Winter hasn’t quite loosened its frigid grip on most of the country. But here in the south at least, we’re starting to see those first few signs of spring with a couple days in the 70s, maybe even toying with the 80-degree mark here and there. But still, a night or two in the 30s and everything seems to reset again, knocking the fish back for another week or two.
But one thing is for certain, spring is coming. Not only for anglers in the south but for anglers across the country in due time. So today, we’re going to look at five key baits that you’ll want to focus on during the early spring, or pre-spawn season. Because that’s what’s really going on right now.
Though the bass may still be a few weeks or even months away from spawning in your neck of the woods, you should be getting ready for that last 2- or 3- week span leading up to the spawn. That’s when the bass will be getting into position to make a quick move to the beds. And these are five great baits you can use to catch them in that transition.
A finesse jig is one of the best baits to use during the early pre-spawn, as fish first start to stage in a little deeper water near potential spawning grounds. Many anglers would consider a finesse jig to have a ball head and spider skirt, and that’s really what I’m referring to here as well. But casting jigs, Arkie head jigs and football jigs all work this time of year as well.
It’s more about where you’re fishing the jig than it is about the exact shape of the jig a lot of times, though on some fisheries a traditional finesse jig really seems to work the best when the water is still cold. Look for main lake points, 45- degree banks and secondary points headed back into spawning bays and flats and then fish the jig really slowly.
Cold water crankbaits
Cold water crankbaits can mean a variety of different things depending on who you’re talking to, but this is one of the best bait categories for the early spring. I like to lump baits like the Rapala Shad Rap, Storm Wiggle Wart and flat sided crankbaits all into this same category, though all of these baits really have their own unique characteristics that make them work well in cold water.
Still, using these baits around rock and wood in 3- to 7- feet of water is a great way to target bass in the early spring. Fishing a 45- degree rocky bank for instance with a MONSTERBASS Seeker 6 Crankbait, which behaves a lot like a Wiggle Wart, is a great way to target fish that are transitioning back into spawning areas. Focusing on riprap, secondary points and laydowns with these cold water crankbaits will also produce lots of fish catches this time of year.
If you’re fishing a lake with submerged vegetation, a lipless crankbait is hard to beat. Allowing the bait to get down into the cover and then ripping it free is one of the most effective techniques ever discovered for the early to mid pre-spawn. As bass make their way towards the bank, they’ll often campout in offshore vegetation for a few days to feed up for the coming spawn. Using the vegetation as cover, the bass will ambush passing prey that’s also trying to seek refuge in the vegetation.
Even if vegetation isn’t present though, a lipless crankbait still works really well in the pre-spawn. Since this bait doesn’t have a lip, it doesn’t dive like other crankbaits. So you can fish it super shallow on a flat or let it sink and yo-yo it in 15- feet of water, mimicking a dying shad by bobbing the bait up and down. This is a versatile bait that can be used a lot of different ways in the pre-spawn, so don’t be afraid to experiment with it.
As the bass make their way through the early pre-spawn and start nearing the bank, a spinnerbait can be a very effective tool. Since the water is still fairly cold at this time, you’ll want to stick with spinnerbaits that have large willow leaf blades or Colorado blades. These blades offer a lot of resistance and will help you slow your retrieve down, which in turn helps the lethargic bass catch up to your presentation.
You’ll also often find that the water is a little stained or even muddy in the early spring due to heavy seasonal rains. The vibration of these bigger blades accompanied with their flash also helps the fish in low visibility situations find the bait a little easier.
A squarebill like the MONSTERBASS Hammerhead is another great bait to use during the pre-spawn. Like the spinnerbait, this one works best again as you get a little further along into the pre-spawn and the fish near the shore. But this transition can happen quickly. You’ll really see this quick transition play out with more vertical cover like steep banks and bridges with riprap.
You may be catching bass along a causeway with riprap in the morning in 15- feet of water with a finesse jig. And then as the day goes on and the water warms, the bass move right up to the rocks and you can parallel the riprap with a squarebill. Whether this is the case or you’ve located bass in the back of a shallow creek that are situating themselves along woody cover like stumps and laydowns, a squarebill is a great bait to use during the pre-spawn season.
There are lots of other great baits we didn’t mention here that can be used to target bass as the pre-spawn gets underway, a jerkbait and Ned rig are just a couple more that quickly come to mind. But these five we discussed will give you a handful of great options you can use to locate and catch bass on the move during the early spring. Remember to focus on transition areas like steep banks and points near spawning flats and pockets where bass will position themselves to feed before moving up to spawn.
Finesse jigs and cold water crankbaits should be some of the first baits you try as the bass setup and move around in the 7- to 15- foot range, with some resident shallow fish setting up even shallower. Lipless crankbaits work well as well when the bass are in this midrange zone. And as the pre-spawn really gets underway and the bass are only days away from pushing to the bed, try fishing spinnerbaits and squarebills around shallow cover. Use these five baits to help you make your way through the pre-spawn transition and you’ll find yourself catching more fish.