Bass Biology

Bass fishing time is here

By Michael Newell

March and April are some of the best times to start focusing on big bass that are awakening from the winter doldrums and looking for a good meal. It also marks the nearing of spawning season, the time that makes anglers across the country salivate.

It is not too early to start planning a fishing trip, and to help you do just that I’ve included some tips from fisheries, biologists, and professional anglers to help make your outing more successful, no matter when you go. I have also included some tips to help make sure that your equipment is in prime condition for the upcoming season.

When talking about early bass fishing it helps to break the time leading up to the spawning season into early pre-spawn and late pre-spawn. Fish react differently in these two time periods and patterns used to catch them must be adapted to the condition.

Early Pre-Spawn

As cold-blooded animals, bass spend their winter in fairly deep water in energy-conservation mode. Although they’ll still eat when food is available, the cold water lowers their metabolism to the point that they don’t need to eat much to survive.

Bass typically become active in water depths of 20 to 30 feet, and when surface temperatures warm above 44 degrees.

This is the time when the female bass begins to fill out her egg skeins, and she needs groceries to do this. Baitfish and crawfish are favorite meals, and being cold-blooded themselves, are easy pickings for predatory bass because they move slowly and not far due to low energy reserves.

Keep this point in mind when presenting your artificial lure to these bass. Early bass instinctively refuse to chase a fast-moving lure or one that has a lot of action, because it’s out of synch with nature.

To grow and develop those eggs, Mama Bass needs to consume more calories than she expends to catch her meal, so if it isn’t delivered to her doorstep, she isn’t buying it.

Until water temperatures warm above 50 degrees, fish deep with a horizontal presentation.

“Since bass are sluggish, I’ll use a slow presentation. In any season, I use search lures to find active bass. In winter, I prefer ones that draw strikes without moving fast. Suspending jerkbaits are my favorite winter artificials,” said four-time Bassmaster Classic champion, Kevin VanDam. “The fact that you can fish these lures in the same place for long periods of time makes them extremely deadly on suspending bass.”

Leadhead grubs also work great in these conditions, they probe vertical and fast sloping structure efficiently. The same goes for jigs, metal blade baits and spoons.

Late Pre-Spawn

After water surface temps rise above 50, but before bass build their nest to spawn, is the best time to catch huge bass.

This is the period when experienced bass anglers always seem to call in sick for work to play hooky. With the longer daylight hours and warming water in the shallows, largemouth begin to feel their oats, and they go on a major feeding binge.

They follow main lake points and secondary points as highways to the shallow flats, and will congregate on points where they can ambush baitfish as they swim past, and crayfish crawling out from under rocks. You may find these aggressive bruisers anywhere from three to 15 feet deep, but often the most aggressive bass will be the shallowest.

Every lake has lots of water in this depth zone, but the most productive areas are predictable regardless of your experience level. The key is to fish the areas where the shallows are first to warm. Most areas have prevailing southerly winds, and as the sunlight warms the surface water, the wind then pushes this warmer water to the northern shoreline, where it collects in pockets.

Additionally, this same water is exposed to sunlight the longest compared to other areas of the lake, due to the low angle of the sun. Simply put, northern shorelines warm first, so bass are attracted to them for spawning.

Spawning is more successful in preserving the species the earlier it occurs, since this gives young-of-year bass fry the most time to grow to fingerling size prior to the hardships of winter, increasing their odds for survival. Use this knowledge to guide your efforts to northern shorelines with good sun exposure and hard bottoms.

Soft or silt bottoms are low odds for success, as silt kills bass eggs through suffocation.

Look for rocky bottoms, particularly on flats in coves protected from the wind, and near deep water. Although wind pushes warm water into coves and pockets, too much stirs up silt, reducing the ability of sunlight to incubate the eggs, and increasing the odds of oxygen deprivation.

Not all bass read the same time schedule, so don’t expect them to be in the same phase of spawn. The first bass to move into the shallows are often the largest, as they demand more groceries and claim the best hunting and spawning areas for themselves. For every bass that has moved shallow, there are dozens more behind the boat in deeper water.

Because they are scattered, use reaction baits that allow you to cover large areas quickly. One of my favorites is a lipless, vibrating crankbait, such as the Rat-L-Trap. These are great search baits, since it casts a mile and covers the five-foot depth zone efficiently.

“I pick up my fishing pace considerably as the water hits around 52 degrees,” said KVD. “I may run down a bank while quickly throwing a Red Eye Shad or spinnerbait, then pause to pitch a jig when I come to a submerged log or brush pile.”

Another favorite of anglers for these bass are suspending jerkbaits The long, slender baitfish imitators makes a seductive wiggle with each pull of the rod tip, and when paused quickly with momentary slack, actually backs up a little and suspends in the face of following lunkers. This is more than a hungry bass can withstand, so they flare their gills and suck in the bait along with a gallon of water. This is also the bait that helped to win the recent Bassmaster Classic.

Remember, with the warming water bass are feisty, and now they want an erratic action that gets their attention, and in a size that they expect to see, since bait that survived the winter is already about four inches long. You can also use suspending crankbaits that dive five or more feet. The suspending feature is important this time of the year because a stop-and-go retrieve works best, and if the bait floated it would move out of the strike zone each time you stopped your lure.

Read more in the latest issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.