By William D. Anderson

Spring Fishing Fever

By William D. Anderson

Before the showers of April bring the flowers of May, the Ides of March bring the opportunity to catch the fish of a lifetime. Bill Anderson with a big Springtime Largemouth Bass

During March and April, the last remaining ice disappears from all but the northernmost bodies of water. As the days get warmer and longer, fish become more active and they begin their annual spring feeding frenzy which is quickly followed by a period of spawning activity. By the time the ice melts, a few species will already be well into the spawn cycle.  Both of these situations are great opportunities to catch the fish of a lifetime.

Most species of fish will feed very aggressively prior to spawning. They instinctively begin an aggressive feeding cycle that helps them build strength and energy because during that cycle, and while guarding their nests, they will often not feed at all. An angler has a good chance at catching a real lunker before, during, and after the spawn because the largest members of the species can be found closer to shore than they will be at any other time of the year. This makes the larger fish much easier to find and catch.

The feeding cycle can begin as soon as the ice begins to melt. Baitfish will move closer to shore soon after ice out because the sun will quickly warm shallow water.  Warmer water will rise to the surface the wind will blow it to one side or the other. The warmer water will attract shad, minnows, crayfish, and other small fish. It also helps to increase metabolism, and also causes all species to become more active. Active bait fish are preyed upon by larger game fish. While the water is still generally cool, the best time of day to be looking for fish will usually be in the afternoon when the sun is at its peak. Soon after the spawn has completed, early morning and early evening will be better times, but that�s not to say that you can�t catch fish at any time of the day or night.

The most important thing to do when you see a school of bait fish is observe how they move through the water. Notice how they swim when they are at ease, and also how they react to predators and try to dart away. Keep an eye out for injured fish and observe how they twitch in the water. You will want to use lures that resemble the color of the bait fish and imitate all of these types of behavior. The more natural your bait looks in the water, the better the chance a fish will go after it.

If you are fishing by boat, you can use your electronics to look for schools of bait fish or �bait balls�. These show up as clouds on the locator screen and you can usually see a couple larger fish following the school or underneath it. Fish your bait to the outside or under these schools of bait fish so that it stands out and is an easier target. Deep running crank baits, blade baits, and spinner baits that resemble bait fish are good choices.

Another place to find fish will be any place that has runoff flowing into the water you intend to fish. Runoff is often warmer than the body of water it flows into and it can also contain food that all sizes and species of fish can feed on. These areas can be harder to fish from shore. Fish are expecting a meal to come towards them and when you retrieve a lure in the opposite direction, they will sometimes leave it alone since it is not something that is natural. In these situations you can float any type of live bait out with the current and it will catch fish. Smaller plastic baits can also be a good choice.

As you survey a body of water, look for ripples or other surface activity that might indicate the presence of active fish. Bass will often herd baitfish into coves or other confined areas where it is harder for their prey to escape. Look for minnows jumping out of the water or larger fish making a commotion near the shoreline. It is not uncommon to see the water�s surface erupt as several large fish tear through a school of smaller fish in an attempt to catch a meal. When fish are feeding aggressively like this, they can be caught very easily. Any crank bait that resembles the species that the game fish are feeding on will work. Other lures such as spinners or swim baits will also catch a lot of fish at this time of the year.

Once the water temperature is conducive for spawning, the feeding frenzy slows and the fish begin looking for nesting locations. Species that have a preference for cooler water usually spawn earlier in the year than species that prefer more moderate temperatures. For example, Northern Pike will spawn once the water temperature hits 34 to 40 degrees which means they will be very aggressive and easy to catch right after ice out. Walleye will begin looking for locations to drop their eggs when the water reaches 38 to 44 degrees and they will spawn in water between 42 and 50 degrees. What many anglers fail to consider is that the surface temperature can vary greatly from the temperature at the bottom of a lake so when looking for the right water temperature, a probe lowered to the bottom is essential for an accurate temperature reading.

Northern Pike will guard their nests from predators and there may be as many as three males protecting the young and the female. In contrast, Walleye do not guard their nests or care for their young. They drop their eggs which adhere to plant material and the young are left to fend for themselves once they hatch. Walleye prefer to spawn in deeper water and are harder to find during this period.

Largemouth Bass have a wider range of preferred spawning temperatures and this can vary by body of water. In most cases, they will begin to look for nest sites at around 60 degrees and will drop eggs when the water is between 62 and 65 degrees. Smallmouth Bass have the same temperature preference when it comes to spawning, but they have been found spawning when the water temperature has been as cool as the low 50s and as warm as the mid 70s, and prefer deeper water with a different type of bottom content.

Any fish that is on a nest can usually be caught. Plastic baits such as craw tubes or power worms, and small natural looking crank baits will catch nesting fish although there can be times when the fish seem to know you�re after them and they won�t touch anything. In some cases, a fish can be pestered to the point that it will leave the nest only to return later to find that the eggs or fry have fallen prey to other fish in the area.

When targeting spawning fish, it is important to consider the impact that removing a fish from a nest will have on the hatch for that year. Some locations prohibit targeting certain species, or fishing in certain areas until after the fish have spawned so that the young have a better chance at survival. Once a fish is taken off a nest, there is no guarantee it will return to the nest in time to save the fry, if it returns at all, after it is released.

Once the spawn is complete, game fish will resume aggressive feeding for a short time. The larger fish can still be found in shallower water for a short time before they begin to fall into their late spring and summer patterns.

The search for big fish doesn�t have to slow down after the spawn cycle is complete. Later in the spring and throughout the summer, Striped and White Bass will herd shad from deeper water and drive them to the surface. When this happens, the water will appear to boil for a short time until the bait fish scatter. When you see the water boil, a surface plug such as a chug bug is a favorite bait to throw right into the boil. These fish will often school by size, and it�s not uncommon to find some real monsters chasing bait fish.


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