It seems to me that over time our lakes and rivers are getting clearer and clearer. And when it comes to fishing early in the year – the pre-spawn – that means you have to downsize and finesse a little. Years ago it seemed like we were dealing with muddy water, high water as we went for those big pre-spawn bites. I mean it’s the time of year that the fish are at their heaviest, and they should be gorging themselves in preparation for the spawn. But now (I don’t know if it’s the number of fishermen or just the clear water) you often have to downsize and use finesse to fool those finicky bass.
The first trick in fishing clear, pre-spawn water is determining what the bass are feeding on. Figuring out whether the fish are feeding on crawfish or shad will go a long way in determining your technique. If it’s crawfish, the fish will usually be hovering near the bottom. If it’s shad, then usually the fish will be suspended. Sometimes it can be a combination, but regardless it is a key in catching pre spawn bass.
If you determine that bass are feeding on crawfish, the first bait I would pick up would be a small Strike King finesse jig. I would choose ¼ to ½ ounce on the size depending on the depth, current and wind. Basically, you need to be able to feel the bait. Natural colors like green pumpkin or watermelon would be my go to colors. I would also put a Strike King Baby Rage Craw trailer or a grub on the back of the jig. I would typically start deep, probably 15 to 25 feet and work my way shallow depending on how warm the water temperature is. The warmer it gets, the more shallow the bass will come. I like to fish that jig on light line – anywhere from 8 to 12 pound test fluorocarbon. It’s actually an easy bait to fish. You basically hop or crawl it on the bottom. My next choice would be a jig head worm or shaky head. This bait can also be crawled around the bottom. Since we are trying to imitate crawfish with these two bait, I like rocky areas if possible. Many times points or Bluffs can be the best.
If you determine the fish are feeding on shad, then oftentimes they will suspend either on bluffs, treetops, or anything else from which that they can ambush prey. If the fish are suspended this time of year, my first choice would be a suspending jerkbait. I prefer a Strike King KVD J200. This bait has many hooks and gets hung up easily, so I always try to throw it near cover, rather than right in the middle of it. Your retrieve with the jerk bait is usually erratic and depending on water temperature can be very slow. The bait works really well for lethargic bass that aren’t moving quickly. The reason this technique works so well is that shad are oftentimes very lethargic and easy prey for these pre spawn bass. Other choices would be swimbaits and small crankbaits. I really like the Strike King Shadalicious swimbait rigged on a Strike King Squadron Swimbait Jig Head when the fish are suspended in deeper water, and I like the Strike King Lucky Shad crankbait when the fish are relating more to the shallows.
If the fish are feeding on shad, my color preferences this time of year are typically natural shad colors. If they are feeding on crawfish, then as I mentioned earlier green pumpkin is a great place to start, but I wouldn’t be afraid to add some red to my bait, especially this time of year.
The last key component to catching fish this time of year is to have patience. These bass are feeding and getting ready for the spawn, but when the water is cold they don’t eat nearly as often. It seems like I often have to work the bait very slowly to get bites. Try different cadences and retrieves to figure out what the fish like.
This may be a simple approach to pre-spawn bass fishing in clear water, but I’ll promise you, on many lakes and rivers around the country, you can catch a lot of bass with these techniques. Good Fishing!