By Dr. Hal Schramm

Bass fishing is a dynamic, ever-changing process, and that is especially true in the spring as bass transition from winter to pre-spawn, to the spawn, and then post-spawn. Throughout the pre-spawn—spawn—post-spawn sequence, bass are aggressive and tend to be shallow—a perfect combination for a lot of bites and for the fish of a lifetime. A perfect time to make memories.

This project chronicles the progression of the 2016 bass spawning season from south to north. A new spawning map will be posted every two weeks to let you know where bass are pre-spawn, where they are spawning, and where they are post-spawn to help you adjust your mindset before you get to the lake or maybe to plan the right time to arrive at one of your bucket-list fishing destinations.

Each map is accompanied by fishing reports from the best bass sticks in the country. Some are accomplished professional tournament anglers, some are professional and experienced guides. All frequently fish the waters that they report on, and all know where, when, and how to make bass bite.

Spawn Vocabulary

An “uninitiated” angler hanging around a tackle store or the boat ramp could get an ear full of good advice but not have a clue what it means unless they are fluent in Bassin’ If you want to talk the talk, you need to learn to speak bassin’. Here are some terms you’ll hear hanging out with other anglers and read in the reports that follow. Be sure to work at least a few of these words into every conversation you have with fellow bass anglers this spring.

Bed: the shallow excavation and clean bottom area constructed by a male bass and where the eggs are laid and guarded.

Blind cast: a cast that may be made to a very specific spot, but is not directed at a bed you can see.

Buck: a male bass, usually implying a small male bass.

Cove: an arm or embayment connected to the main lake or to another cove; see creek.

Creek: (1) a stream running into a lake or reservoir, (2) a cove that was a creek before the reservoir was built

Pockets: shallow areas off the main lake or at the back of coves where bass spawn. They might be a only 100 yards long, or they could be more than ½ mile long.

Pod: a group of many bass

Primary point: the point formed by a cove or a bay and the main lake.

Secondary point: the junction of a cove (or bay) and the cove (or bay) that opens to the main lake. I’ll let you figure out tertiary points.

Set up (used in relation to spawning, as in set up on a bed): a bass guarding a bed that doesn’t flee when you fish the bed.

Stage: bass often move toward the spawning area in increments and congregate in certain areas, often a relatively sharp change in depth or a weed line.

Crescent Lake, Florida

Crescent Lake is connected to the St. Johns River by Dunns Creek just upstream from Lake George. It is the favorite stompin’ ground of Bassmaster Open tournament angler Phil Turwitt. This cypress-lined, scenic lake looks like Florida did 50 and 60 years ago.

The bass are pre-spawn right now and the spawn should be in full swing by early March. Turwitt recommends keeping it simple. 

Plan A: Head to the east side of the lake and look for the biggest beds of eel grass in 2 to 4 foot water. Turwitt blind casts a YUM Dinger or Swim’N Dinger to holes in the eelgrass that might indicate a bass bed. Black/blue and watermelon red flake are good choices in the tea-stained water. 

Plan B: Cold fronts are tough on Florida bass and, unfortunately, a frequent occurrence in the spring. Post cold front, Turwitt recommends going to the cypress trees. Generally bass hang pretty tight to the trees, but fish around the trees to find out how far out the roots go and where the bass are positioned. Turwitt likes to fish a split-shot rig with a worm or YUM Ribbontail worm. Favorite color: Junebug. Use light line and the smallest split shot that will hold the bait in place and let it soak.

Lake Falcon, Texas

Although Bassmaster Elite Alton Jones will be heading to Oklahoma in just a couple weeks to fish his 17th Bassmaster Classic, he took some time to do a little recreational fishing at Lake Falcon, one of his favorite bassin’venues. I talked to an excited Jones on his way home from a kick-bass trip.

Late February to early March will be ideal for Falcon.

“Anglers can expect 40- to 50-bass days. Most will be 2 to 3 pounds, many will be 4 to 5 pounds, and at least one is likely to be a grande,” said Jones. The spawn just started and will stay “on” through March. The warm, wet winter has restored the lake level and will trigger a slightly earlier spawn. Although benefiting the fish and the fishing, there is a down side during the spawn — throughout much of the lake, the brush that grew on the drawdown-exposed shoreline prevents access to the shallow water where the bass spawn. The upside is the conditions make it easy to finding areas to fish if you follow Jones’ advice

Plan A: Find creeks and pockets were you can still get to the shoreline. Bass in Falcon bed in 1 to 3 feet of water. These areas will still have a lot of brush, but at least you will be able to make your way to the shore. Beds will not be visible in Falcon’s stained water, and sight-fishing isn’t an option. Jones “blind casts” (actually pitches) a Texas-rigged 6 inch Dinger on a 4/0 hook under a ¼ ounce weight to likely bedding targets; any color will work, but Jones likes watermelon candy and green pumpkin in Falcon’s less-than-clear water. “Bring about six bags of Dingers for every day you plan to fish,” advises Jones. “The bass will be in the brush, so make your pitches anywhere from the edge to the center of the bush. Fish uplake in late February and move your search to the lower lake after mid-March.”

Plan B: if bushes aren’t working to suit you or the weather turns hot and calm, Jones grabs his frog rod with a bullfrog pattern Booyah Pad Crasher tied on the business end. “Skip the Pad Crasher as tight and far back into the bushes as you can. Let it settle. Then work it back with a very subtle walk-the-dog retrieve. Bass will hit it sitting still or right after you start the retrieve.”

Pro pointer: Falcon bass pull hard, and giants lurk in the dark water. Fish 65 pound braid or you will be humbled.

Lake Conroe, Texas

A short drive north of Houston is 21,000-acre Lake Conroe. With 157 miles of shoreline, this lake fishes large in February and March. And like many of Texas’ larger reservoirs, Conroe has been amply stocked with Florida bass, so you have a good chance for a wallhanger.

Your guide for Lake Conroe is Bassmaster Open angler Chris Berry. Berry has fished the sprawling impoundment for 25 years. He likes the diversity of productive patterns, and he has honed his offshore fishing skills here. But that’s for later. It’s early spring, the spawn is on, and it’s time to go shallow.

Berry is all about efficiency and maximizing the odds of catching bass. Berry shuns sight fishing and concentrates on movement pathways. Doing this allows him to intercept spawners moving into pockets to spawn and post-spawners heading for summer homes after completing the spawning ritual.

Plan A: Berry confines his fishing to the north half of the lake where there is more natural cover and the water warms sooner. Before picking up a rod, Berry scans the area for cover — stumps, logs, vegetation ― and submerged creek channels, ‘drains’, and depth breaks that may serve as migration highways. “Start at primary points and move toward the back of the cove where the bass will spawn),” advises Berry. Secondary and tertiary points where both pre- and post-spawners are likely to stage warrant extra attention. The magic depth is 5 to 10 feet. 

With likely bass-holding areas marked, Berry covers water briskly with a Booyah spinnerbait and probes deeper cover with a Carolina rig. The young pro favors gold blades under dark skies and silver blades under bright conditions, double Colorado blades for turbid water (clarity less than 1 foot) and double willow blades in clearer water. He usually fishes a junebug YUM Lizard on his Carolina rig. Few bites in good cover tell Berry to slow down his presentations until he finds what pulls the bass’ trigger.

When he locates a pod of bass or encounters patches of pads or submerged vegetation, Berry saturates the area by swimming a Yum Dinger, Thump’n Dinger, or swim jig. Junebug, green pumpkin neon, and black/blue are productive in off-colored water, watermelon and watermelon/red flake for clear water. Stumps and logs get worked over with a Booyah Pigskin Jig.

Any cast in Conroe could be interrupted by a double-digit largemouth.

Sam Rayburn, Texas

If there is a tournament on Rayburn, Clayton Boulware is fishing it. I talked to Boulware while he was practicing for a BLF tournament on Rayburn this weekend. “Now is the time to be at Rayburn,” said Boulware. “With the higher water after a long, dry summer, the lake is fishing great.”

All the small pockets are lined with thick buckbrush and haygrass (torpedo grass) in 3 to 5 feet of water. You can fish anywhere, but for the early-season pre-spawn bite Boulware advises anglers to look for warmer-water pockets, particularly those that hold warmer water over night. For anglers lacking experience on Rayburn, look for pockets with a little dirtier water.

Plan A: “First thing in the morning, fish a white double willow Booyah spinnerbait through and at the edge of the haygrass,” said Boulware. “Put multiple casts to the corners of the haygrass beds. These corners usually indicate a drain or change in depth, something a little different.”

If the spinnerbait isn’t tempting bites, throw a YUM Flash Mob Jr. rig where the outside edge of the haygrass turns into the inside edge of hydrilla. Use your favorite soft plastic on the umbrella rig; Boulware favors albino color.

Plan B: When the sun gets up, Boulware grabs his flipping stick and heads to the thickest stuff—mixed buck brush and haygrass—he can find. Boulware fishes a big profile creature bait like a YUM Christie Craw under a 3/8 or ½ ounce weight. Green pumpkin is good in clear water, black/blue where the water is dirtier. “Rayburn is full of big mamas. Use at least 50 pound braid in the thick cover; anything less, you’ll get your heart broke,” exclaimed Boulware.

Keep your head down and keep flipping.

Pro pointer: when flipping heavy cover, let the bait sink to the bottom. If you don’t get a bite after a few seconds, raise your bait 3 to 5 inches off the bottom and shake it. Often, this will trigger bass that are holding up off the bottom.