By Dr. Hal Schramm

It’s been a crazy winter with warm weather lasting through December. While northern anglers were wondering if they were going to see ice, southern anglers were fishing in their shirtsleeves. Mid January brought cold that lasted well into February. Now much of the country is getting warm weather and the south is deluged with heavy rains. If the warming continues as it is forecast to do, the bass spawn will be here and gone. Don’t pass on a chance to get on your favorite water.

Winyah Bay, South Carolina

I asked 2016 Bassmaster Classic angler John Proctor his favorite place to for spawning bass. “Winyah Bay!” replied the Conway, South Carolina angler. “There’s lots of water, and I like the challenge and the benefits of fishing tidal water.” Proctor forecast that the full moon in March should be the peak of the spawn.

Plan A: “Winyah Bay has a lot of soft bottom. Look for area of hard bottom in the sunlight. That’s where the bass spawn,” explained Proctor. “Man-made canals and marinas are the best place to find clean, hard bottom.

Proctor gets in a canal system and starts fishing. “Sight fishing isn’t an option in the murky water, but you will see fish moving — swirls from bass, sunfish fleeing. Nine times out of 10, that’s a sign of a bass guarding a bed.” The knowledgeable angler blind casts a 5-inch green pumpkin wacky-rigged, weightless YUM Dinger as he moves through the canals looking for bass sign.

If the Dinger fails to draw a bite from a presumed bed, Proctor fires a floating Rogue to the spot.

“A precise cast is important. Let it sit, then give a slight jerk, just enough to get the nose to dip down. Try to keep the bait on the target and repeat twitching.”

If that doesn’t draw a strike, Proctor makes several casts with a Texas-rigged Christie Craw under a 3/16-ounce or lighter sinker.

Plan B: When Proctor needs a kicker, he heads to the lily pads in shallow pockets near flowing water. He casts a Texas rigged Yum Dinger or Christie Craw under a 3/8-ounce weight into the current seam at the edge of the pads.

Pro pointer: Beds and spawning bass are easily seen during low tide, but the fish are spooky. Don’t waste your time trying to catch them. Mark the bed and return during a higher tide.

Lopez Lake, southern California

After a long drought, southern California finally got some rain. The welcome water flooded the brush in the backs of creeks and opened up a pattern for local tournament ace Ken Sauret. In mid-March the bass will be pre-spawn and some beginning to spawn. Here’s Sauret’s strategy for a fish-filled day.

Plan A: Sauret starts in the back of creeks winding a Booyah Buzz through the flooded brush to tempt pre-spawn females and early bedding males. Water depth will be 2 to 4 feet. “The clacker on that buzzbait really seems to help attract strikes,” added Sauret.

Plan B: If the buzzbait isn’t working, Sauret drops back to the creek channels. “The fish use the creek channels like highways to migrate to the backs of coves, and they stack up on the edge of the channel, especially the big pre-spawn females.” Sauret fishes YUM Money Minnow swim baits, YUMbrella Flash Mob umbrella rigs, and Arbogast Jitterbugs along the edge of the creek channels.

“The Jitterbug is not on many anglers’ radar screen, but it works great for pre-spawn bass, especially in Lopez,“ shared Sauret.

If the creek channel/open water bite isn’t on, it’s time to grab the big stick and pitch a Mighty Bug or a Wooly Bug into the brush. Especially in stained water, flip the Mighty Bug on a ½-ounce weight into any openings in the brush. These are the areas where beds will be found.

Plan C: To get away from the crowd of fishermen who look for bedding bass in the usual areas like coves and shallow backs of creeks, Sauret goes back to the main lake and searches steep, rocky banks for flat rocks where bass will spawn. “The most overlooked places are where the biggest bass spawn,” shared Sauret. The beds might be as deep as 12 feet. Sauret fishes these rocky banks with a Yumbrella rigged with Money Minnows or a single Money Minnow rigged on a Money head. Cast along the bank, let the bait fall to the bottom, and retrieve it very slowly. Watch for large pre-spawn females to be following your bait back to the boat. Very often the bass won’t strike these presentations but they have exposed their locations. When the bass turns and goes back to its spot, Sauret tosses a drop shot rigged with a YUM Warning Shot to the area where the fish disappeared. Watch for any line movement and set the hook!

 Pro pointer: Sauret shuns clear water. “If you can see the bass, the bass can see you and they can be tough to catch. I would always rather cast to likely spots in slightly turbid water,” advises Sauret. But when clear water is what you have, you deal with it. Here are a few bed-fishing tricks Sauret shared.

Use a Money Minnow rigged on a Money head to irritate the bass. Swim it into the nest and kill it. If the bass noses it, try to pop the swimbait into the bass. If you can get the bass agitated but it won’t eat the Money Minnow, immediately pitch a wacky-rigged Yum Dinger or a drop shot to the bed. If the bass doesn’t respond to the Money Minnow, change your angle. Move the boat to the other side of the bed and give it a couple more tries. Sauret finds that each bass has its own personality and most bass will react to a bait coming into the bed from a certain angle better than one pitched to the bed from any other angle. Experimentation is the trick here.

“A drop shot Yum Warning Shot is a great bed-fishing bait. Green pumpkin or watermelon candy are good colors in Lopez or any lake with largemouth or smallmouth. Sauret’s favorite Warning Shot color is Morning Dawn in lakes with spotted bass. “The distance from the bait to the weight is also critical for bed fishing with the drop shot. Slide the sinker up and down to find the distance off the bottom that pulls the bass’ trigger,” counsels Sauret. “I start with the sinker about 12 inches below the bait and keep moving the sinker up until it is only 2 or 3 inches below the bait. In clear water you will see how enticing a drop shot is when the bait is hovering 3 or 4 inches above the bed. Every bass is different, so what just worked on one bed may work on the next. Don’t be afraid to experiment.”

Ross Barnett Reservoir

This sprawling central Mississippi Pearl River impoundment, known locally as the Rez, is home water for FLW Tour pro Pete Ponds. Ponds offered a simple one-two approach for how to catch Barnett bass, but he also offered some deep insights that will help most anglers elevate their game on Barnett or any other lowland reservoir.

Largemouth bass start spawning when the water temperature hits 60 °F. A lot of anglers spend their springtime days on the water with their eyes glued to the temperature gauge. Ponds acknowledges the importance of surface water temperature, but he measures temperature in other and, biologically, far more meaningful ways.

“First, the day I want to be on the water looking for spawning bass is after two or three days when the nighttime temperature remains in the mid 50s or higher,” explained Ponds. “Water temperature hitting 60-degrees on a sunny afternoon may get bass thinking about spawning , but bass swarm the shallows when the water temperature stays in the high 50s.”

Ponds also has another trick that he uses to monitor the water temperature and determine those areas where the temperature has consistently been warmer than others. “Look at the vegetation, whether it is lily pad stems, alligator weed, or emergent grasses. Concentrate on those areas where the vegetation is greening up — these are the areas that have been warm for the longest time.”

Plan A: When the temperature conditions suggest the spawn is near, Ponds heads for spawning flats. In Barnett, that usually means areas about 3-feet deep filled with lotus pads. When he finds an area that he thinks may hold bass, he drops the Power Poles and sits motionless, scanning the area for bass moving or maybe baitfish fleeing. The sit-and-wait may last 15 minutes. “The bass know when you pull into their home. “ The stealth game, Ponds reasons, is to allow the bass to go back their normal activities and reveal themselves. When he sees sign of bass activity, he push poles to within casting range. He then fan casts the activity area with a Bandit Footloose. Cast. Five cranks with the reel. Let the Footloose sit for 5 seconds. Then five more cranks, followed by 5 seconds sitting. Active bass will usually crush this surface presentation. Expect to catch multiple bass from the area where you saw activity.

Plan B: If the Bandit isn’t producing or the bite dies after catching several bass, Ponds plies the water with a Yum Dinger rigged weightless on a 4/0 or 5/0 hook. Slow fishing? Yes, but you know there are bass in the area because you saw them move.

Pro pointer: Ponds is a true believer in stealth. “Confidence is 90% of catching bass,” confides Ponds. “If there are bass in the area and I can get to them without spooking them, I can catch them.” Turn off your depth finders, use a push pole, be silent and watchful. “Bass not only hear noises, but they can ‘feel’ them with the lateral line.”

West Point Lake, Alabama/Georgia

This 35-mile long Chattahoochee River reservoir near LaGrange, Georgia provides a protracted pre-spawn to spawn fishing season, and Bassmaster Open pro Curtis Reeves provides the intel to help you maximize your catch throughout March and April.

Plan A: The bass spawn starts on the south (downlake) end. “Check the primary and secondary points where bass congregate,” advises Reeves. The points vary from gravel and chunk rock to clay. The clay points will warm up faster, and Reeves recommends fishing the sunny banks. “A lot of presentations will work, so fish your strength.” Reeves opts for a Bomber Model A size 7A, relying on shad colors in clear water, fire tiger or red if the water is muddy. If the crankbait bite isn’t happening, Reeves fishes a Texas-rigged YUM Dinger either weightless or with a 1/32-ounce weight; green pumpkin or June bug are good colors. Reeves likes his crankbait to be bumping bottom. Where the water is too deep, try a Carolina-rigged YUM Llizard.

Plan B: As the water warms, Reeves moves to the north end of the lake and fishes the secondary points in west-side creeks like Wehadkee, Stroud, and Vesey. Apply the presentations in Plan A.

Plan C:  When the water warms into the high 50s, Reeves expects the bass to be up on the flats and in the stump fields in the backs of pockets. A Bomber Model A and square bill crankbaits are good search baits. The stained water in the pockets off of Yellowjacket Creek is a good place to find a lunker.

Plan D: Fish the points and backs of pockets off the Chattahoochee River. Expect to find the bass in the back of pockets.

Pro pointer: Have confidence in what you are throwing. Reeves likes a subtle noise in the spring. To increase his confidence, he inserts a small glass rattle in his soft baits. Experience is a great teacher.