Tracking Springtime Bass

The three stages of the spawn--and how to fish them.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Springtime bass have no choice but to migrate to shallow waters in response to primeval spawning urges. Their movements are as unfaltering as the changing seasons and quite predictable for those who know how to follow them through their prespawn, spawn, and postspawn activities. Ohioan Joe Thomas, a noted professional tournament angler, has successfully tracked springtime bass in waters across the country for nearly two decades. Here are some of his winning tactics:

Before the Spawn
"When early-spring water temperatures range from the upper 40s to mid-50s," Thomas says, "I target bass staging on secondary points, which are points just off the main lake in impoundments. These are often the mouths of creeks and coves."

Points that feature chunk rock, large stumps, and fallen trees are natural bass magnets. These objects soak up the sun's warmth, and bass cozy up to them.

In natural lakes, points of submerged weedbeds are key locations at this time, as it's the first vegetation available to bass when they move up from deep water. In most of these situations, Thomas catches bass from 2 to 7 feet deep.

"My favorite early prespawn bait is a 3/8-ounce Arkie Flippin' Jig tipped with a No. 11 Uncle Josh Pork Frog. In dingy water, I use a black-and-blue jig and a black frog. Clear water calls for a brown jig with a brown frog."

Thomas casts to the bank with a stiff 61/2- to 7-foot graphite baitcasting rod spooled with 14- to 17-pound line. Then he literally inches the jig slowly over the bottom to imitate a crayfish.

"Once the water climbs above 55 degrees," Thomas says, "bass move toward the backs of pockets and creeks and become more active. In clear water, I add jerkbaits and silver-bladed spinnerbaits to my arsenal. In dirty water, I like to throw wide-wobbling, crayfish-pattern crankbaits that dive 7 to 8 feet deep. I concentrate on the last water of any depth adjacent to shallow spawning flats."

During the Spawn
When the water temperature in the shallows stabilizes in the 60s, the major spawning period commences. At this time, Thomas believes it is critical to find shallow, quiet water protected from wind and waves, such as backwater ponds, canals, and the backs of pockets.

In clear water, he looks for bedding bass through polarized sunglasses. When he spots one, he casts a Texas-rigged tube into the bed. The tube is matched with 10-pound-test line, a 3/0 hook, and a pegged 1/16-ounce slip sinker. If any wind is present, he increases the weight to 1/8 ounce to prevent the tube from being pulled out of the bed.

"I cast the tube into the fish's nest and let the bass come and discover it," Thomas says. "That's when slight twitches that let the tube stay in place can be very effective. I put rattles inside my tubes that sound off when I shake my rod tip. That drives bass crazy."

In water too dingy to see bedded bass, Thomas casts a 4- or 6-inch black Texas-rigged plastic lizard to the shoreline in likely spawning locations and slowly drags it over the bottom. He matches the lizard with a 3/0 hook, a 1/8-ounce pegged sinker, and 12-pound-test line.

"In dirty water," he says, "you have to find the bass with your lure. You drag the bait rather than hop it to make sure it plows through any bed it travels across and irritates the bass."

Thomas has learned that bass generally spawn next to cover rather than deep inside it, but they prefer some overhead protection, such as the edges of boat docks and the overhanging limbs of willow trees or flooded bushes.

After the Spawn
"Immediately after the spawn, bass respond well to poppers like the Pop-R and Rico, floating worms, and soft-plastic jerkbaits." During this period, Thomas starts out fishing the first deep water near spawning flats and works his way back out toward the main lake. He covers the same areas he fished during the prespawn phase in reverse.

"Secondary points and coves that produced bass before the spawn also attract them after the spawn," Thomas notes. "The difference is that postspawn bass relate less to cover than at any other time of year. They're in a transition period and feeding. You can often make excellent catches by simply running the banks with topwater lures. It's bass fishing at its best."