Slow Down for Fast-action, Early-season Bass

In the Upper Midwest, we definitely get excited for the changing of the seasons. But winters can be long, regardless if El Niño has a foothold on the temperatures. And even though ice fishing has grown with advances in technology, equipment and comfort, open water is still tough to beat. It’s our reward for making it through winter, so it’s tough to contain our enthusiasm.

Fish respond to the warming waters by finding it pretty quickly. But it really takes a while to warm the depths with lasting warmth. Ultra-shallow water with a dark bottom can really warm up quickly with abundant sunlight. But most fish won’t be there; they will be in between that and the depths. So be careful with your enthusiasm, and do not fish too fast, even though it might be warm and beautiful outside. Pay attention to temperatures on your depth finder. This will be surface temperature, so it won’t be truly indicative of the temperature on or near bottom, but it is an indication.

Sometimes we like to catch fish in the way we fish for them. In other words, some anglers love catching bass on spinnerbaits. So regardless of the time of year or the conditions, the spinnerbait hits the water early and often. Don’t get me wrong, they are great baits, but sometimes there are other choices based on the conditions that will crush a spinnerbait. For instance, spinnerbaits produce good catches in shallow northern bays, coves and other locations that can warm up quicker. Bass are cold-blooded, so water temperatures impact their metabolism. But there a lot of other parts of the lake that have plenty of fish in them in the early season, and a spinnerbait may be just too aggressive to be successful.

By making lure choice adjustments and slowing down your approach, you can open a whole new lake early on in the season. A more aggressive fish can hit a slow-moving bait, but a lethargic fish will seldom chase down a fast-moving bait.

For the early season, the target zone will be the shallows, which could be anywhere from a foot of water to 10 feet. Most effort should be in the 3 to 6 feet of water, particularly after a few warm days in a row. There are a few baits that will produce well early on because they can be fished slowly and effectively. Jerkbaits, jigs, jig worms and small tubes are some of my favorites because the fish tell me so by eating them.

One of the good things about spring is there isn’t as much excess cover like there is later on, so it can be to your advantage to find the cover. Vegetation is also starting to grow again, so this will reduce the amount of weeds fouling the lure and hooks.

Small tube baits, like the 3 1/2-inch Impulse tube, work fantastic for smallmouths and largemouths. I’ll even trim up the tentacles with my Rapala scissors to make a little smaller profile. For open water, I’ll rig it on a Northland Lipstick jig head and for in and around weedy areas, I’ll Texas-rig it so the hook isn’t exposed. The technique is really simple: Fish on spinning gear with a quality superline, and cast and then fish really slow with subtle simple hops and plenty of dead time. Wait for the “pop” in the line, and the fight is on. Small plastic worms threaded on a jig can also be used, as well as smaller weedless bass jigs.

The other effective, fun technique is using jerkbaits with spinning gear. When it’s early on, keep it smaller and subtle. Size 8 Husky Jerks, X-Raps or the new Shadow Rap Shad are all good now. Don’t get overaggressive; just give it time in the strike zone and move and retrieve it slowly.

If you think you are fishing it too fast, you probably are. Slow it down and let the fish tell you what they are willing to hit. As you can imagine, this isn’t a great search technique, as you just can’t cover water real fast. But you also can’t do both of these techniques this time of the year. So pick a good spot and get stealthy on them.

Don’t let the warmth of a beautiful day in May distract you from the cool-water temperatures below in your favorite lake. Slow down your approach and you’ll be sure to lip a few more bass early on.