Bass fishing before spawning is one of the best times to fish. Why? The fish are fat, hungry, and bite at almost anything you toss in the water. This is when big bass are at their heaviest, so if you’re looking to reel in a big one, this is the time.
On the flipside, pre-spawn bass are always on the move, so it can be tough to predict their patterns up against changing weather and water levels. However, you can stack the deck in your favor by choosing the right baits for the season.
Let’s take a look at some of the best baits to use during pre-spawn season.
Swimbaits are great for pre-spawn fishing -- plus, they’re great all year round. You should definitely load up your tackle box with a few of these.
Swimbaits are especially great for early in the year because their swimming action allows them to imitate a wide variety of smaller fish. You can switch up the size of the swimbait as well, so if you’re looking to hook something larger you can easily do so. The sweet spot is somewhere between 4-6 inches, which is the average size of a bait fish.
During pre-spawn season, a bass leaves its deep wintering hidey-hole to feed and prepare itself for spawn. Swimbaits are very effective this time of year, because a bass is going to be looking for just about anything to bite, making a realistic swimbait a too-good-to-pass-up-snack for the hungry predator.
Crankbaits are a classic bait, and for good reason. An angler of just about any skill level can use these successfully. Their maneuverability makes these natural divers extremely versatile, and most options have larger bills, so you won’t need to worry about snags or getting them caught in thick grass.
We really like the diving or lipless crankbaits, in particular. There’s really no wrong way to fish a lipless crankbait, so if you haven’t fished during pre-spawn before, this is a great way to start. The fast moving reaction of a lipless crank makes them ideal for pre-spawn attraction and hooking.
Pro tip: it’s a good idea to pick a color pattern that matches the baitfish in your local waters. We love using red or crawfish colors because they can be fished in lakes and rivers just about everywhere. But bluegill or shad-colored baits are the move if you regularly fish in clear water. Regardless, you should always have a couple options so you can adapt to the environment on any given day. It’s the small details like this that can fill your bag in no time.
Like the swimbait, jerkbaits are super-effective at imitating real bait fish, which is crucial during the pre-spawn season. But a big bonus of the jerkbait is its shimmying action during a snap pause retrieve.
While you can use a straight cast and retrieve with a jerkbait, these baits work best with a standard jerk, jerk, pause method. Pro tip: the colder the water, the longer you should pause your bait during the retrieval.
Since many jerkbaits are designed to be used in shallow water, this makes them great baits for pre-spawn fishing since the big bass typically hang out in shallow areas. This can give them a bit of an advantage over crankbait; however, crankbaits are definitely a bit easier to handle upon retrieval. We can’t stress the importance of having a variety of choices in your tacklebox, so you’re prepared for whatever condition the water throws your way.
Jigs are bass fishing staples, and you should have a few handy in your tacklebox all year long. But they are especially useful during the pre-spawn season for catching the attention of a bass hiding in just about any type of cover.
One of the best ways to make the most of your jig is to experiment with different types of soft plastic trailers. Chunk styles are most popular, as they expertly imitate crawfish and bluegill with precision and displace a ton of water, capturing the attention of any hungry bass. But you could also flip a double tail grub, or pretty much anything else, to see what works best for you.
You can also try throwing a vibrating jig, or a chatterbait, because their shimmying action is almost impossible for any bass to pass up.
Remember that chatterbaits and spinnerbaits aren’t 100% alike. Many anglers will continue to fish chatterbaits into the post-spawn season, but we’ve found that chatterbaits are a bit too aggressive for fish that are exhausted from the spawn. In the post-spawn season, we recommend a more subtle spinnerbait instead.
I Got My Bait. What Else Should I Know?
Your bait can make or break your record-smashing pre-spawn catch, but it’s only half the battle. There are other factors you should consider before hitting the water.
You need to be mindful of where you’re fishing because the precise timing of the pre-spawn season differs across the country. Generally, you’ll want to wait for the first prolonged period of pleasant weather in your area before heading out. The water should be in its 40s and low 50s.
Many amateur anglers will make the mistake of assuming that just because the weather’s a bit nicer, it’s time to go. Be patient. Wait for a string of nicer days, giving the water temperature time to adjust. Just because the air feels ripe for the season doesn’t mean the water is ready.
Specific types of cover and terrain will increase your chances of nabbing a big bass during pre-spawn. Look for grass lines or any shallow point that a bass will eventually spawn on--close to the banks and further away from deep water. Make sure you have a few weedless baits to throw to avoid getting snagged on the grass. Swimbaits are a great weedless option because you can easily conceal the hooks.
In rivers, bass prefer to spawn in bays, marinas, and other areas protected from the current. Look for pre-spawn bass hanging around those areas near some rocks. And although river bass won’t spawn in the current, some of them will hang out there until they turn in for the night.
If you’re into reservoir fishing, look for creek channels and ditches that might lead to spawning areas. Since most reservoir bass winter in deep water, they’ll use areas like that as migration avenues to lead them to spawning points.
You’ll want to experiment with different casting angles to find one that works best for you, but in general, we recommend a 45-degree angle from the bank as a good benchmark. This will keep you in the strike zone with ample room to adjust if you need.
Make sure you cast at anything that even vaguely looks like a fish. Most of these fish are going to reflexively bite, so they won’t put much thought into what the bait actually looks like. But, if you prefer to sit and wait, be sure to use a bait with lots of action, like a chatterbait or a jig.
Make sure you cover as much water as you can. We know, this is a super basic tip, but even the most experienced fishers tend to neglect it sometimes. You want to get your bait in front of as many active fish as possible.
Pre-spawn fishing will get you some of the biggest fish of your life, and since bass are so populous, you shouldn’t have any problem nabbing your PB.
However, you need to make sure you are using the right baits to get the job done. Moving baits like chatterbaits, jigs, and swimbaits are awesome for catching a bass off guard, while classic crankbaits and jerkbaits will easily nab a bass looking for a snack.
But even with the right bait, you need to consider your location, timing, and casting methods. There are tons of little details and adjustments needed to fish successfully, and when they come together, it makes for a great time.
And remember to have fun! Don’t worry if they don’t bite on the first few casts. Take your time, enjoy yourself, and stay frosty.