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Adapting for Spring Bass

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February 27, 2014

Adapting for Spring Bass


The wind was howling and my kayak bounced around on the waves. It was early spring and the unpredictable weather of the midwest had served up a blizzard. I'd had cabin fever for weeks and even the colder than average temps couldn't keep me inside any longer. I casted into the chop and as my lure slowly sank near a brush pile, I felt the light thump of a bass inhaling it. I set the hook and the fish peeled drag for a bit on my light set-up. Moments later, my thumb was inside the bottom lip of a fat 5 pounder. Normally, this time of year I would be looking for shallow bays that have warmed up already. I'd be throwing a suspending jerkbait, crawling a jig or plastic or maybe slow rolling a big colorado blade spinnerbait. However, this spring was different and knowing when to adapt to the conditions is key for warm water species like the largemouth bass.

When it comes to bass, the size of your lure is important. Especially, in conditions like I described above. That spring day in particular I was using a spinning rod with 6 pound test fluorocarbon, an eighth ounce jig head and a three inch grub. The common spring tactics were not working and the more finesse presentations were. In fact, I landed four fish over four pounds on that outing. Often during the ice-out conditions of spring you will see a die-off of forage species like shad or slow moving forage in general as the melting ice mixes with warmer water and cools down the water temperature. Bass and other predators take advantage of this and begin to feast. This is when slow moving lures that match the forage or the action of the forage work well. Even amphibians and crustaceans begin to emerge and move very slowly. Jigs can be dynamite in areas where these food items are found. So the question is...when do you need to adapt with a smaller presentation? Well, this largely depends on water temperatures. This is because a bass's metabolism slows way down in cold water. It is easier for a bass to digest a smaller morsel than a large one and it costs less calories as well.  What this means for the angler encountering temps below 50 degrees in spring is downsizing. Even if you downsize however there are things to keep in mind. For example, bass will be less active in cold water. There will be some fish that are more active than the rest but this activity is usually only for short periods. So this applies to the location you choose. If you are looking for the active fish you would probably want to target an area where they can readily find food, if they are feeding, they will be near a food source obviously. You can catch the more inactive fish though. These fish will generally be hanging around normal bass habitat in well oxygenated water with maybe a little current. Now these fish may not be interested in expending a bunch of energy so a presentation that allows for them to easily slurp up a bait is needed.

Many anglers will say things like "the bass are finally chasing lures". This is a sign that the water temperatures have reached a point where the majority of bass have grown active. If the bass are chasing it's time to bust out your normal sized baits. Let the fish tell you what to do, pay close attention to water temperatures and be open to adapting your presentation and you will find much more success in spring.

Let's talk about big bass now. In spring, some of the first fish to become active are the big fish. Females must feed to support the eggs in their bellies and get ready for the rigors of the upcoming spawn. This is why spring is one of the best times to catch the heavyweights. Personally, I believe 100% in the big baits for big fish theory. Generally speaking, the big bass will take bigger baits in cold water just like any other time of year. This is relative to the fish's size. If you are throwing a big bait in cold water you are more likely to get fewer bites, however, those bites you get are often quality fish. With that in mind, never overlook the finesse presentation. Big bass will also eat tiny lures and like I wrote above, there are times when downsizing is the ticket. Often, due to the forage available in colder than average spring temps....my presentation is going to mimic a small fish that is moving slow or wounded.  A light jig head and a fat grub is one my favorites. This lure sinks very slowly and can be fished at a pace where you can work it slow anywhere in the water column. There are other good options as well. Crappie tubes, small lipless cranks fished vertically, small spinnerbaits or in-line spinners, count-down minnows, weightless flukes...all of these work well. Make a choice based on local forage, water clarity, weather and what you need to get in front of a bass's mouth. You can choose a lure that is too large but you can never go too small. It is always easy to want to start slinging bass lures as soon as the ice is gone but being aware of the best presentation and adapting will help you be more successful in the ever inconsistent weather of the midwest. Good luck and I hope we are all on the water soon!


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