Bass by the numbers

Fishermen can increase their chances of successful trips by paying attention to certain numbers, like water temperature, air pressure and photoperiod.

Our lives are governed by numbers. Speed limits, alcohol and ethanol content, sticker prices and the cost of a plate lunch; there’s no escaping the use of numbers. Human brains have evolved to process numbers as easily as words in everyday communication. 

There is no avoiding it, especially for the angler. Numbers are just a part of life, but knowing how the numbers relate to bass fishing in April could make the difference in landing a lunker or having a zero day.

Understanding how fish react to atmospheric conditions and changes is a start to using numbers in your favor. April is what many anglers term as a transitional month, meaning from the beginning to end there may be wide variations in air and water temperature — not like July and August, which typically start and end hot. Crappie fishermen have learned to use this transition to locate schools of slabs in prespawn, spawn and post-spawn modes. Bass anglers can apply the same precepts and get bitten on a regular basis.

How cool’s The Pool?

Water temperature is a fluid number — no pun intended. Air and terra firma heat faster than water, but once warmed, water is slower to cool. Studies show fish prefer warmer water over cool, as long as there is enough dissolved oxygen to support a comfortable life. In April, water is starting to develop a thermocline, layers where cooler water is deeper and warmer water is closer to the surface. Fish, whose bodies adopt the same temperature as the surrounding water, will adjust to the thermocline they find most comfortable.

A surface water temperature of 60o F is a point when shad become more active; it follows that bass will be emerging from the winter doldrums, feeding on schools of  shad. It would stand to reason that a shad-colored bait will be a fitting choice to tie on and fish, but shad aren’t the only critters on the menu during the spring warm-up. Frogs, salamanders, aquatic worms and crawfish are there as well. 

“Most of our lakes are between 60 and 70 degrees in April,” said Jerry Brown, a fisheries biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Bass start getting more active when water temperatures are above 50 to 55 degrees. Shallow water warms first; that’s where you can expect to find bass, since it’s also spawning season.” 

The proper method for measuring a bass is with the mouth closed and the tail lobes pressed together. This bass just misses being 14 inches.

Late-passing cold fronts can knock the bite back, but as temperatures recover pretty quickly this time of year, so does the bite. Warmer water prompts all life to become more active; bream will start to bed, crappie will spawn, crawfish and frogs become more abundant and bass don’t have to go far to find a meal.

The pressure is on

Barometric pressure has long been a short-term tool for predicting fish feeding patterns. So what numbers are the best for bass fishing? Many anglers agree that falling pressure, such as before a frontal passage, is the best time to fish; days with high pressure (30.50 or above), often called bluebird days, are slow and require a slow lure presentation and searching near cover. Days with pressure changes, either rising or falling slowly, are good times to try new baits and just see what works. Cell phones have a feature that shows weather conditions, forecasts and current barometric pressure. Some will include moon phases as well as air temperature.

All black bass, including largemouth (top), spotted, and smallmouth (bottom) count in creel limits in Mississippi.

Photoperiod 

Sunlight reflects off water in early spring because the sun has yet to reach its zenith, but fish eyes are sensitive to light, so the time of day and available shade come into play for the savvy angler.

“Photoperiod (the amount of daylight in a 24-hour period) is very important,” Brown said. “It gives us bass fishermen more time on the water. Seriously, longer days provide more time for the sun to increase the water temperature. I’ve heard anglers say it is the photoperiod that triggers the spawn, while others think it is the temperature. It’s likely both play a role.”

This is a good place to mention tables and charts that forecast good days of fishing. Rick Taylor’s ASTRO Tables are in each issue of Mississippi Sportsman. Best fishing days are determined by moon phase. Some people swear by these tables, while others are doubters. Check the tables against your trips and decide for yourself. 

This Columbus Lake bass couldn’t resist a green frog worked in the grass.

Water clarity

Professionals use a device known as a secchi wheel to determine water clarity. The device is a disc, either 8 or 12 inches across and painted black and white. The weighted device is lowered in the water and the visible depth in feet is then noted. Brown considers any number greater than 4 feet as being clear water. In place of a specific device, a bright, flashy lure cranked up to the tip of a bass rod and held under water is a suitable substitute. In some state lakes, 4 feet or more of visibility is not unheard of, while rivers and impoundments are typically much less clear. 

Not to worry; bass use their eyes to see bait/prey, but they also use their lateral line to triangulate prey in water that is less than clear. 

“Water clarity definitely plays a role when choosing lure colors,” Brown said. “A good rule of thumb is to use natural colors in clearer water because bass can see the lure well. Popular colors are watermelon, and shad, bream- and crawfish-imitating colors (brown, green and silver).”

Line used in clearer water is also important. Professional anglers use either fluorocarbon or braid with a fluorocarbon leader. No matter the choice, invisibility under the surface will add authenticity to the bait’s color. The more realistic the presentation, the more likely bass are to bite

Where water lilies or other vegetation live in clear water, don’t overlook the lowly plastic frog. Allowing the frog, lizard or other soft creature bait to rest on a pad while using the rod to generate vibrations is deadly. It is a technique that requires patience but is rewarded with success. Remember, bass see and feel the lure’s movement, so when the lure finally slides off the pad or grass, a bass is ready to attack. 

What to use

Bass like to get a big meal for the least amount of expendable energy; this is a long recognized fact. A 5-pound bass will have no problem swallowing a large shad, but shad don’t streak through the water in straight lines unless a big fish is pursuing them. For this reason, an umbrella rig is still a good choice for anglers wanting to target fish where shad are being hunted by packs of predators. These rigs create the illusion of a small school of shad traveling in unison. Such rigs require some practice to cast and retrieve but can be well worth the effort.

A few hard crankbaits an angler may have in their bass catching arsenal. Note the coloration includes those found in shad, bream and crawfish.

Topwater offerings are best early and late, before the sun gets too bright and forces bass deep or into cover. A Rapala fished as an injured minnow has been deadly for decades. Twitch the bait to create ripples as an injured baitfish might, or choose a slow-sinking model to mimic a shad swimming erratically. Use the rod to bring the bait toward the surface then pause it as it slowly sinks. Be prepared for a solid strike.

“Both dark- and bright-colored lures are typically selected when the water is murky or turbid,” Brown said. “Dark colors show up well in turbid water and bright colored lures can catch their attention. Black and blue has long been a popular choice, and junebug is very popular. In my experience, green pumpkin seems to be a good color in any condition.”

Bass fishing numbers don’t stop here, however. Anglers need to understand and abide by creel and slot limits. These numbers are in place to protect spawning-age fish from overharvest. It is up to the individual angler to know the numbers as they vary from lake to lake. For example, Lake Calling Panther in Copiah County has a 10-fish limit with a restriction that only one fish longer the 20 inches can be kept daily.

At Neshoba County Lake, a 16- to 20-inch slot limit is in place; all bass in that slot must be released. On Ross Barnett, anglers operate with a 7-fish daily limit, and they may only keep bass longer than 14 inches. Largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass are all equal in a creel limit. Complete up-to-date creel and slot limit information for most public waters in Mississippi may be found at the MDWFP website www.mdwfp.com. 

More numbers

Shopping for baits also requires an new vernacular. The decimal point has moved into fishing circles. Simple plastic baits are packaged as 4.5 or 3.5 instead of weight and inches. Don’t be surprised to hear bass pros describing baits by saying “I did well locating fish with a 4-point-5 (4.5) Senko.” 

Even rods and reels are feeling the change, with gear ratios creeping into the name. One of Abu Garcia’s new baitcasting reels is called a “5.1.” What happened to a guy having a Zebco 33 and a Lucky 13?

No matter the numbers, there is a lake near you that’s full of bass. State lakes, state park lakes, pools on the Tenn-Tom or simply the rivers and creeks that crisscross Mississippi offer a bass bite for everyone. But one thing is for sure: A dry hook catches zero fish.

Tie up all those loose ends

The cost of lures has gotten outrageous, with some trendy models reaching $20 or more. That’s not such a bad deal if they catch fish consistently, but in many cases, expensive lures just fly off the line when cast because a knot wasn’t properly tied or the line had become frayed due to use.

There is no set-in-stone rule of thumb for re-tying a knot, either to a lure or joining a leader. Most anglers re-tie at the beginning of each trip. Some use a drop of super-glue to ensure their knots are strong. 

As far as line, that’s a whole article unto itself. After a break-off or being snagged, remove a foot or two of line to make sure there’s no stretch or fray remaining. Find a knot you can tie quickly and practice it. You’ll be glad you did.

David Hawkins
About David Hawkins 185 Articles
David Hawkins is a freelance writer living in Forest. He can be reached at hawkins2209@att.net.

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