It’s a time of great anticipation, great appetite and great opportunity. It’s the prespawn period, not exactly a great time to be a baitfish, but potentially one of the best to have a rod in your hand.
Big mama bass, ripe with the next generation of freshwater sport fish, are looking to fill their bellies, so theirs is typically an aggressive and indiscriminate perspective: If you can catch it, eat it.
As long as the weather remains stable, the fish will feed in fairly predictable form. The daylight bite can be off the charts, when a mild, clear morning provides the first moments of feeding visibility. If the season remains a little chilly, consider this advice from defending Bassmaster Classic champ Cliff Pace.
“Rocks that have afternoon sun on them will become warmer than east-facing rocks and then hold that heat overnight,” Pace said. “You’ll want to start on these spots in the morning because they’ll be the warmest.”
Pace describes the perfect prespawn staging scenario as: “The last piece of cover before the fish move into their spawning areas.”
Depending on the lake, that could be something solid, or it could be something with lots of stems and blades. It’s more of a conceptual thing than a big red X on a chart, so we’ll offer some insight by breaking the topic into a couple of logical divisions with relevant examples for each.
The hard stuff
From natural rock to man-made riprap piled around the base of a bridge, these solid objects flanking the course bass follow into their spawning bays and pockets are like highway rest stops. Blankets of algae attract nibbling baitfish, while crawdad love those cracks and crevices. None of this goes unnoticed by hungry bass, so treat anything hard like a bass grocery store.
During the prespawn, Pace pays close attention to chunk rock banks, especially transitional banks near gravel areas where the fish will soon spawn. A jerkbait, he said, can certainly tempt the fish with the ruse of vulnerable baitfish, but he prefers actively searching for fish by bumping crankbaits off the hard cover.
A common prespawn mistake, Pace said, involves boat positioning. Rather than working perpendicular to the bank with shallow-to-deep retrieves, he’ll cast roughly parallel to the bank to keep his bait in a common depth. He’ll start deep and work progressively shallower lanes to dial in the right depth without running over the fish.
“That’s the key to this habitat,” Pace said. “The fish can stay close, but they can also move out as needed depending on the weather. Finding the strike zone is just a matter of experimentation. Once you find that depth, most of the fish will be in that zone.”
Throughout his search, Pace keeps his retrieve speed low by using a 5.4:1 reel. Prespawners definitely have the feedbag on, but until spring warms the water a little more, the fish are less likely to chase a lure very far.
Pace’s fellow Bassmaster Elite pro Dean Rojas is a big fan of riprap, and, while he knows that fish may hold anywhere along the stretch, he expects activity peaks around any irregularity. That could be a pile of wind-blown brush, a corner or a break in the rocks. Anything that breaks up the sameness merits extra attention with the crankbaits and spinnerbaits he typically throws along riprap.
Stumps and standing timber, particularly those near a channel edge can also offer bass the habitat and feeding opportunities they seek. Flipping and pitching jigs and Texas-rigged creature baits around the woody cover will earn you plenty of bites, but you’ll cover more water with a square-bill crankbait.
Bassmaster Elite/FLW Tour pro Ish Monroe designed his River-2-Sea Biggie square-bill crankbait with rattling and silent models. The noise decision is probably more relevant in seasons, but during the prespawn, Monroe said it’s the inherent intrusion of a square-bill deflecting off a chunk of wood that riles those feeding fish.
Monroe likens it to a neighborhood disturbance.
“If you’re sitting there on your front porch and you hear a car driving by with bumping music, you turn your head because it attracts you,” he said. “The noise of something going by the fish, makes them look and possibly (bite) the bait.”
The soft stuff
Although the hard stuff presents easily discernible targets, don’t overlook aquatic plants during the prespawn. FLW Tour pro Paul Elias won’t pass up a field of pad stems on the outskirts of known spawning grounds. Bumping a square-bill through these slender columns can trigger some serious smackdown.
Texas pro Phil Marks has fished the prespawn throughout the south and he likes nothing better than to find healthy hydrilla beds leading up to those spawning flats. This time of year, most of the grass will be subsurface, but it offers plenty of shelter, shade and feeding opportunities.
“The first thing is to find grass, but the second thing is to find the right grass,” Marks said. “I don’t want to be way back in a pocket and I don’t want to be on some old river channel type of stuff. I want to be on those big main lake or creek mouth flats. Then I go looking for drains, corners and isolated clumps of grass.”
In this prespawn habitat, Marks goes with a one-two punch of a ½- to ¾-ounce Strike King Redeye Shad lipless crankbait and a KVD 1.5 square-bill.
The lipless sees the most casts, as “machine-gunning” it over broad areas — occasionally ripping the bait out of grass edges — finds the fish.
Square-bills, Marks said, are more applicable for focused effort. The 1.5 gets less water time, but its floating design enables him to hold the bait on a fish’s radar longer.
“When the fish are really biting, either one of these baits could do the job, but then you run into the sheer mathematics of it,” he explained. “With the lipless crankbait, you can make more casts, but the square-bill is usually best for specific targets.”
In another grass scenario, Elite pro Terry Scroggins likes throwing a Smithwick Rattling Rogue across grass-lined channel edges where prespawners await their time to invade adjacent flats. Depending on the weather, some fish may be hanging on that first break, while some may be relating to (or in) the grass. Twitching a jerkbait along the edge will draw up the deeper fish, while also tempting those tucked in the grass.
Open the tackle box
Good thing about the prespawn is that the fish are generally pretty open minded with their feeding, so don’t hesitate to mix it up when you find an active area during stable weather. The topwater game is always worth a try, so walk that Spook, pop a floating frog or shred the morning stillness with a buzzbait.
Swimbaits certainly have their place in this game, as the big baitfish profile proves awfully enticing when pulled along grass lines. For casting deeper into the grass, rig a swim jig with a swimming tail like a Gambler Big EZ or a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper and let that narrow head guide the vibrating tail across the danger zone.
Shaky heads do a good job around bridges leading into spawning areas and the deeps ends of docks on the outside edges of spawning pockets. And don’t forget your Carolina rig — dragging a big lizard, craw or creature bait along a grass line combines attention-grabbing commotion with an easy target. For a tighter package with similar strategy, rig that football head jig with a big, tasty craw trailer and make it go bump, bump, bump along that prespawn bottom.
Whatever you throw, keep a good grip. Prespawners typically hit it like they mean it, and, if a big bass catches you day dreaming, she’ll take that rod out of your hand.