Don’t Let the Fish Fool You

Spring fishing is about as unpredictable as the Michiana weather. In early April, Sturgis angler Mark Zona, host of Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show, invited me to partake in the early-spring action he’s been enjoying since the ice left our lakes. We had launched around 8:30 that crisp morning and immediately went to the deeper areas where he had great success a few days prior.

We rigged up umbrella rigs—the latest rage in bass fishing—and began dragging them near the bottom in 12 to 25 feet of water. The umbrella rig is a bizarre lure apparatus that consists of wire arms (like an umbrella) on which small finesse baits are attached to the jig heads. When retrieved, this rig and its trailing swimbaits look like a big school of minnows passing through the water column.

We managed to catch four in the first couple hours, but Zona was befuddled. He had been catching dozens more and a lot bigger fish on the rig prior to that day.

“I keep seeing birds working the shallow flats—could those fish be up there?” he asked.

We had to go find out. When you see gulls dipping in shallows, it’s often an indication of baitfish. If the baitfish are shallow, then there are usually predators around too.

As we eased onto the flats the surface water temperature read 44 degrees, and, there wasn’t even the slightest whisk of a ripple.

It’s a little preposterous to think any self-respecting bass would be on a 4-foot deep sandy flat in cold, windless water, don’t you think?

We were so wrong.

Huge bass ranging from 2 to 6 pounds were bellied on the bottom or cruising around in wolf packs. Zona dropped his Power Poles (shallow anchoring system) and we began fan-casting the area.

“Oh my God, look at that one!” Zona exclaimed, pointing at the bow. “There’s another! …And oh! Check out that one!”

The boat was now literally surrounded by bass.

Of course, the fish weren’t as eager to bite as we were to catch them.

Patience paid off, however. And instead of using the multi-baited umbrella rigs, we rigged single 3 1/2-inch swimbaits on 5/16-ounce jig heads and began slowly winding them just off the bottom.

Zona caught a fish and then I caught one. And it wasn’t long before we hooked up simultaneously. They weren’t the giants we were seeking, but the 2-pounders were pouncing on the little swimbaits.

As the morning wore on and the sun heated the shallows, the fish got a little more aggressive. The key was to make very long casts away from our boat even though we could see bass cruising all around us.

“What are those fish doing this shallow in 44- to 45-degree water?” I asked.

It was a fair question. Traditionalists will tell you that bass prefer to linger in deep water when the shallows register below 50 degrees.

“I’ve never seen this before,” Zona said, with a shrug.

It was like that all morning. We probably caught and released 30 to 40 bass. We never hooked anything weighing more than 3 pounds, but the action was good and a great way to enjoy a day off.

More importantly, it demonstrated how an angler must keep an open mind anytime he’s fishing. While there are certainly guidelines to follow based on seasonal patterns and weather conditions, the fish don’t always go by the book.