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.

Douglas Reservoir, Tennessee

Spring has been slow to come to the Tennessee and Cumberland River Valleys, and repeated heavy rains have kept the water flowing and delayed warming. Although the water temperatures are still hovering in the low 50s, dedicated central Tennessee angler and former Bassmaster Open competitor Donna Bilbrey says bass are there for the catching. Bilbrey grew up fishing smallmouth in Lake St. Clair, so it was no surprise that she opted to target smallmouth on this multi-bass fishery.

Plan A:  Bilbrey searches ledges along the main river channel that top out around 10-feet deep. When she marks fish suspected to be bass, a Perfect 10 Rogue gets the call. “The Perfect 10 has been very effective on Douglas. Use white colors if cloudy, chrome colors when sunny,” advised Bilbrey.

Plan B:  If the ledge/jerkbait bite is off, Bilbrey fishes deep points with a Booyah Pigskin Jig and a YUM Crawbug or Christie Craw trailer. Black/blue is hard to beat. Productive points are usually 20- to 30-feet deep.

How long these offshore and deep bites will last is hard to forecast. Warm and stable weather in late March and early April could trigger a surge to the shallows.

Pro pointer:  “Under the present conditions, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of fishing the jerkbait slowly,” said Bilbrey. “Cast, crank it down to its working depth, then let it sit for 15 to 30 seconds. Pull it. Then let is sit for another 15 to 30 seconds. Bass will come to it.”

Lake Oconee, Georgia

Located midway between Atlanta and Augusta, this 19,000 acre hydropower reservoir provides  bass anglers 374 miles of shoreline to hunt spawning largemouth. BFL and Bass Federation angler Anthony Shy shared his experience on Oconee to help you narrow your search and fill your livewell. Shy also offered a tip to tournament anglers for catching kicker fish.

Plan A:  Fish coves like Moss Creek upriver from Sugarcreek Marina with seawalls and rocks. Fish from the middle of the cove to about three-fourths of the way back,” recommended Shy. “Expect fish to be close to the seawall, up to 10 feet out.”  Shy starts with a 3/8 ounce Booyah spinnerbait, white or white/chartreuse. Fish it slowly. Shy fishes the same water with a square bill crankbait when the sun gets up.

The Oconee bass spawn close to the seawall and later in the day the bass will pull up to the seawalls. You will not see beds in the dark water. Shy alternates casts tight to the seawalls with 4 or 5 inch YUM Dinger (black/blue) or a finesse worm (green pumpkin/chartreuse tail) on a shakey head.

Plan B:  Head downlake past the I-44 bridge and fish boat docks and rocky seawalls in coves like Lick Creek. As upriver, you will rarely see a bed. Here, Shy recommends a wacky-rigged YUM  Dinger (black/blue) or the same shakey head presentations as upriver. “Keep your eyes open for shad activity in the shallows, and fish the activity areas with a square bill crankbait,” advised Shy.

 Plan C:  For sight fishing, head to Richland Creek where bass will spawn around docks and seawalls. Shy relies on three presentations to tempt bedding bass:  a Texas-rigged 6-inch Lizard (green pumpkin), a shakey head with a worm (green pumpkin), or a Carolina-rigged Lizard. Shy fishes the C-rig lizard with an 18- to 24-inch leader behind a 3/8 ounce sinker and slowly drags the sinker through the bed.

Pro pointer: Pick off the aggressive fish early in the morning before someone else does. Establish a milk run of waypoints and quickly fish them with a buzzbait followed by a square bill crankbait.

Greers Ferry, Arkansas

I spoke with avid angler and FLW Rayovac series pro Jeff Wade after a day on Greers Ferry a week ago. Here are some insights from Wade to help you put some fish in the boat on this 40,000 acre, picturesque reservoir in the Ozark foothills.

Plan A: Look for 45-degree banks close to secondary points midway back into main coves (creek arms). Focus on transition areas where the bank changes from clay to rock or areas of rock jutting into the water. Wade prefers to drag a structure head jig with a green pumpkin YUM Bad Mama. “On a sunny afternoon, look for bass to move up onto flatter banks,” advised Wade.

Plan B:  “I expect the spawn to start soon with the warming weather, so you want to check for spawners,” said Wade. “The water is down a little. Look for bass where the deeper water quickly transitions to flat, shallow areas in the backs of coves  or any short pocket.”  You will rarely see bass beds in Greers Ferry, so blind casting is the only option. Wade’s first choice for these depth-change areas is a spinnerbait, followed by a Bandit 100 or 200 in Red Crawfish or a Booyah One Knocker in Rayburn Red. If faster moving horizontal baits aren’t producing, or to catch a few more fish from a spot, Wade drags a Texas-rigged big YUM Lizard or a 5 inch Dinger under a 1/8 ounce weight. Green pumpkin is the right color.

Pro pointer: If you’re catching buck bass, slow down and throw a bigger bait.

Guntersville, Alabama

This 75-mile long, 68,000 acre Tennessee River impoundment needs no introduction to bass anglers. The lake has been serving up both numbers and size of largemouth bass for more than 10 years, and 2016 is starting no differently, according to tournament pro and former Tennessee River bass guide Jimmy Mason. “Anglers visiting Guntersville in early April will find bass in all stages of the spawn,” said Mason. Mason offered some solid advice for pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn largemouth.

Plan A: Guntersville largemouth spawn in the usual shallow pockets, but they also spawn offshore on the hard-bottom shallow humps between the river and the shore. Mason advises anglers to fish what he terms “approach areas,” the pathways to the spawning area. Approach areas for the pockets are ditches from the main lake or the main part of the cove back into the spawning area or points running out from the shallows. “Start at the mouth of the ditch and fish your way back in,” suggested Mason. “Patches of green hydrilla or eelgrass warrant extra attention.”  Approach areas for the offshore humps are points on the underwater islands and areas where creeks cut close to them; bass like to concentrate on inside grass lines. Mason fishes the approach areas with lipless crankbaits and considers the Booyah One Knocker  a good big bass bait; Flashy Momma, Rayburn Red, and Sunset Craw are top colors. Mason will back up the One Knocker with a Spring Craw or Mistake Bandit 100 or a Fire Tiger or Apple Red Crawdad Bomber Deep Flat A.

Plan B (spawn):   “When the pre-spawn bite tapers off, head for the spawning pockets or humps for spawners,” advised Mason. “You will see few bedders. Blind cast and drag your bait where you think the beds will be — hard clay on the tops of the humps, near stumps, or insider grass lines are all likely to have a bed.”  Mason switches to soft plastics for spawners. On Mason’s deck you’ll find a 6-inch YUM Lizard, a Wooly Hawgtail, a Christie Critter and Dinger. He Texas rigs all under the lightest weight he can fish, and will fish the Dinger wacky style if vegetation is sparse. Mason opts for green colors — like watermelon/red or green pumpkin/red — for all soft plastics.

Plan C:  Mason will fish the same approach areas as for pre-spawners, concentrating on emergent vegetation and docks. You may see fry schools and catch guarding males, but Mason is looking for big females. Mason uses lipless crankbaits and crankbaits as search tools. When he catches spawned out bass he slows down with a Carolina-rigged Yum Lizard, Wooly Hogtail, or Christie Critter. “A YUM Break’n Shad and a Booyah Pad Crasher are great producers for skipping under docks,” offered Mason.

Pro pointer:  “The spawn starts upriver, but you can fish throughout the lake. Wherever you are, you can catch a 20-pound bag,” commented Mason. “Slow down, and fish the lightest weight possible on Texas rigged soft plastic.”