Fish in the Rain: How to Catch Spring Bass Even in Bad Weather

Fisherman casts for largemouth bass
Fisherman casts for largemouth bass.Brian Grossenbacher

Rain beat against my gore-tex hood as I surveyed the small Ohio reservoir's milfoil-filled cove. It was a cold April afternoon, the sky was overcast, and the cove's rain-spattered surface diffused what little light was entering the water. I needed a conspicuous lure, something a bass could easily see.

I started slinging a white ½-ounce spinnerbait rigged with tandem No. 3 and No. 5 nickel Indiana blades past small clumps of weeds, retrieving it through lanes and openings in the milfoil beds. The action of the blades lifted the bait in the water column, allowing me to retrieve it slowly. Raising the rod tip high kept the lure shallow enough for me to see any strikes.

After that I barely noticed the rain. More than a dozen largemouths inhaled my lure that afternoon, the best seven totaling more than 25 pounds. Those were the most productive two hours I've ever spent on that lake.

Start by Throwing Your Favorite Spinnerbait

A spinnerbait is always my first choice for soggy-weather springtime bass fishing. Rain is usually accompanied by a falling barometer, which makes bass more inclined to feed and chase. And the dark skies and dimpled surface that reduce light penetration also encourage bass to move to the edges of their cover.

The result is a much enlarged strike zone. You don't have to put your bait within inches of a bass' nose to prompt a bite. Merely get it close enough for the fish to see it or sense the vibration through its lateral lines. A bass in a rainy-day mode won't overlook a flashing, pulsating spinnerbait.

To fish shallow water in a steady rain, I like to use a light-colored lure, usually a white 3/8-or ½-ounce spinnerbait with nickel blades. I opt for rounded Indiana or Colorado blades, which have more lift, when I want to run the lure slowly just beneath the surface. If I need to retrieve the bait a little faster or a little deeper, I switch to narrower willowleaf blades. Heavy 15- to 20-pound-test line helps reduce break-offs in thick cover.

When the rain breaks, or it starts showering intermittently, I downsize. A big spinnerbait fished in slick water may look too gaudy to bass. I've had success going as small as 1/8 ounce, in white, with a No. 2 Indiana and a No. 3 Colorado or Oklahoma blade. If you can't find a small spinnerbait in one of these combinations, buy one that has a Colorado lead blade and a willowleaf trailing, and replace the latter with another Colorado. I fish these diminutive versions just as I do the larger ones, and with the same heavy line. They are capable of drawing strikes from sizable bass.

Take Advantage of Natural Cover

Largemouths will charge spinnerbaits from any type of cover, but they tend to show a preference on any given day. Find out where the bass are currently holding and then focus your efforts accordingly. You need to probe shallow grass beds, boat docks, stumps, flooded bushes, the limbs of fallen trees, and any other available cover until the bass tell you where to fish for them.

Take advantage of your lure's characteristics when searching for these bass. The spinnerbait is one of the most snag-resistant lures and efficiently combs vast amounts of water (even at low speeds). Cast beyond the cover when possible, then guide your spinnerbait close to it with your rod tip. Don't overlook riprap and rocky banks; bass often position themselves nearby in shallow water when it rains. Move your boat close to the bank, cast parallel to the shoreline, and keep your bait hard by the rocks throughout the retrieve. When you find those bass, you'll forget all about the weather.

Search for Bass Guarding Beds in the Rain

If bass refuse to belt your spinnerbait during a shower, they may be guarding beds and unwilling to chase the lure. While it's harder to see the beds through a rain-rippled surface, the bass also have trouble seeing you. This makes them less inclined to spook and more likely to bite.

Michigan bass pro Kim Stricker takes advantage of this situation by pitching a 3 ½-inch Gambler Strick-9 tube into beds. His favorite color combo is chip gold (flake) and watermelon, and he rigs it Texas-style with a 3/0 Gamakatsu EWG Superline offset hook, a 3/16-ounce bullet sinker, and 17-pound line. The heavy line helps him wrestle bass out of beds nestled in nasty cover. —M.H.

Adapt to Changing Weather in Real Time

Each spring, beginning in February and continuing into May, former world champion bass tournament pro Mark Davis spends almost as much time studying water temperature as he does lure choice and his speed of retrieve. That is because at this time of year all three are more interrelated than at any other season. "The key in early spring is a warming trend in which the water temperature rises just 4 or 5 degrees," notes Davis, who began studying water temperature's effects on bass more than 20 years ago as a guide on Lake Ouachita in Arkansas. "Just a slight change like this is enough to make bass more active and start them moving toward shallow water.

"The actual temperature itself is relative to whatever region of the country you're fishing," he continues, "so don't worry if the water reads 38 degrees, 47 degrees, or whatever. It's more important to learn how bass react to the change itself."

When the Weather is Heating Up

Two factors that commonly cause water temperatures to rise in spring are, naturally, sunshine, and surprisingly, rain. Of these, rain affects bass the quickest.

"Spring rains, even in February, are frequently several degrees warmer than the lake water," Davis explains. "So you want to fish places where runoff is flowing in, such as smaller tributary creeks and ditches. Larger tributaries and rivers may become too muddy if they're flushing a lot of new water into the system."

Bass will move to these smaller runoff areas within hours, and you may even see them start chasing minnows and small baitfish. Their transformation is that sudden. Small crankbaits and spinnerbaits fished near the surface are particularly effective since the warmer water will stay on top of the colder water. Unfortunately, this runoff activity seldom lasts longer than two to three days, because as the water disperses it gradually cools and the bass slow down accordingly. This can be a good time to move to the larger tributaries and try the same techniques if the water there has cleared.

Several days of warming sunshine in early spring can trigger the same quick change in bass activity, and again, an upward swing in water temperature of just 4 or 5 degrees is all it takes. The best warming trends are those in which the nighttime air temperature does not dip below the temperature of the water, meaning a full 24 hours of continuous warming.

After two or three days of such conditions, bass will begin moving to creeks, bays, and smaller coves and pockets, generally on northern shorelines that receive the most sunshine. Remember, also, that slightly stained or dingy water will warm quicker than clear water.

"What I look for are secondary points, humps, and ditches adjacent to possible spawning areas," Davis says, "and these tend to be the same places year after year.

"I like steeper banks, especially those with good cover, because the deeper water allows bass to move vertically if the water starts to cool again."

Lure choices for these conditions include small crankbaits that dive to about 10 feet, suspending jerkbaits, and jigs. Erratic stop-and-go retrieves produce the best results. When the Weather Starts Cooling Down

Just as a rising temperature causes bass to become active, a sudden drop-which also happens frequently in the spring-makes them lethargic and difficult to catch. Many anglers believe these cold fronts drive bass from shallow water back to their deep-water haunts, but Davis isn't so sure.

"I believe staging bass, those that were in the process of moving shallow when the temperature fell, are the bass most likely to move deeper again. But I think that once a bass commits itself to spawning and goes to a bed, it will stay on or near that bed. It may move a short distance into thick cover and become almost totally inactive, but the staging fish that moved back deep can still be caught."

Once again, the key is not how much the water temperature actually cools, but the fact that it does change and become colder. The fish that do go back to deeper water usually make this move very quickly, but they often stop at the first available depth change, which may be only 50 yards away.

In searching for these fish, Davis recommends gradually fishing from the shallow water where the bass had been toward deeper water, paying particular attention to both vegetation (which will hold bass in cold temperatures) and sharp depth changes like ditches or channels. These breaks do not necessarily need to be more than 3 or 4 feet.

"Jigs, slow-moving crankbaits you can bounce along the bottom, and spoons are all good choices," Davis says. "Crankbaits may be the best for finding fish, and then you can change to a jig or spoon to work them more precisely."

The reason Davis is not particularly concerned with specific water temperatures in the spring is because of the huge variation in bass activity he has experienced in February, March, and April. He has caught bass in water as cold as 38 degrees, by sliding his lure over surface ice and dropping it into an open hole. He regularly finds bass spawning in water as chilly as 52 degrees, nearly 20 degrees colder than what fisheries biologists once considered possible. ––S.P.

Predict Weather Before You Start Fishing by Studying Clouds

Before you start out in the morning, or when planning for the next day, you can look to the skies to check the weather. Even if the weather has been cooperative one day and you’ve caught fish, the clouds can tell you if that trend will continue.

You can accurately predict the weather for an impending 24-hour period if you keep in mind several cloud formations. Each type of cloud forms in its own way, and each brings its own set of conditions:

Cirrus Clouds

From the Latin for curled, these clouds look feathered, like an outstretched horse's tail, and they form high in the sky, at up to 40,000 feet. If the wind is coming from the northeast, east, or south, expect rain in the next 24 hours. With a wind from the southwest, west, or north, it will be clear and calm.

Stratus Clouds

Gray and low, stratus clouds always portend foul weather. With winds from the northeast or the south, count on heavy rain. If the wind is coming from any other direction, it will be overcast with a slight drizzle.

Cumulus Clouds

Cumulus clouds look like cauliflower, and they're generally as tall as they are wide. They form on sunny days, and it never rains with them overhead. They are low-flying, fluffy white shapes projected against an azure sky.

Cumulonimbus Clouds

Morphing from cumulus clouds, these ominous, dark clouds are much larger and more vertical. Mustering into towering black masses, they can form the squall line of a cold front and are topped with thunderheads shaped like anvils. Expect wind, rain, thunder, and lightning. —J.M.

How One Bass Pro Changes Tactics for Prespawn Bass in Bad Weather

Bass pro James Caldemeyer (officiallakeforktrophybass.com), who calls Lake Fork, Texas home, has been a pro angler since 2004, and has fished Lake Fork over 20 years. Currently, he fishes the FLW tour, and shared his secrets for catching bass in bad weather.

Prespawn Fail

People think the weather has to be nice and there has to be a warming trend to catch prespawn largemouths, but Caldemeyer says, “Actually, it’s the exact opposite. A front is a front regardless of the time of year it shows up, and fronts produce bites.” He watches for inclement weather, including sleet and snow, and targets true prespawn monsters during those transitional conditions.

Game Changer

Caldemeyer knows that female bass are at their peak weight before the spawn. He looks for the giants on main-lake points and secondary points leading into the spawning creeks and flats. “These are the areas where the fish will be staging,” he says. “Any bait that resembles a crawfish will catch them.”

Caldemeyer has the most big-fish success when the points also have stumps or grass. Around the stumps, jigs are his primary producer. His favorite is a Santone Rattlin' Jig in black-blue, and he tips it with a Berkley Chigger Craw in black-blue fleck. For fishing over grass, he'll use a lipless crankbait in red or brown to mimic a crawfish. ––M.M.