We will start during ice-out, with the water being approximately 40 degrees and the bass operating very slowly due to their metabolism. I start looking in areas where we encountered the last green weeds from the following year, and depending on the body of water, the deepest weedlines available (not necessarily the northwest side of anything). The only other area that is worth a very good shot would be any place a creek, river or inflow bringing water in at a constant tempeture. These inflows are sure bass magnets, one reason being that the yellow perch begin to spawn in these areas. Any time they inflow is a constant temperature and warmer than the surrounding lake, so you can bet the bass will be stacked in the area. If there is current, all the better. The best lures for fishing in these areas are the Grub, Hair Jig and the good old Jig and Pig; however, on more than one occasion I have seen some real nice bass caught on Rapala minnows twitched on the surface (pretty strange). Let me stop and tell you how I stumbled onto this discovery. In 1985 I could not wait to get started so I convinced the only person crazy enough to go fishing with me, my wife, to go on this cold January day. We started fishing Lace Mill Pond, which was still partially covered with ice. As always, I started fishing with a Spinnerbait and a Black Marabou Jig. After two hours and not much success my wife wanted to try the lure she had a lot of success the past summer on a #7 Rapala. I tried to tell her that common knowledge would disapprove of such a silly selection. So there she is casting a floating minnow bait at the edge of the ice when boom! a swirl and a large Pickerel ate the minnow lure. I mumble something about Pickerel being a trash fish and I wasn’t trying to catch them anyway. A few moments later another swirl and this time a nice two-pound bass. Wow what luck, once again I mumble something this time about stupid bass. Now the guide is still trying to make the bass eat what he is suppose to be eating according to the book.
People say their mind is a steel trap and they are right, but at this point my mind was a trap. I had stopped observing and learning and persisted to the point of insanity. Two points — 1) Don’t stop learning and trying new things, everything was new at one time 2) If your wife ever out-fishes you you can bet that you will hear about it for years. Now for the conventional approach to the post winter-coldwater period. I like a Diawa Tony Bean Smallmouth stick and a Diawa 1300 SS Spinning reel with 8 pound silver thread line; my favorite baits are an “MTO” 1/8 ounce Hair Jig and 101 pork frog in Black/Purple or Avocado/Black, a 1/16 ounce Green Pumpkin Gitzit, or a 1/8 ounce Chicot Shiner Sweet Water Chub.
All of these are fished right on the bottom using a lift and crawl type retrieve. Fish slowly and keep polishing the rocks; a lot of the fish you will catch will be hooked in the lower part of the mouth. I believe that this is caused by the sunlight penetration causing lower life forms to start squirming on the bottom and the bass are used to feeding on these small creatures.
On to the warming water when the tempeture gets to be between 45 degrees and 54 degrees. The techniques outlined above will be worth a shot, but in deeper lakes you are looking at jerk-bait fishing. Start with a Tony Bean Smallmouth rod and 8 pound test to throw the smaller suspending baits and an Allstar Zell Rowland TWS 6’6″ for the medium to larger jerk-baits. My favorite patterns are clown, perch, and purple chartreuse. Fish these on any (45 degree water) bluffs down 5′ to 8′ or slightly deeper with a slow pull and wait retrieve, pull and slowly reel back to the bait on a controlled, almost slack, line. At this time, the Bass will either jerk the rod out of your hand or just hit the bait like a plastic worm. Do not become hung up on the idea that all jerk baits have to be suspending, they do not; sometimes the floaters out-produce the suspenders experiment. As the water warms pay attention to any flats next to deeper, steeper banks which are also near bays with dark bottoms (scattered rocks a major plus). This is the time to start thinking about the northwest side of cover. In the past, too much emphasis has been placed on only looking to the northwest side of a body of water, for a period of time conditions may be more conducive to catching in these areas. Keep in mind every cove and every area down to the smallest rock has a northwest side (due to southern exposure). For example drive down the parkway and notice the north side of the roads snow has melted while the south side has not. This occurs all over, not just on the northwest side of Long Island. As the water warms I will try a Spinnerbait (Terminator, the only Spinner Bait to use) slow rolled around cover to cover water more efficiently or a full Sized Jig and Pig ¼ to ½ ounce.
The water is constantly changing with spring winds blowing and warm water filling the water column my choice areas become spawning bays. The Bass are prone for a short period of time to want a fast moving lure ripped through the growing vegetation. Nothing works better than a Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, give me my 7′ Diawa crankin’ stick, Royal Express reel some 20 pound Silver Thread and a Chartreuse Shiner or Chrome Blue Trap in ¾ ounce and let me loose on the stump flats of Greenwood Lake. Crank slow enough to encounter the tops of the weeds and rip the bait free when you tickle them. All of the above mentioned techniques will work and soon enough you will be upon the spawn the next article to follow.
In conclusion, do not be afraid of trying something new; other techniques such as the Float and Fly, or a bait everyone seems to forget, the plain in-line spinner sometimes will work wonders. Earlier in the season steeper is better, while later on, flat is where its at. All of these events can happen at the same time over any given body or bodies of water.Use your knowledge to start your search, but be open to what the world is telling you. Catch a few, lose a few, in the end they all even out.
See you on the water.