the action of the balsa made Rapala minnow for the action that its plastic counterparts cannot replicate. He keeps the colors simple, sticking to the 9S (silver), 9G (gold) or the 9FT (fire tiger).
Before fishing it, he adds an oval split ring to the nose of the bait for a little bit of added action when snapping it on the retrieve. He noted other options for the split ring that achieve the same result are a snap ring or loop knot. He also changes out both sets of hooks, opting for a #4 short shank VMC treble hook on the belly and a #4 VMC feathered hook on the tail. The feather is an important aspect for the pulsating action it will impart as the bait sits above the fish's bed. The feather color can match the bait or be used for a bonus attraction. He uses a white feather for times when the forage is really white, when there is shad, alewife or herring, a chartreuse feather for mimicking a bluegill or perch or a white and red, which is his all-round choice. There are times when he will go for the chartreuse when in dirtier water. Lastly, he upsizes weight to the minnow by adding six to 10 wraps of solder lead (also called pencil lead) on the shank of the belly hook or by adding two to four Storm Suspend Dots on the minnow between the lip of the bait and the belly hook of the bait. The weight is added to slow the rise of the bait, not to make it sink or suspend.
Just like the French fry, Ike casts past the bed by a foot or two and brings the floater into the nest by popping it on top with a hop/pause action. "When you twitch it, it is going to dive and because it is made of balsa, it is a floater and it is going to rise back up," he explained. "Even with adding the hooks, the feather and the extra weight, this bait is going to float. That is the action I want, so that is literally what I am going to do - twitch, let it float back up, twitch, let it float back up, continuing that motion until it gets right above the bed. When it is at the point that it is in the circle of the bed, I am going to do the hardest part of this technique. I am going to twitch it and then just kill it. I am not going to move it at all. That is hard for an impatient guy like me. I am just going to let it sit there for as long as I possibly can stand it. The fish get real fired up over this. I think it is because they see so many baits down below and this one is on top. They look up and see it with the feather pulsating and they have to react." Ike described the normal pause time while in the circle to be about 30 seconds to one minute. Watching the fish's reaction to the minnow allows Ike to decide if he should twitch again or keep letting it sit. He noted that the technique may require multiple casts, which can also be determined by observing how the approach is provoking the fish.
Tackle & Gear:
Iaconelli throws this Rapala lure on a 7 to 7 1/2 medium-action Abu Garcia Veritas spinning rod with a size 30 Revo spinning reel. "This rod is whippy," he said. "About half of it is tip. There are two reasons that I like having 50 percent of the rod with a soft tip. One is because of the cast. This balsa bait is very light and you use that tip like a rubber band to cast further. The second reason is when the fish hits, it gives a little bit of a delay, so that you don't pull the bait away from it." Ike uses Berkley Sensation monofilament, to help the bait float and allow its slow rise characteristic. "About 50 percent of the time, I use straight mono in 6 to 10 lb test," he said. "When I get into situations where I have to make extremely long casts or the cover is real heavy, like when they are spawning around tree tops or brush, then I use Berkley NanoFil or FireLine 10 or 12 lb braided line with a 14 inch mono leader."
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Ike's Off The Wall Pick For The Spawn Spring 2014 Bass Angler Magazine (Jody Only pg. 38-39)
Scott Martin Goes Sight Fishing Southern Style
The right type of bottom and vegetation are indications that Martin seeks out. "Cattail clumps, bulrush or lily pads are thicker than hydrilla or shoreline grass and the fish will use the base of the stalks like thicker, harder pieces of structure as bedding areas," Martin said. "I use my GPS to mark waypoints of active areas (clusters) and big bass (by pounds) on my Garmin, because another cluster will move into the same area and big bass will be attracted to the same spots." Good spawning areas were said to be in the range of 2 to 5 ft. "That is the best depth for spawning in the south," he continued. "They don't like to go deep like they do up north or out west or in the reservoirs where they can go into 10 feet. They also need the right clarity, because bass need sunlight to penetrate to the bottom to actively spawn. Especially in Florida bass are sensitive to clarity. I'm looking for 1 1/2 to 2 ft of visibility." Another indicator of a good area is the bottom composition. "A hard bottom, preferably sand with shells is a good area," he added. "I don't want anything super soft, or with bubbles coming up. Bubbles mean there is methane gas, which means the grass has died and fell to the bottom. When that happens it changes the PH of the soil. It is not healthy and the bubbles are a quick indicator of that. I feel the bottom with my rod and if it goes in 6 or 8 inches then it is too soft."
Lure Selection & Tackle:
To attract the bedding bass, Martin prefers a creature bait, plastic worm or weedless swimbait. "I reel 'em through the holes in the grass," he said. "I like flippin' a Bruiser Crazy Craw in natural colors like Green Pumpkin or Watermelon Red with a TroKar TK130 hook. It is very important to use a straight shank hook for sight fishing, because the fish bite very apprehensively or are just picking it up to move it and you need to get that right angle that a straight shank will give." His swimbait is the Bruiser Super Swimmer. He fishes that with a TroKar TK 120 Magnum. "I like this because it is bulky and has a boot tail. I use a fast retrieve, so it leaves a bubble trail and the fish can key in on that sound, which trigger a bite. I cast it past the holes in grass and reel it on the surface, so it can pass over the females that are towards the surface sunning. If I don't get hit on the top, I will Texas rig it with a small, matte black 1/4 oz River2Sea bullet weight, cast and reel it to a hole and then kill it and let it go to the bottom." He uses a shad color swimbait with a little brown or gold on the back if there are shiners present or shad or bluegill imitation that the fish will strike out of defense.
He opts for the 7 1/2 ft heavy action Okuma rod with a high-speed 7.3:1 Okuma Helios reel with 70 lb Daiwa braided line. "Once I get the bite, I reel down and then set the hook with enough pressure to keep the fish up and coming at me," described Martin. "You have got to keep that head up. You don't want it to bog down and give it chance to get away." Martin will also fish a Texas rigged worm when sight fishing. "I don't peg this, I fish it with a slip weight," he said. "It has more action that way. I use a 1/2 oz weight, 1/4 and 1/8 are just too light. I shake it with my rod and keep it in the strike zone." When flippin' he uses the 7'3" Okuma rod. "It is very accurate for long pitches and everything must be so accurate and quiet when sight fishing. This rod has the strength and leverage, yet accuracy for that precise presentation. I like 50 lb braid, because it has no stretch. A bass can bite a worm super-light, so that you can barely feel it. Braid gives the best chance to feel it, because it has no stretch." Martin closed with the suggestion of adding scent to the bait saying, "a little can make 'em bite it better or hold on to it a little longer, which can make the difference in hooking that fish."
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Scott Martin Goes Sight Fishing Southern Style Spring 2014 Bass Angler Magazine (Jody Only pg. 50-51)
Strategies For Spawning Bass With Shaw Grigsby
Sight fishing is a tactic many pro anglers employ to catch spawning bass. Sight fishing is arguably the most exciting bass fishing technique there is because you're watching how the fish reacts to your lure the entire time you're trying to catch it," says veteran pro Shaw Grigsby. Largemouth bass normally spawn in 60 to 72 degree water, while smallmouth bass typically prefer 58 to 68 degree water for spawning. Largemouth bass prefer calm, shallow water for spawning. They often make their nests in quiet coves or pockets along the shoreline and close to isolated objects such as submerged stumps or logs on shallow flats. Smallmouth bass will spawn on gravel or sand flats adjacent to deep water.
Lure Selection & Presentation:
Wearing polarized sunglasses, Grisby visually scans potential spawning areas for light or dark patches on the bottom indicating bass beds. "Once I spot a good-sized fish on a bed, I'll cast or pitch a bottom-hugging lure like a finesse jig, tube bait or shaky head worm onto the nest, shake the rod tip gently so the bait quivers in place and carefully watch how the fish reacts. Their reaction will vary from one fish to the next. Some bass will immediately attack he bait; others may go nose-down on the lure but refuse to bite it right away; and some will spook and swim off the nest without returning. If the fish doesn't react to my lure presentation in an aggressive manner fairly quickly, I'll try a different bait and keep switching lures until the fish finally bites. Each spawning bass behaves differently, but with practice, you should be able to read the mood of individual fish quickly so you can determine which ones are likely to be catchable within a reasonable period of time and which ones are probably not going to bite."
"Sight fishing is not always an option," Grigsby points out. "When it's raining or overcast, or if the water is extremely murky or rough, visually locating beds and spawning fish can be difficult to impossible. That's when I'll probe likely spawning areas with a slow-moving horizontal search lure like a swimbait or a spinnerbait, or surface prop bait. Often a spawning bass will short-strike or head-butt a swimbait or spinnerbait, or swipe at a surface bait without taking it. If this happens, it's a safe bet that fish came off a spawning bed, so I'll quickly reel in that lure and cast a tube bait, finesse worm or jig to the same spot."
Pro Strategies For Spawning Bass April 2014 BASS Magazine (Don Wirth pg. 82-83)
Fishing Through The Spawn With John Crews
Crews elaborated on his spawn detection explaining that when he fishes one of his flippin' go-to's the Missile Baits D Bomb in the pre spawn, they are eating it on a medium to fast fall. He presents that to them with a 3/8 or 1/2 oz flippin' weight and as soon as he throws in, it is bit, before it hits the ground, due to the aggressive nature of pre spawn fish. "When I'm flippin' in pre spawn, it seems like the crawfish come out of hibernation and the fish gravitate to orange. In Texas or the California Delta it may be more of a red, on the east it is more of an orange, so those are colors I like to flip with." Crews feels the square bill is a true pre spawn bait. He uses the Spro Fat John. "You can catch 'em during the spawn and post spawn with it, but you will need help to do it," he added. "You will need help meaning wind, cloud cover or a good shad bite. Most likely, in the post spawn, the fish aren't even going to look at it without that help." Power fishing and a milk run through good areas were other notations that Crews made about pre spawn fishing.
He explained if he is flippin' and has to soak the bait or hop it three or four times before he gets one to go that it is indicative of a fish on a bed. He explained further, "flip into a bush, lift a couple of times, get bit, miss again and do that over again two times, then three and you can guess they are spawning and you're in a spawning area. You are hitting them on or near their bed and they are trying to get rid of your lure. They are more finicky about what they eat." Spawn and post spawn times, I am flippin a Green Pumpkin or Watermelon red type color, regardless of where I am in the country. The D Bomb is the bait that I usually flip, but on a bed, the smaller Baby D Bomb can give it run for the money. When I'm fishing the beds, I typically use 20 lb Vicious Pro Elite fluorocarbon, a 5/16 tungsten weight and a 5/0 Gamakatsu Heavy Cover hook, sometimes pegged, sometimes not. He targets areas that are protected during this time and stated, "the areas don't have to be in the very backs of creeks, but they do have to be protected from wake and current. If I'm on tidal water, those fish migrate to certain areas, almost in groups, it seems. Not all tidal water is productive spawning water. Those fish look to stay out of current changes, in places like back water ponds. Usually you will find a lot of beds in one area on tidal water."
If he is deadsticking his lure on the bottom or he has to change to 1/4 oz weight for a slower fall, Crews knows that is more of a post spawn pattern. Other changes he said give clues to the transition of phases are when the fish peck at the bait two or three times before they eat it. Crews will try out a Missile Craw to get bites during these times. "This shows me it is at the tail end of the spawn or post spawn," he said. "There are a handful of good baits for post spawn. I like a 1/4 oz swim jig. In some places this is good in pre spawn, but it really gets going post spawn, because of the shad spawn and fry around shallow cover. While you may get three or four fish pre spawn with this, you can get 30 or 40 post spawn. I like it with a Missile Baits Twin Turbo trailer. That is a hard bait to beat. I have three basic colors. I start with white in the early morning and when the day gets brighter I will go to black and blue or even a green pumpkin." In this phase he looks for more isolated pieces of cover, especially those on points. "When you're targeting areas, there is the wild card of a shad spawn, added Crews. "If you find a shad spawn jammed up in the back of a cove or somewhere, you will find the bass feeding in that area."
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John Crews Adjusts with the Spawn Spring 2014 Bass Angler Magazine (Jody Only pg. 14)
Setting The Stage For The Spawn
Searching out these staging areas isn't that difficult as long as you know where the best spawning flats on the lake are, from there you'll need to lean on your electronics and Navionics mapping. I like to locate the most notorious spawning flats on the entire lake and work my way out. The body of water you're fishing dictates what depths your targeting but one thing is for certain; hard bottom and the presence of bait are the biggest keys to success. This can be a shell bed on lake Toho, a rock transition on a secondary point on Lake of the Ozarks or an old foundation along a roadbed on Lake Guntersville. As long as they are close to the spawning grounds and holding bait, they'll be loaded.
My Lowrance electronics are by far my biggest aid and coupling my Navionics mapping with StructureScan makes finding these spots possible in a quick hurry. Locating underwater points, channel swings, steep breaks and roadbeds are easy finds on your Navionics mapping. In fact, one of my favorite areas to target is old submerged culverts or bridge pilings along an old roadbed. These submerged man-made structures are marked very clearly on my Navionics map and finding these in the vicinity of a spawning flat is ideal as it means there's also a creek channel that intersects a roadbed right on or near the spawning flat. My Navionics map will put me on the spot and then StructureScan will tell me whether the area has got the goods or whether the goods have well been silted in.
When you're fishing a more traditional deep highland reservoir, think secondary points and secondary channels. These reservoirs are notorious for their ultra deep water and their sheer rock banks. The key yet again is to locate the pockets where the bass like to spawn, often times this is the back of pockets, in between secondary points where chunk rock gives way to pea gravel. Use your Navionics map to follow the secondary channel, keying in on the secondary points and use your electronics to watch for bait. My absolute favorite points to fish are the ones that actually intersect and split two channels towards the back of a creek arm.
When fishing these areas I stick to my confidence baits, bottom structure like roadbeds and rock piles, I'll most always start out with a good old football jig and none better than the Outkast Touch Down Jig. There's no better bait on the market for targeting big bass on snag filled cover than a roller and this bait is so versatile that it can be fished in all depth ranges. I'll let the weather dictate the trailer I use and if we're on a warming trend, I'll go big and gaudy with a Lake Fork Tackle Hyper Freak. If we are in the midst of a cold front then I'll go with something that will still trigger a big bite but looks more natural in the water and doesn't move as much water like a Lake Fork Tackle Craw. There's just something about that natural looking crawfish on a Touch Down Jig that triggers that real big bite.
Anytime you're fishing structure, a Carolina Rig is a hard presentation to beat. I often hear other fellow anglers claim that the ole' C-Rig is a numbers presentation and not necessarily a big fish presentation. I agree to an extent but if you're throwing a C-rig on a big fish hole, you'll be stringing some giants no doubt. My C-rig setup is simple, I go with either a 3/4 or 1 ounce Eagle Claw Lazer Tungsten Weight and a 4/0 or 5/0 Lazer Trokar TK120 Magworm Hook depending on the bait. One of my favorites for the C-rig is either a Zoom Baby Brush Hog or my personal favorite, the Lake Fork Tackle Ring Fry. The Brush Hog is ideal when the bass are willing to chase and are looking for a little action, plus there's just something about lizard/creature style baits before the spawn that gets a ferocious reaction from big female bass. The Ring Fry is for the exact opposite, when the bass are turned off usually due to one of Mother Nature's bone-chilling spring cold fronts. Nothing is more deadly than a dead-stick presentation and this setup is the perfect approach.
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Setting the Stage for the Spawn Spring 2014 Bass Angler Magazine (Josh Douglas pg. 45-47)
Spring Spotted Bass With Cody Meyer
Meyer hits the water in this pre spawn period with a Jackall Squadminnow 115. "Most of the time this is the one I use," he said. "If it is really, really tough conditions, you can go smaller or if there is some bigger forage, like at Shasta, you can go to the 128, but to me the 115 is usually the perfect size. It has a lot of action when you pop the bait. It slashes back and forth really well. It is definitely my favorite one."He stated the 115 is for targeting depths of 4 to 6 feet. "This is a great springtime bait for spots, but I'm going to throw it during the pre spawn phase, not post spawn. When I go out with this, I really start looking for spotted bass anywhere that they could be staging to move up," he stated. "I am going to target places like main lake points that lead back into a cove or into a spawning flat or bluff walls, basically areas that are adjacent to deeper water. It is a little bit different when you are targeting spots rather than largemouth. When that pre spawn happens, the spots are coming out of 30 or 40 feet of water to move up, feed and get some sun and then move on to the backs of coves to spawn. It is more of a run and gun approach with spots."
Jerkbait Lure Presentation & Gear:
Stressing that cadence was an important factor to fishing a jerkbait, he said he starts with the typical "jerk, jerk, pause", however when the water is really cold, he slows his retrieve by implementing longer pauses. He referenced water in the 50 to 54 degree range as a time for a slower retrieve and 55 to 58 the time to speed it up. "In February and March, when it is still pretty cold, you throw out there, reel it down to the depth you want, give a jerk, jerk and let it pause for 10 or even 15 seconds, pop it one time and let it sit for awhile again," he explained. "I know that seems like a long time, but I've seen it lots of times when the fish will just come up and you're watching your line and they will just hit it on that pause like a worm bite. They just tick your line and take off. Obviously, in warmer water, you can get away with a shorter pause, as fast as two to three seconds. It just varies with the water temperature and also with the mood of the fish, so you have to experiment to see what they want."
To fish the Squadminnow, he uses the Shimano Cumara Crankbait Rod with 10 to 12 lb fluorocarbon. "Mostly 10 lb, because you get more action with the bait," added Meyer. "It's also going to get a little deeper. I will downsize to eight, if it is really, really clear. I will go up, if it the water is more stained. A lot of times during that time of year, you will target running water, like, when you have a strong rain and it gets muddy. Then, the water that is coming in is warmer than the lake water and those fish will move into the backs of the creeks where that warmer water is. That is a situation where I would go up to 12 lb test, because the water is a little bit more stained and the fish are going to be pretty active. Those run-in places are awesome places to catch big ones. It is like the fish can smell that and they migrate to it, bait will go in there and everything will concentrate on that running water. This is a late February, March, April kind of thing." Due to the clear water clarity in many reservoirs, he opts for natural color, translucent jerkbaits including the chartreuse shad. He suggested something with more of a flash of color or some white for rainy, stormy or cloudy situations. Meyer prefers the jerkbait for an early to mid-morning or lowlight presentation. As the overhead sun makes its appearance he switches up his offering.
Flick Shake Worm Lure Presentation & Gear:
As the reaction bite typical of the morning dies off, Meyer moves on to a Jackall Flick Shake worm. He likes this for all three phases of the spawn. During pre and post spawn he is focusing on the same type of areas he would target with the jerkbait and directly into the bedding areas during the spawn. He will fish it all day, every day for its consistency and quantity of bites. Almost always, Meyer uses the 1/8 oz wacky jig head, even in deep water applications, because it offers a rate of fall that allows the Flick Shake the best action. "I'm going to throw it on 6 to 8 lb line," he added. "It is a slower technique that is easy to fish and gets a ton of bites. It will draw fish from a long way. It has a ton of action on the fall and once it hits the bottom, I will shake it, using the rod tip to shake the slack in the line. Then, I will actually pull the bait by reeling down. I then pop it up off the bottom, let it fall again and shake it, just fishing it real slow, not moving it far." For spots, he likes the 5.8 size Flick Shake in basic, natural colors. "I only have a couple of colors, because they really work," he said. "For clearer water, I have Morning Dawn or a translucent color and for stained water (or even clear water also) I have Watermelon Candy or Green Pumpkin. He uses a 7'2" Shimano Cumara rod with a Shimano Stradic 2500 spinning reel. "It is a medium-light rod, so it feels good for throwing light line," said Meyer. "I use 10 lb braid with a 10 ft Tatsu fluorocarbon leader. I always try to use a leader with the Flick Shake. TIP: If they are short striking the Flick Shake, Meyer makes a ring around the center, where it is hooked of the worm using a chartreuse marker to target the fish at the hook.
SK-Pop Grande Lure Presentation & Gear:
Meyer's go-to bait for post spawn is the Jackall SK-Pop Grande, as it is out of the pack ready and even with the feather treble hook that he prefers. "You can use a popper pre spawn and during the spawn," he stated. "They will bite it all phases, but it is ideal for post spawn. After the spawn the fish go to the bluff walls and places they can go up and down the water column, so those are great spots to start throwin' topwater. The popper works first thing in the morning and it will also work in the afternoon, if you can get some kind of shade." He suggests making a long cast to work it down or across long points, the same as you would the jerkbait and then retrieve by giving it a couple of pops and a pause, noting the pause duration was only a second or two. Meyer varies this pop/pause with a walking retrieve. With post spawn water temps rising to 62 to 70 degrees and increased activity of the fish, he prefers a faster pace on the retrieve. He explained "They are active and aggressively feeding, trying to gain the weight they lost in the spawn and you're going to be able to work it a lot quicker and cover a lot of water." "You kind of walk it like a Spook, but the popper is different in that you get the pauses in there," he continued. "With its profile and the sound it makes it draws a lot of bites." As for his colors of choice, he again typically goes for the translucent and clear options with more flash or white for cloudy days. His rod is the 7' Shimano Cumara with a Shimano Chronarch Cl4+ 7:1 reel with small braided line and a ten foot 12 to 15 lb monofilament leader. "You are trying to make as far of a cast as possible and the braid just lets you wing it out there, which is why I like the braid, but I feel like the fish can see it, so I add the leader," he explained. "I like mono, because fluoro sinks."
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Cody Meyer Spring Spots Spring 2014 Bass Angler Magazine (Darl Black pg. 55)
Guntersville Lake Gets The Best & Worst Of Zell Rowland
"Things just got better each day," Rowland said. "I've fished Guntersville for 30 years and have some favorite places, some areas where I'm comfortable and have caught fish, and know fish are going to be at certain times of the year. That tournament was just one of those times when everything came together perfectly. I wasn't the only one catching 'em, though." The top five finishers each had 72 pounds or better, all caught in different ways. Rowland was throwing a Booyah jig and Smithwick Rogue. Shimizu was in deeper grasslines. David Fritts, who finished fifth, was cranking riprap, of course. The lake just set up perfectly at that time of the year for a prespawn bonanza, and Rowland was the one who capitalized the best. "I caught 47 fish that weighed over 5 pounds the last day," he said. "The camera guy with me filming for the TV show freaked out. My best dock was pretty big. I pulled up, told him to get his stuff and get out on the dock and set up his camera, or do whatever to be ready to record when I said record. He thought I was nuts, but I told him to be ready. "I had four flippin' sticks on the bow. He got ready, I was ready, and I made four consecutive flips to the dock and flopped four 5-pounders into my Skeeter. He was about to pee on himself. It was just 'wham-wham-wham-wham.' That dock just one of those places where I knew they were going to be. I put the fish in the livewell and told him to get in the boat. He couldn't believe I wasn't going to pitch in there again, but I told him we were going to ride around and have fun. And we did." Rowland's familiarity with Guntersville Lake and his penchant for shallow water combine for a big dose of confidence when he's on the Tennessee River impoundment. He's at ease with a Pop-R or Zell Pop, Booyah jig or spinnerbait, but it's the Yum Money Minnow that's made the biggest recent impression on him at that lake.
"The year Skeet Reese won on Guntersville (2010) was another big-fish event that just had everyone fired up," Rowland said. "I had about 25 pounds the first day on a Pop-R and was in about 50th place, so I knew I had to do something different. The next day I tied on a big Money Minnow and told my marshal I was going to sling it all day." Rowland broke off two giant bass that inhaled the Money Minnow, two 9- to 10-pounders he and his marshal saw surface before they crushed his soul and swam away. The third was "at least a 13- to 15-pounder, and I'm not (joking). I've caught 12-pounders in Guntersville that I've never told anyone about, and this one was in a little 30-yard stretch that everyone overlooks, but it can be great. "I walked this big fish around the entire boat twice, thinking it was a big catfish because it didn't come up. When it finally did, my marshal said it was the biggest bass he'd ever seen, and then I saw it. She was huge! And then she opened her mouth and my bait came out just as pretty as you please. She had clamped down so hard on the line I couldn't get a hook in her, and then she spit the bait." Rowland sat in the boat, retied his bait and wondered what he had to do that day to put anything in the livewell. Three fish weighing more than 30 pounds had gotten away from him. It was just one of those days to file away under "Memories, Not So Good." "Guntersville is a great lake, one of my favorites of all time," he said.
B.A.S.S. Elite Series Pro Zell Rowland
Jerkbaits For Spring Smallmouth
In northern natural lakes and reservoirs with strong smallmouth populations, dedicated bass anglers may encounter brown bass in offshore winter haunts somewhere in the 25 to 35 foot depths not long after ice out. These deep fish are hugging the bottom but feeding. Visualize them as passive-aggressive: unwilling to run down or pursue a bait (passive behavior) but willing to smack a vibrating blade bait, a jigging spoon, a hair jig or a slow swimming grub put in front of their nose (aggressive behavior). The next move for these fish will be a slow exodus towards the shallows. The trigger for this movement is likely a combination of increasingly longer daylight periods, preyfish movement, and slight bump in water temperature. Although there is no reliable way I know to determine what the actual water temp increase in the depths might motivate smallmouth schools to leave wintering grounds, we know that a near-surface consistent reading above 40 degrees usually signals that brown bass are on the move. Typically smallmouth groups pause at some sort of deep-to-shallow structure change (i.e. breakline, steep point, channel lip or bottom composition shift) to re-group and hang-out until the shallow flats warm to their liking. While various bottom-bumping lures often continue to work for these bass, it is also possible to catch them on hard jerkbaits - if the water clarity is good and you can get the lure deep enough! How deep? In clear water lakes, smallmouths at this point are likely holding somewhere between 15 and 25 feet. The slight increase in water temperature down deep seems to motivate smallmouth to look up instead of just keeping eyes on the bottom. Now they are more willing to move to perhaps 5 to 8 feet to intercept a lure. The window is open for a suspending jerkbait that can get down close to the bass. Given that popular late spring short-lip jerkbaits only dive to 3 to 5 feet, you can see special baits are needed for the early bite. For deep jerking, all eyes turn to long-bill suspending minnow baits.
Lure Presentation & Selection:
Enter the strolling technique. I don't know a single bass angler who admits to "trolling" in the traditional sense, but I do know a bunch who stroll baits to exceed the depth possible by a cast alone. With a standard 40 foot cast, the long-bill bait cannot reach maximum depth before it starts climbing towards the surface. Strolling adds considerable distance to the retrieve, therefore depth. Once you have located a school of smallmouth on deep structure in the spring, make a cast as far as possible beyond the school's location. A long rod and lighter line than typically used will aid in obtaining the greatest distance - hopefully 60 feet or more. Do not engage the reel. Use the trolling motor to move off in the opposite direction for 100 yards or more. Then engage the line and steadily retrieve the jerkbait until you judge it to be near the school's position. Pause. Use twitches and short pulls to inch the bait forward. Long pauses are critical to drawing strikes in the cold water.
Here are additional tips to get a long-bill jerkbait to go the distance: (1) Adjust buoyance of bait with Strom SuspenStrips to make absolutely sure the jerkbait will not rise - a very slow sink is better than a rise; (2) Use a rod least 7 feet long; (3) Drop to smaller diameter 8-pound line - I have complete confidence in 8-pound Gamma Edge to handle any smallmouth in open water during early spring. Baits I have used for this down deep jerking include Smithwick's Deep Suspending Rogue; Lucky Craft's Staysee 90 SP; Rapala's #8 X-Rap Shad; and Rapala's #10 Down Deep Husky Jerk. Preferred colors are reflective baitfish hues and yellow perch patterns. On many northern lakes, lake shiners and small yellow perch are primary prey for smallmouth in the early spring. But as shallower flats warm, it doesn't take long for smallmouth to move up into water depths of 10 feet or less. This depth allows the use of many traditional jerkbait models. In the shallower water, the smallies become more aggressive and willing to chase. They generally prefer a livelier presentation as opposed to the twitch and long stall which is imperative in deeper, colder water. Brighter colors come into play, too, including bold patterns which incorporate chartreuse, orange and pink. The shallow-lip Lucky Craft Slender Pointer 97MR and Rapala X-Rap minnow bait are perfect examples; of course they're many additional suspenders, too. While suspending minnow baits are generally employed on the shallow flats, don't overlook slow-rising minnow bait such as Rapala Flat Rap. As water temperature climbs towards 60 degrees, a more erratic slashing retrieve with faster cadence usually works better. However, if a cold snap sets in, the aggressive jerkbait presentation will usually falter until warming returns. Switching to a quiet suspender with more subdued action (such as Lucky Craft Silent 100) will sometimes continue to produce smallmouth bass.
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Jerking Springtime Smallies Spring 2014 Bass Angler Magazine (Darl Black pg. 90)
Kurt Doves Spring Lure Selection
"This is my favorite thing to throw in the pre and postspawn; it does really well around fry guarders," Dove says. "If the water is colder, like in the 50s, I'll use short twitches with long pauses and speed my cadence up as the water warms." He tosses a ghost Tennessee Shad pattern on Toray fluorocarbon.
Optimum Baits Opti Shad:
When bass are heading toward the shallows, Dove has this finesse swimbait tied on, rigged on a 1/4 or 3/16 ounce head. "I'll throw it over rocky points and around vegetation as the bass are moving shallow," he says. Again, the colder the water, the slower he retrieves it. Ghost minnow is his preferred color. Light fluorocarbon line is best.
Ten Bears Bait Tungsten Jig:
This is Dove's diverse performer. "You can punch it into vegetation, flip it into bushes or drag it off of ledges," he says. "It's a target-oriented bait that has a free-swining hook. I like to hang a craw-type plastic on the back and flip it to shallow cover that might have big postspawn bass sitting in it." His favorite color is black-and-blue.
Ima Rock N Vibe:
If Dove needs to dig a little deeper than 10 feet, he does so with a lipless crankbait. "This is good in open water on schooling fish and is also good for picking off shallow-water bass hanging in vegetation or on points," he says. "Or, if you're up north and the water is still cold, it's got a really tight wiggle that's good for that. It's a good way to cover a lot of water." Mimicking crawfish is best, he believes, evidenced by the pattern he prefers: hot craw. Again, Toray fluorocarbon gets the nod.
What Kurt Dove Throws In April April 2014 BASS Magazine (David Hunter Jones pg. 24-25)
Mike McClelland Early Spring Jerkbait - Rip'em & Stick'em
Many of us will be hitting the water soon and stickbaits should play a big part of how you will catch early season bass. Fishing a reservoir system bass will have a tendency to head towards deeper river channel areas; this will represent some of the deepest water in the area. When inactive, bass will stay close to the bottom 1/3rd of these creek channels. Food sources at this time of the season will hit these same corners as the bass, but will be located at a different depth level. Many times these food sources will hit the corners and suspend about half way down the corner break. For example if the depth in the corner is 30ft the bass will be in that 20ft to 25ft range, but the bait will just drop off of the corner edge and be at the 12ft to 18ft level. Another situation that you may come across, if the reservoir you are fishing has standing timber located in its depths. Bass during this time of the season will take us residence in these trees. If the bass are inactive you will find them scattered throughout the trees. One of the best ways to get these bass to bite when they are inactive is too target them with jigs or a jigging spoon.
When these bass become active they will make a move up into the tops of the trees and use the trees as cover, just waiting for the bait fish to move close too or over the tops of the trees. When in this mode the bass will feed up using the tops of the trees as ambush points. When fishing in these conditions one of the best lures you can use is a stickbait. Electronics will play a big part in helping you find bass in these situations, this is another case when a Humminbird SI unit will be worth its weight in gold. Set the SI range to 150ft each side and start to run the creek channels looking for signs of suspended bait fish. When you see the suspended bait on your screen put a waypoint on these fish so you can get back on the school when you start to fishing. If you do not have an SI unit look for the turns of the creek channel that come close to shore on your map. This will be prime areas to find bait schooled, run these areas with your electronics and look to see if you cannot locate suspended baitfish. Once you find the bait the bass will not be far behind.
If you take these two different early season feeding situations, you can see that when the bass are feeding, they are feeding in an up position coming up to the bait to eat from below. This is why at this time of the season; one of your first choices when choosing baits to target these fish should be a jerkbait or stickbait. Spro makes a few different style stickbaits the McRip and the McStick. Both of these baits have a distinct action and style, the McRip was made for the early season or when you need to get down a little deeper in the water column to reach bass that are located deep off of the breaks. Follow that up with the McStick that will cover the shallower to mid depth areas and you have one of the best one, two stickbait combos ever made.
When it comes to equipment to fish sticks start with a 6'6" to 7ft medium action baitcaster rod teamed with a matching reel with a 5:3-1 or a 6:3-1 version. The colder the water the slower the reel I will use. If you would ask Spro stickbait fishing master Mike McClelland what has changed the most in the last few years of stickbait fishing he will be the first to tell you line choices. Mike is a firm believer that mono is the best line to fish stickbait on. The biggest reason for this choice is because mono line is neutrally buoyant, what level the bait is at, the line would be at this same depth. Mono line did not keep the bait up or weight it down. Now throw in a few new lines from Sunline and you have some new thoughts on what line to use when stickbait fishing. Mike has started using Sunline's new Reaction FC as a stickbait option. Reaction FC has a little more stretch than typical fluorocarbon line that makes it a perfect line choice. You will also see there are days on the water when the bass will want the bait hardly moving, these are the days that you should fish mono. Then you will have days when the bait has to be fished with a lot of action, these will be the days that you will want to fish your stickbait on Reaction FC.
The most important thing to remember when fishing a stickbait, work the bait slowly! Keep your pauses on the long side to help you figure out how to get a reaction bite out of the bass. Start out pausing the bait 10 to 15 seconds between jerks. After the initial pause allow the stickbait to settle into the correct position. When you want to move the bait pull the bait forward with your rod tip giving it a few slight jerks, picking up the line slack with the reel. Let the bait settle again, wait 10 to 15 seconds, then give the bait a few more slight jerks. As you are working the bait back to the boat vary the pauses and the cadence of how you are fishing the bait. Make sure that you pay attention to how you get bites - this will help you put more bass in the boat during your day of fishing. A good rule of thumb when it comes to how long to pause your stickbait between cadences, the colder the water the longer your pause should be the warmer the water the faster you can work your stickbait. Experiment with different pause times and jerk patterns, when you find a pattern that works; work it all the way back to the boat. Keep in touch with your bait be aware of what happens when you stop your bait, is it still sinking or does the bait slowly raise if this is happening you will need to make an adjustment to your bait. Adjustment can be made to your bait by adding a bigger hook to get the bait to keep from rising or go to smaller hooks if the bait is sinking out of the strike zone. It does not look natural to the bass if the bait is rising on its pause. Another small adjustment you can do is to add another split ring to the middle hook. This slight adjustment may be all that is needed to keep the stickbait from rising on the pause.
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Springtime Sticks - With Mike McClelland Spring 2014 Bass Angler Magazine (Scott Peterson pg. 88)
Pre-Spawn - Flipping Clear Water Docks With James Watson
The beginning stages of the fish's spawning cycle get underway with a concurrence of several events coming together. Starting in early spring, the pre-spawn stage of a fish's reproduction cycle is taking its first baby steps towards the spawn. Water temperatures have risen, the days are longer, and shad have started to migrate to shallow water. Bass will key on these manifestations of spring and start their move to the shallows in search of food and the faint implication of preparing for the spawn. Feeding on that food source as it moves shallow will allow hungry bass the ability to gain much needed energy for the most active event in their short life. The shad movement coincides with the instinct of male bass to start looking for adequate places for spawning beds and the females to start finding a male to mate with. Because they are actively feeding, this is the time when they are most vulnerable and can be easily duped by fishermen. The pre-spawn is when all dedicated fishermen should be on the water, and according to Watson, this is the time when flipping docks can produce quality fish.
The first areas Watson, a clear-water specialist, looks for when deciding which docks to explore are docks in or near large spawning coves. He feels these docks have the best potential to produce the size of fish needed to win a tournament. Watson states, "Fish will spawn in all types of areas. They will spawn on bluff walls that have ledges, bluff ends, pea gravel points, or chunk rock areas. My favorite areas to look for spawning fish are flat, shallow coves with a mixture of gravel and rock. Once I found what I think is a good spawning cove, I look at the docks midway back into the cove, but these docks need to be in shallow water." As fish make their move to shallow water, Watson believes you'll find the highest concentration of good size fish midway back into the cove. As the spawn progresses, bass move further into the shallow coves, and then once they have spawned, they will start their move back towards deeper water. When fishing the pre-spawn, it is best to intercept them on their way to their spawning areas. Watson also prefers fishing docks with specific characteristics. "Floating docks seems to be the best," comments Watson, "not the pier-style docks, but docks that have floats on them. I really like docks that are shallow and getting the most sunlight."
Where On The Docks
Watson believes that if he could find a dock so shallow that the backside of it is on dry land, he would find some of his best fish on the perimeter of that dock. They are staging in protected areas and close to the areas where they will eventually start making spawning beds. The edges of the docks will provide protection like a big tree in the water or an underwater brush pile. Spawning beds need to be in the sunlight. Fertilized eggs need sunlight to keep warm to help the development process. Mama and papa bass inherently know this and do their best to prepare the spawning beds in the sunlight. Areas such as covered boat stalls, which do not receive enough light, are less likely to produce fish. Areas such as under walkways or overhanging awnings can produce fish as long as they receive sufficient sunlight a majority of the day. Fishing difficult to reach areas can be a key strategy when participating in large tournaments. These difficult areas can hold non-pressured fish. Many anglers pride themselves on being able to cast, skip or flip into areas most fishermen cannot. The reward of learning to skip a jig into hard to access locations around docks is worth the practice frustrations and backlashes. Great places to skip a jig are under walkways and under cables that are crossing to the dock. Fish use the shadows in these areas to hide and ambush their prey.
Watson will mainly use finesse jigs when flipping clear water docks during the pre-spawn. He advocates finding the fall rate bass like the best. He uses a 3/8 ounce jig but will go up to 1/2 ounce if needed. He does not typically use plastics, such as beaver or Brush Hog style bait, on clear water docks in the springtime. He feels they have too much action, and he looks for something crawdad shaped with a small profile. He will use a Brush Hog or beaver style bait when flipping docks in the summertime or if he is flipping in dirty water. Watson finds in clear water he does not need a jig trailer with a lot of action. He states, "I use a War Eagle Heavy Finesse jig in 3/8 ounce, most often. I then attach a Luck 'E' Strike Baby Guido Bug as a trailer. I like the Guido Bug due to its slimmer profile and crawdad shape. When fishing dirty water, I use a bigger profile jig with a trailer that has more action. In clear water, fish can see your bait better, so no need to attract their attention with a lot of action." Many anglers feel the need to use light line when fishing clear water lakes. This may be so when fishing deeper open water, but not necessarily true when fishing the pre-spawn. Since the fish have moved shallow, they will be found more around shallow corners and walkways. The chances of breaking off are high due to the line unavoidably rubbing on the cables, so it is best to use heavier line sizes. Watson recommends 20 pound Maxima fluorocarbon line for when he is in close "hand-to-hand combat" with fish and the docks.
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Springtime Dock Patterns With James Watson Spring 2014 Bass Angler Magazine (Travis Perret pg. 72)