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.

Robert S. Kerr Reservoir, Oklahoma; pre-spawn to spawn

This 43,000 acre Arkansas River impoundment near Sallisaw, Okla., offers bass anglers 250 miles of shoreline to spread out. I spoke with Bassmaster Open tournament pro Kevin Flurry as he was returning from a tournament on Kerr 10 days ago. “The water warmed to 58 – 59 °F in the afternoon. The largemouth are pre-spawn but real close to starting to spawn,” said Flurry. Here’s how he put together a nice limit.

Plan A:  Flurry focused on stump flats next to creek channels in the morning. In the afternoon, the bass were on the edge of 2- to 4-foot deep flats where the water dropped into a 15- to 20-feet deep creek channel

“A 3/8-ounce Booyah Tandem Blade with gold and nickel blades, a chartreuse/white skirt, and a boot tail trailer with the tip of the tail dyed orange accounted for most of my bites,” shared Flurry. “A black/blue Booyah Bankroll Jig dressed with a black neon Yum Mighty Bug pitched to stumps and laydowns produced the bigger bass.”

Plan B:  With the spawn drawing near, Flurry suggested anglers check isolated pockets in backwater bays. Swim a Booyah Bankroll Jig through areas of water willow showing green tips. A white or black/blue jig with trailer to match are effective colors. Bang a Bomber Fat Free Shad off stumps or finesse it through laydowns. Hold on.

Pro pointer:  Slow down. Don’t hesitate to mix up retrieves, but if you think you’re fishing slow, slow down more. Let the fish will tell how fast or how high in water they want a bait presented.

Beaver Lake, Arkansas; pre-spawn and early spawn

The water temperature was 52-57 °F in the midlake portion in this picturesque, 28,000 acre Ozark Mountains impoundment last week when I talked to kayak tournament and avid multispecies angler Rob Bomstad after a weekend fishing trip. “I think the spawn is about 10 to 14 days off,” predicted Bomstad who claims Beaver as his home lake. “The weather — air temps and amounts of sun and rain — will determine whether the bass keep staging or begin spawning.”  Bombstad, a self-proclaimed finesse fisherman, offered some advice that will put you on fish in Beaver and probably many other highland reservoirs.

Beaver has largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass. Bombstad likes the middle portion of this large impoundment where the water is moderately “stained” — visibility is about 1 to 2.5 feet. Here, he’s fishing for largemouth and spotted bass.

Plan A:   Bomstad looks for pre-spawn bass on pea gravel and chunk rock banks or laydowns in the backs of creeks and around secondary points. Six to eight feet deep has been the most productive depth. The high water has made more laydowns fishable than usual. Water temperature varies among coves, so ride around a little and find the warmer coves. Bomstad’s best success last week was on north and northwest banks (coves opening to the south and southeast). Although Bomstad recommends focusing on transition areas where bank slope changes from steep to gradual, he fishes the entirety of one or more pockets to get a pattern on where the fish are—it can change daily. “Don’t pass on docks, and be sure to fish the back edges,” offered Bomstad. When he finds an area that produces a couple fish, he keeps fishing to the back of the pocket, then returns to the areas where he caught fish.

Bomstad’s go-to presentation is a Bomber Fat Free Shad Jr. in Citrus Shad or Foxy Shad or a Bomber 7A in Foxy Shad or Citruse fished slowly and banging the bottom. Last week, a slow-rolled 3/8 ounce Booyah spinnerbait with s single nickel Colorado blade and a black skirt also produced fish.

Plan B:  Check for spawning bass on the flat banks, in the back of the pockets, and behind docks. You will not see beds in the stained water. Bomstad draws bites from spawning bass blind casting, 4-inch YUM Dingers, alternating between wacky and Texas rigged. “Fish the Dinger weightless to get a slow, horizontal fall,” advised Bomstad. “Watermelon/pearl laminate is productive in a range of water colors; green pumpkin/purple flake is good in stained water.”

Pro pointer:  Be confident in what you throwing; if everyone is fishing a white/chartreue spinnerbait, don’t hesitate to try alternate colors that you think will work. A smaller bait will often help you outfish the crowd; a 3-inch Dinger will get the attention of a big bass.

Lake Sidney Lanier, Georgia;  pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn

This 37,000 acre Chattahoochee River impoundment offers good largemouth fishing but is home to giant Alabama bass, aka Alabama spotted bass. Here’s how Bassmaster Classic and Forrest L. Wood Championship contender Patrick Bone catches those big Alabama bass during all three phases of the spawn.

Plan A: “Bigger fish stage on offshore brushpiles before they move up on points,” said Bone. The water may be as deep as 25 feet but usually is 15- to 20- feet deep. Jerkbaits fished over brushpiles or on the deeper sides of points produce pre-spawners for Bone. “Big Alabama bass live on a diet of blueback herring,” said Bone. “The Smithwick Perfect 10 in the Juice or Lady pattern is ideal.”

Plan B: Bone looks for hard-bottom areas (hard clay or gavel) on long, flatter points. Eight to 12 feet is the most productive zone. Use your electronics to spot the harder-bottom areas. Bone entices bites from spawning Alabama bass with a 5-inch Dinger rigged on a Carolina rig or a shaky head. Preferred colors are watermelon when the water is clear (visibility down to 10 feet), green pumpkin when clarity drops to 4 to 5 feet.

Plan C:  post-spawn. Look for blueback herring spawning on shallow points or ridges (saddles) connecting an island to land. Bone throws a Heddon Zara Spook to schooling bass and uses a pearl white YUM Break’n Shad for a follow bait or where he knows there are fish.

Pro pointer:  Keep an open mind. A shakey head is not just a limit catcher; it will catch giants.

Smith Lake, Alabama; pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn

Smith Lake (officially Lewis Smith lake)  north of Birmingham is an impoundment of the Black Warrior Rvier. Intel for this 23,000 acre clear-water reservoir is provided by Bassmaster Open pro Jimmy Mason. The largemouth in Smith will be in all phases of the spawn — pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn — by  mid-April according to Mason. He offers some simple advice for each phase.

Plan A: Mason starts at the mouth of spawning pockets and works his way to the back. The banks in Smith are generally steep and stair-stepped with a mix of rock and clay. His weapon of choice is a bone Bomber Long A that he fishes as a wake bait. Tie a loop know to the lure eye, hold your rod tip high and slowly wind the lure to let it sashay and leave a V wake. Cast tight to the bank and work the range of depths to find where the bass are staging. Commonly, your boat will be in 15 feet of water and you will be casting into 3- to 5-feet deep water. (Note:  I’ve fished wake baits with Maron — it’s intense, you expect a bass to blow up on the bait every second.). If the wake bait isn’t working, Mason opts for a YUM Pulse swimbait in pearl white or, if the water is especially clear (10-foot visibility), lavender shad. The Pulse is especially effective around docks. Mason fishes the Pulse on a weighted hook and retrieves it near the surface.

Plan B: “The largemouth spawn on the shelves, and he fishes the back one-third of the pockets. “You can see some beds, but many bass bed in 10-15 feet out of sight fish,“ said Mason. “Most fish will be caught blind casting.”  Mason usually opts a for trick worm or YUM Tube or a light shaky head; he likes watermelon when skies are bright, Green Pumpkin on cloudy days. “Bass seem to move in waves into areas. When you find spawning fish, concentrate on the area,” advises Mason.

Plan C: Mason relies on two post-spawn patterns. Some bass can be caught in bushes in the back of pockets. Mason entices bites with a Yum Break’n Shad. The end of the bass spawn coincides with the blueback herring spawn. Although the blueback herring bite is usually best in the morning, bass may also be chasing herring later in the day, so be on the lookout for schooling bass. Mason starts his search for herring-munching bass inside the point at the mouth of a pocket and works out. A Heddon Zara Spook does the catching. “Be mobile. If you don’t catch bass quickly, try other pockets.”

Pro pointer:  Use light line in Smith’s clear water. “You’ll catch far more bass on 6-pound than 8,” commented Mason.

Table Rock Lake, Arkansas and Missouri; pre-spawn and spawn

This White River impoundment near Branson, Missouri offers anglers 43,000 acres of water and 850 miles of shoreline to explore. Advice on how to fish this deep, generally clear-water Ozark Mountains reservoir is provided by local tournament ace Rick Emmitt. Emmitt prefers to fish the lower lake where quality largemouth are still abundant but also where he is likely to encounter spotted bass or big smallmouth. The bass are presently pre-spawn, but Emmitt expects the spawn to start next week if warm weather holds.

Plan A: Emmitt looks for bass staging near channel swings, at bluff ends, and deeper banks such as bluffs or steeply sloping gravel and rock banks. A YUMbrella Flash Mob Jr. rigged with shad pattern, 3-inch swimbaits and a 4-inch version on the center wire is Emmitt’s go-to presentation. (Emmitt was quick to point out that he only uses 3 hooks on his Yumbrella to comply with Missouri hook regulations.)  He backs up the Flash Mob Jr. with a Smithwick Elite 8 in Lady color. Emmitt casts parallel to the steep banks to keep his bait in 8 to 12 feet of water. “I like to add a crawdad-colored crankbait, like a Bandit 200, to the mix when fishing banks that transition from pea gravel to chunk rock.”

Plan B: Bass in Table Rock bed from 2- to 14-feet deep. Beds are often visible. While bass can be caught sight fishing, Emmitt prefers blind casting a split-shot rig with a 4-inch Dinger or slow winding a Ned Rig with a 1/16 ounce mushroom head in “known” spawning areas. Emmitt prefers a 3-inch Dinger on the Ned Rig. Green Pumpkin or Watermelon Red are good colors for the both the split-shot rig and the Ned Rig. Since many anglers don’t share Emmitt’s experience at Table Rock, I asked him what good spawning areas look like. “Look for areas with pea gravel or soft bottom, generally 2- to 6- feet deep.

Pro pointer: “The lighter the head with the Ned Rig the better. To achieve the necessary long casts, use light-test braided line with a fluoro leader. Garlic spray also helps draw bites with the Ned Rig.”