Tracking down late-winter and early-spring largemouths can be infuriating. Cold temperatures force fish to change their habits and locations in a lake or pond, and fishermen used to beating the banks for bass find their normal honey holes empty. The first step to being successful at catching early-spring bass is learning where and when to look for them.
When looking for bass in early March, I focus my efforts on smaller lakes and ponds first. This is especially true during a mild winter, when it’s possible to have a few days in a row with temperatures in the mid- to upper 40s.
Small ponds will warm up faster than larger bodies of water, and regardless of how cold the water temperature is, an increase of 2 to 3 degrees is enough to get baitfish moving. Whenever there is an upswing in forage activity, the bass will feed.
Another reason I target small ponds this time of year is because during the cold winter months, bass typically use only a small portion of the lake or pond. As opposed to summer, when bass spread out through a water body, in the winter and early spring, 90 percent of the bass use 10 percent of the pond. Therefore, if you only have to search a small body of water, it will be easier to locate the bass.
The spring fishing pattern arrives much sooner to small ponds, and you can experience some very good fishing within weeks, or even days, of ice-out. Sometimes this will happen while the larger ponds in the area remain iced over.
Strike King Premier Pro Model Jig
Rapala Husky Jerk
3/8-ounce Strike King Premiere Plus Spinnerbait
4-inch Big Bite Baits Trick Stick
Strike King KVD 2.5 Square Bill Crankbait
3-inch Berkley Power Grub on 1/8-ounce jighead
On very cold days, targeting a clear-water lake or pond is the way to go. In clear waters, the sun penetrates farther into the water column and influences water temperatures as deep as 8 or 10 feet below the surface. This will stir up the insects and invertebrates buried in or attached to bottom, rocks, logs, etc. In clear water, these types of shallow objects will usually warm before the water around it, which activates deeper holding fish.
In clear lakes when the water is cold, bass bunch up in deep water. Most of the time these fish stack up tight to steep breaklines and drops, but they will also orient themselves to deep-water structure and the bottom. The biggest fish almost always hang out suspended near steep drops or near structure with quick access to the deepest water. Clear water and bunched-up fish are ideal to target in the winter because with a higher concentration of fish in one area, the odds of finding feeding fish is much greater. You will certainly know when you find one of these groups of fish by looking at your graph because they will be stacked very tight.
After ice out, when water temperatures range from the upper 30s to low 40s, the bass will start to move up into shallower areas. The best place to look is shallow water that has deep water nearby, as these are the areas where bass will spawn.
When the water is cold, the sun is your friend because its warming rays extend into the water and can trigger activity. I have had days when the bite went from ice cold to fast and furious within a few minutes of the sun coming out in full force, especially in rocky areas. Rocks absorb the sun’s heat, radiating it to the surrounding water. Whether they are shallow or deep they can have a big impact on your ability to find bass. Rocks in deeper water tend to hold onto the algae that baitfish will forage on and in turn attract the bass looking for bait fish. Areas of rock near deeper water are ideal to target however as they allow the fish to move up and down easily to the structure that they are seeking. When you find bass hanging out on the rocks, odds are they are looking to feed; but when you see these fish suspended in the water column off these rocks they can be very difficult to catch.
Following ice-out, look for protected shallow coves or bays with dark bottoms, as these spots will be the first to warm up. If these areas contain rocks you’re in good shape, because in these areas insect activity will begin earlier, which will attract baitfish, which in turn, will attract the bass.