Quickly Locating Pre-Spawn Bass
By Ryan Lamb
While you are packing away the gloves, thermals, and parkas in the attic, there are groups of fish positioned in shallow water that are waiting to hit your bait like they have never seen one before. The following is a technique that I use in early spring that is a foolproof way to get a decent tournament limit quickly; and always has the possibility of duping a couple of the big girls.
Find a cove or inlet that has a shelf running near the bank. Get a feel for where the shelf is, and then parallel it. When spring approaches, egg-laden females and nest seeking males literally pack onto these shelves like canned sardines, waiting until they are comfortable to spawn. They will cruise up and down the shelf looking for the food to get the energy that is critical for making some babies.
The most common mistake anglers make is over thinking a spot. A lot of people go out and try to find a perfectly vertical break that's close to deep water, with shell beds and grass and bait, and all the other ingredients that produce the perfect staging area. Yeah, that kind of spot sounds sweet, but it can take hours and hours to find. In early spring, my most productive spot is a small two-foot shelf that runs about ten feet off the bank for about 150 to 200 yards at Black Shoals Reservoir. Along that stretch, I can usually catch my limit in just a few minutes if my boat positioning is right and of course, it's the right time of year.
Once the bass move off that spot, I don't catch them there until the next spring. A two-foot drop is nothing to most people, but the bass sure seem to like it. So basically, don't skip over a spot because it isn't textbook.
This time of the year, I have a few select baits always tied on. The first is a wacky rigged five inch Alluring Baits Trick Stick on a number one Gamakatsu Wide Gap Finesse hook. The fish are straight suckers for this, especially if they aren't extremely active. The next bait I have tied on is either a Spro K Finesse jig or a Gman's jig in the Senko77 Special color, both in the 5/16-ounce size. The Spro jig has a better head for grass and the Gman Jig is better for harder bottoms with clay, rock, or wood. I will use whichever one the situation calls for. The third is top-water bait called the Spro Dawg 100. I like the 100 because it offers the look of a big meal, yet it doesn't discourage those all-important limit-sized fish. Sometimes the fish on these shelves will sit a bit higher up in the water column. If I catch them on the wacky rigged Trick Stick, I know I can go back through and catch them on the Spro Dawg and vice versa. The last bait is an Alluring Baits Duper Fluke. On the days they just won't hit the usual offerings, a soft plastic jerkbait will always get them. The Duper Fluke has an excellent gliding action and looks like a struggling bait fish when you kill it. I fish the Duper Fluke on a 3/0 Gamakatsu extra wide gap (EWG) hook.
The beauty of this fishing technique is that most of the time, any bait will work if you locate a shelf that has fish. If you have confidence in a lipless bait, chuck it down that edge. If you are into spinnerbaits, I'm sure there is a pre-spawn bass sitting down there with full intention to inhale the next blade that crosses it's face.
The last thing to know is how weather will affect your shelf fishing. If it's cloudy or windy, the fish will tend to roam more. In this instance, your best bet is just to keep casting and reeling. The more of the shelf you hit, the better your chances are of putting it in front of them. When it's sunny and still, you need to get a bit more concentrated with your approach. You still want to cover water, but if there is a grass line, saturate it. If there is a stump or brush, or a rock, work it dry. The fish will tend to really bunch up over or in cover if that sun is shining bright.
The above technique is simple, and very effective. It's great because like I said, it allows you to catch fish while throwing baits in which you have confidence. The next time you are out on the water and the pre-spawn is in full swing, go find yourself a shelf and have a ball. You can get that limit quick and we all know how much easier it is in a tournament when you have a few in the livewell!