Early-Spring Largemouth in Small Ponds

Start your spring with big, aggressive largemouth bass in shallow, unsuspecting ponds.

If you live in northern New England and aren’t into ice fishing, you probably spend the winter dreaming about open water. Or, if winter is anything like the last couple years, there are opportunities to launch the boat throughout. By the time March comes I am typically willing to freeze for a few hours just to catch a couple of early-spring largemouth bass. Is it worth it? Maybe. More than anything, it keeps the excitement for the smaller, shallower inland ponds that will soon open and the opportunity they present to catch the biggest bass of the season.  

In deeper ponds and lakes, bass stay in deep water longer before moving shallow. However, in smaller bodies of water where the maximum depth is not substantial, water temperatures increase faster. When the shallows warm on sunny days, the fish will move up from slightly deeper grass areas into the shallows.  

(Note: On The Water is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.)

During warming trends when a few days of sun is expected, plan to start on working any shallow areas first and work deep. A couple degrees change in water temperature sparked by sunlight penetrating to mud and silt bottoms will draw bait and bass, and they are typically hungry! 

When selecting gear and lures, keep it simple for early-spring largemouth. Look for a reaction bite or work painfully slow to “finesse” bass into biting. Typically, a couple of reaction baits like spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, or lipless crankbaits will suffice. If the fish require a slower presentation, drag jigs or worms a little deeper. Bass tend to group as they wait to spawn, so cover water with reaction baits until you get a bite, then target the area with finesse baits. 

big early-spring largemouth bass
Largemouth bass move from deeper water into the shallows on sunny days. (Photo by Justin Brouillard)

For fishing search-baits, such as lipless crankbaits, diving crankbaits, and bladed jigs, I prefer a longer rod with a moderate action or even a glass rod. A Daiwa Tatula 7’ 4” heavy-action rod paired with a Daiwa Tatula 200, 7.3:1 ratio reel gets the nod. The faster reel allows for slow and fast retrieves, and 15- to 17-pound fluorocarbon line will excel in most situations.   

Baitcasting reels with a higher gear ratio, like the Daiwa Tatula 200 7:3:1, give you the freedom to make slow or fast retrieves with baits that entice reaction strikes.

Top-Producing Baits for Early-Spring Largemouth

The top bait for this time of year is a bladed jig. The versatility is unmatched, and by selecting from a variety of trailers, you can modify it for any scenario. The OG, a Z-Man Chatterbait Jackhammer, will excel in any condition, and I prefer the Berkley SlobberKnocker for faster retrieves.

The author finds that the Berkley SlobberKnocker excels on a faster retrieve than other bladed jigs.

Alternatively, swimbaits provide additional action from the thumping paddle-tail when fished slower. A streamlined trailer such as a Beast Coast Bladerunner or a Z-Man StreakZ allows the bait to be fished faster, covering different parts of the water column without sacrificing action. 

Forego the paddletail trailer and fish more streamlined baits, like the Z-Man StreakZ, to maintain beef up the profile and maintain the jig’s action at different depths.

For a slower presentation, I use a swimbait rigged on a 3/8-ounce Coolbait Lures Underspin. This provides more depth capability, and the underspin comes through the grass with ease when backing off the bank. The weedless model underspin works well for early-spring largemouth in areas of thick grass, and the heavier 3/8-ounce bait can be used a little deeper when fished faster back to the boat. Additionally, a jig works well for casting to deeper grass – it offers a large meal for big bass and often will provide some of the bigger bites. 

bait for big early-spring largemouth bass
For a slower retrieve, opt for a paddletail-style lure. (Photo by Justin Brouillard)

For fishing an underspin, you will again want a longer rod, such as a medium-heavy Daiwa Tatula Elite Spinning Rod (7’3”) paired with a Daiwa Tatula MQ LT spinning reel. For the jig, pick a medium-heavy or heavy fast-action rod with a high-speed Daiwa Tatula SV TW reel. I spool up 10- to 15-pound braid to a 10- to 15-pound fluorocarbon leader for the underspin, and either 20-pound fluorocarbon or 40-pound braid for the jig setup. 

Cold-Water Techniques 

The first thing I do after locating the warmest water on a small pond is to pick up a lipless crankbait setup and cover water. The lipless crank is a versatile search-bait that can be retrieved in different ways to trigger a reaction bite. You can cover a whole lot of water – shallow and deep. Look for the cleanest living vegetation in the pond and start working the lipless bait around the deepest parts of it (typically, this will be around 8 feet). Vary your retrieve, keeping the bait around the tops of the vegetation, then try slow-rolling it deeper into the weeds and snapping it out when it gets snagged. Work these areas until you get a bite. It’s critical this time of year to pay attention to the depth when you get a bite because you can usually find fish at the same depth in other locations. 

big early-spring largemouth bass
For covering water with lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and bladed jigs, a long rod with a moderate action works best. (Photo by Justin Brouillard)

If you can’t buy a bite with the lipless crank, work through your medium and shallow crankbait arsenal, looking for reaction bites. Ticking the tops of the grass or even burying into it is often key this time of year. For a more subtle reaction bite, switch to a bladed jig and run it the same way, searching from deeper edges to shallower areas until you get a bite to give you the clues you need. 

If you’re not getting consistent bites on reaction baits, slow it down and present an underspin with a paddle-tail swimbait that you can slowly thump along the outer edge of the vegetation. Again, start deeper and work shallower. If the sun is out and the water is in the 50s, it might not be a bad idea to zigzag between shallow flats and deeper grass. You might also try a “wildcard” bait – such as a jerkbait – that can be worked shallow and deep using varying retrieves. It may work when all others do not.  

big early-spring largemouth bass
After several days of mild weather and sun, snotty weather conditions can drive bass to feed due to a change in water temps and barometric pressure. (Photo by Justin Brouillard)

Locating Early-Spring Largemouth in Small Ponds 

As March leads into April, keep track of the areas on small ponds that lose ice first and target these locations to fish the pre-spawn bite. This is the best time of the year to have a crack at the biggest fish in the pond because they are shallow, and they will be feeding. Even after a front pushes the fish back a little deeper, they will still be catchable. 

Mix up cast-and-retrieve options with slower presentations and cover both shallower and deeper water—especially where the deeper water is close to spawning areas. Don’t be afraid of the grass. Work around and through vegetation and remember that ripping baits through clumps often triggers bites. Do not be afraid to work shallow water on sunny days, especially areas with dark mud and silt bottoms. Wood and rocks are a bonus, as is proximity to a drop-off. Sometimes, a channel that offers only a foot or two of additional depth can funnel fish moving from deeper water to shallow areas. 

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from fishing small ponds, it’s that even though it might seem too early for bass to move out of deeper water, the early spring sun can have a drastic effect on water temperatures in shallow areas. The fish can be found in these shallows, and they will be biting. 

Related Content

5 Techniques for Early Spring Smallies

Ultralight Largemouth

How to Fish a Jerkbait

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *