Most novice and advanced anglers can take advantage of a seasonal plan of attack. The plan should be aimed at simplifying bass fishing so that everything you know, or have, is not with you every trip to the lake.
One way to make bass fishing simpler is to break your approach into seasons. The seasons for our discussion will be: Spring: temperature rises to 60 degrees, and lasts until it reaches 80 degrees. Summer: the period the water temperature is above 80 degrees. Fall: occurs when the temperature falls below 80 degrees and lasts until it reaches 60 degrees; Winter: starts at 60 degrees and continues as long as the temperature stays below 60 degrees.
During each season we will look at the entire water column. We are going to address how you fish for shallow fish (one to 10 feet), mid-depth (10 to 20 feet), and deep (20 feet or deeper).
After a long cold winter, virtually all fish species start congregating in their winter areas to make the annual spring move to shallow water. Largemouth bass start suspending more as the days grow longer and the surface water warms. The move to shallow areas starts with bass that do not migrate into the main water body. These fish are shallow-water oriented and spend much of their time in, or near, secondary creek channels. This group of fish seems to know when to move by reacting to the first influx of fresh spring water.
Other fish that stay deeper and out in the main body of water, probably never go to the back of the creek. These fish spawn off the edge of drains or in coves near the main body of open water. Still other bass spawn in the tops of trees or along main water body banks. Because the water warms at different times from the back of the creek out to the main lake, the spring spawn can take place from March into late May or even June.
Bass need the water to remain at, or above, 60 degrees for several days in order to spawn. Biologists agree that bass spawn at 65 degrees. They may make several attempts at spawning during this period. When bass first start arriving in shallow areas in late winter and early spring, they are easiest to catch. The longer they remain in, or near, the shallow water the harder they are to catch.
- Shallow -
Normally as spring rains begin, the first group of fish will move onto main lake points in deep water of 20 feet or more and into the very backs of the creeks. If excessive rain and a rise in water level occurs, bass will often move in the shallowest water especially if the temperature of the water is rising. Once they move into shallow water in the backs of the creeks, they normally remain there. These shallow-water fish are easily caught on spinnerbaits, Rat-L-Traps, lizards, and jigs.
The shallow, rising water will disperse these first fish in one to three feet of water somewhere off the back edge of the main creek channel or tributary creeks. Look for some type of cover in the form of flooded terrestrial grasses and weeds, willows, or button bushes. Cast the spinner or Rat-L-Trap around the thickest cover and flip or pitch a lizard or jig into the heaviest cover.
Jigs with pointed heads such as the Grass Penetrater, Terminator, and Enticer are good choices for heavy cover. If you are fishing wood in off-colored water, a good combo would be a 1/4-ounce black and blue or Junebug jig with a black and blue #11 Uncle Josh Pork Frog. Use as light a weight jig as possible to get a slow fall in the cold, off-colored water. A white or white/chartreuse 1/4- to 1/2-ounce spinnerbait with a Colorado/Colorado combination in nickel, or nickel-gold should work as well. Bulky soft plastics like a Brush Hog in Junebug or a sour grape color may also be good at times.
- Mid-Depth -
Spring conditions in the shallows may be tough if minimal fresh water enters the system. Normally bass will wait for these rain/rise sequences, even those that spawn in the latter part of spring. If the water remains low and clear, bass that spawn will do so in considerably deeper water and over a longer period of time.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that clear water warms slower than muddy water. Also, the fish will be spawning in much shallower water if the water is muddy.
A mid-depth approach in clearer water will be somewhat different than the prior scenario. Crawfish-colored cranks, spinnerbaits, and green pumpkin, watermelon lizards, or jigs should work best.
Hard jerkbaits that suspend, such as a Rogue may also work on these "waiting fish" on certain days. A light 1/4-ounce jig will also have to be worked on lighter, preferably monofilament line (15-pound) with Carolina-rigged lizards in green pumpkin or watermelon.
As you can see, clear water will make bait choices and fishing somewhat more difficult. On cold high-pressure days, you may only be able to catch a few fish on the old reliable Rat-L-Trap. Firetiger and crawfish colors will probably work best.
- Deep-Water -
If heavy spring rains occur during early spring, the deep-water bite will be tough. However, if minimal or no fresh water enters the system the deep-water bite can be good.
By March, deep-water bass are starting to congregate on 20-plus feet deep points, humps and ridges as well as at the mouths of the major tributaries. If spring rains hold off, the fish will go on major feeds in these areas.
Use your LCD to find concentrations of shad and you will find the bass. At times during early spring you will be able to catch these bass on most deep-water lures. Tail spinners and spoons in chrome or chartreuse will probably be best. You may even be able to sit directly over the school and catch them. Normally they will feed throughout the bottom half (15 to 30 feet, in 30 of feet water) of the water column during this period. Be aware that you may have to cast to them from a distance in order to not disturb the shallowest feeders.
Soft jerkbaits in shad colors such as pearl and chartreuse, silver flake or watermelon-chartreuse fished with a 4/0 to 5/0 weighted keeled hook work well on suspended fish during this transition period. The 3- to 4-inch sizes seem to produce the best.
On other days when the pressure is high (after a cold front), you may have to go to small baits such as a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig-and-grub or jigs such as the Flash Fin Jig. Use spinning gear and a light action 5- to 6- foot spinning rod with 8- to 10- pound mono line.
Later in the spring as most of the water warms into the mid- 60's, you will be able to catch fish on just about any pattern.
As the water temperature rises into the 80's during summer, the early morning, late afternoon, and night bite begins to dominate the action. June is one of the only months when the day and night bite are equally good. During this period most of the fish have spawned and most are past their post-spawn lockjaw.
June is also one of the best months for bass fishing in aquatic vegetation. Normally June, or the first month that the water temperature averages over 80 degrees, seems to be when most anglers are able to catch at least a few bass.
- Shallow -
The period of time when the water temperature varies between 80 to 85 degrees will be when the greatest density of bass are feeding in shallow water. During this time the metabolism of the fish is at its peak and spawning is no longer a concern. This is one of the best times of the year to concentrate on catching a big fish.
Under the cover of dawn, dusk or during the night will generally be when the larger bass bite in shallow water.
A large 8- to 12-inch worm, or a jig and Hawg Craw are among the best baits during this period. Normally black, black-blue, green pumpkin, chartreuse, or watermelon will do the trick. A 1/2- to 1-ounce black spinnerbait with a large single Colorado blade, slow rolled along the shallows at night may also work.
Heavy rods, 6-1/2 to 7 feet in length, with heavy 20-pound mono on spinners and braided line with fluorocarbon for worms and jigs will be best. Concentrate your efforts in four- to eight-foot of water on secondary points and the edge of creeks. Look for points and creeks that have good cover either in the form of aquatic vegetation, underwater brush or stumps.
Another good lure during this time period is a topwater. Try black poppers and buzzbaits at night and chrome or clear darters and prop baits in the early morning and late evening periods.
- Mid-Depth -
Early summer is generally one of the most productive times to fish mid-depths. Most fish will hold at these depths when the water temperature is in the mid- 80's, but will feed in shallower water.
The exception to this rule will be clear deep lakes with hydrilla in them. In these lakes, the mid-depths will be productive most of the year because the bass hold and feed on the outside edge where the hydrilla stops growing.
As the dog days of summer begin and water temperatures approach the 90's, the mid-depth zone will become the feeding zone during day and night for as much as half of the bass population. During this time deep-diving crankbaits, Carolina-rigged fries, and wacky worm rigs fished on fairly light tackle and line will prevail.
- Deep-Water -
In most southern waters bass generally will not go as deep during summer as they will during winter. This is caused in part by stratification of water and/or oxygen depletion in deep water. The stratifications will often set up during the mid- to latter part of summer. During this period the daytime temperatures can reach the upper 90's or 100's and for both days and nights there is very little wind or rain.
During the mid-late summer period, a large number of the bass population will live in the 15- to 25-foot range, if the lake contains these depths. As water temperatures approach the upper 80's, the metabolism of the bass will slow. However, unlike during winter when bass feeding all but shuts down, summertime bass will go on feeding binges for several days at a time.
If you happen to get into one of the feeding binges, a variety of lures fished in deep water will work. If the fish suspend 15 to 25 feet over deeper water, drop-shotting or deep-diving crankbaits will work best.
Several windy and/or rainy days can break the thermocline, and bass may move deeper into cooler water. Some of the best deep-water summer lures include Carolina-rigged fries, small worms, and spoons.
As the water begins to cool with the advent of cold fronts in the fall, bass become very active. Although most bass do not return to the very backs of the creeks where they spawned, many will roam the creek channels from about the back half of the creek out to where the creek opens into the main body of water.
- Shallow -
Shallow main-lake humps, points, and shallow coves in the middle of tributary arms will become active with feeding bass. These waters will be alive with half-grown shad and the fry of every imaginable fish species.
During this time schools of bass will forage all over the lake. On some days these schools will drive shad out on the bank and will often hit anything you throw at them. If you get into a school in shallow water, small topwaters such as a clear Tiny Torpedo or a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap in chrome or silver may be the only thing bass will take. Remember to think small during fall.
- Mid-Depth -
With the abundance of activity in all areas during fall, mid-depth fishing can also be very good. Many bass prefer to feed at water depths between 10 to 20 feet during this period due to the excessive numbers of small shad at these depths.
Small 1/8- or 1/4-ounce tail-spinners, spoons, jig, and grub combos fished on spinning tackle with light line work during this period.
- Deep-Water -
Although some bass will be in deep water, most of the feeding will take place in depths above 20 feet until late in the fall. During the late fall period as most of the water approaches 60 degrees, the bass population will follow the shad to deeper water.
If a series of cold fronts change the water temperature several degrees in a day or two, the mid- and shallow-water activity may cease for a while. During this period the 20 to 30 feet depth will be crowded with bass and baitfish.
Carolina-rigged fries, spoons, and tail spinners will dominate the action if the fish go deep. Light action rods and 6.3: 1 gear ratio casting reels filled with 10- to 15-pound mono will handle most situations.
Drop shot rigs with 4-inch worms and 1/4- or- 3/8 ounce Flash Fin jigs fished on light tackle will also work in the deeper water.
During the early part of the winter period when water temperatures stay in the mid- to upper 50's, fishing can be good most days. Bass instinctively know that cold water is approaching and they want to get in a few more good feeds before their metabolism slows.
- Shallow -
Once the mercury drops below 60 degrees, the shallow bite dramatically slows. Winter is really the only period of the year when shallow water contains very few species of any fish.
- Mid-Depth -
On many water bodies the mid-depth is as deep as it gets. So if most of the fish do not go to the deepest water, they go almost to the deepest water. On warm days or early in the winter some bass actively feed at the mid-depth, especially between 15 to 20 feet. Again, think small; small worms, crankbaits, and small fries on a Carolina rig will work.
- Deep-Water -
Winter is the time for deep-water fishing. When the water temperature drops into the mid 50's most of the fish are deeper than 20 feet. This is especially true if the lake has 40 to 50 feet of water and is relatively clear (3 to 4-feet visibility). Now is the time to fine-tune the LCD technology and hone in on your GPS coordinates for those open-water humps, ridges and points.
Spoon fishing will be at its peak during the cold days of winter. During some days the fish will be actively feeding from 20 to 30 feet on the tops of humps, roadbeds and points. On other days the bass will be holding off the sides in deeper water and are hopefully not suspended.
On certain days, you will be able to catch bass on 1/2- or 1-ounce chrome spoons using the normal three to four feet lift-and-drop technique. Other days the bass will want the spoon held almost perfectly still six inches to one foot off the bottom. A light action 6- to 6-1/2-foot rod with 12- to 15-pound monofilament line will work best.
There will be days when the fish are in 25- to 35-foot of water and you have to fish slowly, directly over the fish. On other days you may have to cast to the fish, especially if they are suspended.
On really tough days after a cold front, the barometric pressure will be high. During these periods you may have to drop down in line size and bait size. A 1/4-ounce crappie jig (such as the Flash Fin Jig) or drop-shot rig on a light 5-1/2- to 6-foot spinning rod with 6- to 8-pound test line may be the only rig you can use to make the bass hit the bait.
Extreme tactics are often necessary on cold winter days. Most folks will vacate the cold-water lakes for hot-water discharge lakes, or just wait for spring. It is often during these days that some of the best fishing occurs for those who understand what to do, and how to do it in winter.