LOCATE STAGING PRE-SPAWNERS
As the pre-spawners get ready to move shallow, they know it’s time to “bulk up” for the rigors of the spawn. Bass in a feeding mood then may briefly move in and out of shallower water. They’ll generally hold on the edge of deep water, at first, and then move into a shallow area near the spawning grounds a few weeks before going on the beds. Understand, though, that unexpected cold fronts and natural water level fluctuations from rains and drought can make finding bass difficult.
In reasonably good early spring weather, up to half of a lake’s population of big bass may be in a pre-spawn pattern that could last for up to a couple of months. Areas that warm up the quickest are usually the prime spawning places. When pre-spawners are ready to migrate to the flats, a good area to search for them is along submerged river beds in impoundments and similar types of paths such as ditches and depressions in natural lakes. Pre-spawn bass also typically move from deep water into spawning areas in a couple of phases. The “holding” areas, or better termed “staging” areas, are usually deeper than the final bedding spots bass will ultimately choose.
Bass are usually still concentrated and actively feeding while in the staging areas, and they are very susceptible to angler’s offerings. Depths of the staging areas, however, do vary in different types of waters. In Southern reservoirs, for example, staging areas usually take the form of points adjacent to a spawning flat. Prime waters can be up to 8- or 10-feet deep, depending on water clarity. The different staging areas may have occupants over a two- or three-week period, because the timing of the movements also vary. Different females will probably be moving from Staging Area 1 to Staging Area 2 at different times.
As waters warm and bass break out of their winter patterns, they feed heavily during the pre-spawn. Trophy fish can be more catchable then than at any other time of the year. (Photo by Larry Larsen)
In a highly-vegetated, natural lake, Staging Area 1, for example, might be in 6 feet of water and Staging Area 2 may be only 3 or 4 feet in depth. Look for pre-spawning largemouth to move into the first area for a week or two and then on into Area 2 for a similar period, just prior to moving onto the beds in the spawning area.
SUCCESSFUL TIMING AND PRIME SPOTS TO CHECK
To find hefty pre-spawn bass, anglers should head for known spawning areas and then move to slightly deeper structures (shelves, ledges, rock points) lying adjacent to those bedding spots. Those temporary gathering points where pre-spawners congregate prior to moving to the spawning flats are often more productive in the early afternoon when waters warm. Unusually warm weather may cause bass to go shallow on “false” spawning runs. They may move up on flats and aggressively feed, though, and that’s what anglers seek. When another front hits, they move back out to the staging area, so the fish are constantly adjusting to the conditions. The smart angler must also.
Bass that are heading to spawn in the back of coves will normally be at a staging location on the adjacent points, so fish the points and ridges; the bigger spawning fish won’t be in the backs of coves for four to six weeks. The bass holding at a staging location will usually be in small groups. When they move to spawn, they will spread out along banks or in the backs of coves but usually not before. They may even be staged on a deeper, secondary ledge, if the first point off the flat is in very shallow water. Check out each.
The back areas of marinas, especially those protected by a jetty and narrow entrances, are prime areas to catch pre-spawn bass. The marina basin may have boat ramps, but the shallows are protected from outside waves. Trees in the area have usually been cleared, and shallows there normally heat up quicker than most places on the lake. Don’t overlook such spots.
On lakes with spare cover in mid-depth ranges, swimbaits can be extremely effective. Their bulk appeals to big bass staging and feeding before the spawn. (Photo by Larry Larsen)
Other great spots to search for pre-spawners can be found on a good topo map. Protected points and coves on the North and West banks warm up quicker than other areas due to the position of the sun in the southern hemisphere. Rivers at the headwaters of lakes can provide excellent fishing for pre-spawn bass, but high and flooded tributaries that remain so over several months can be extremely unproductive. The availability of pre-spawners early may be limited due to the river being so unstable.
Finally, forget fishing the mid-section of most lakes, with their underwater islands and long main lake points leading to deep open water areas. That’s generally the coldest part of the lake. The massive waters there warm up last, so fish them last. You’ll find the pre-spawn period to be hot or cold in terms of activity. Bass are changing. The weather is also changing, so the angler has to understand this volatile time of year, so that the action never stops … that day.