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 2017 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.

Bass 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

Flat (spawning flat): a shallow, relatively flat area, usually with relatively hard bottom where the bass spawn. Vegetation may or may not be present.

Pockets: shallow areas off the main lake or at the back of coves where bass spawn. They might be just a dent in the shoreline or a cove only 100 yards long or 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.

Transition area: where the habitat changes from one habitat to another. For spawning bass, transition areas are usually the change from deeper water to a shallow spawning area.

Fayette County Lake, Texas; Pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn

Half way between Austin and Houston is a 2,400 acre power plant lake that from now through March has largemouth bass in all phases of the spawn. Your guide to Fayette County is NASA engineer and local tournament stick Derek Herring. Herring was quick to point out that this mid-size reservoir is not a lunker factory, but “it is an awesome lake for 3-6 pounders, and 50-bass days are common.” 

Plan A: Pre-spawn and post-spawn bass.

Herring searches timber, drop-offs, and hydrilla and coontail weedlines close to spawning flats for both pre-spawn and post spawn fish. He relies on 100 and 200 Bandits in Chartreuse Shad to tempt the feisty bass.

Plan B: Spawning bass.

The slightly murky water of Fayette County prevents sight fishing, and, in Herring’s words, “If you can see the bed you are probably too close.” Herring blind casts Texas-rigged or Carolina-rigged Lizards in likely spawning areas — flats, weedy areas in the back of coves and shallow areas on points with reeds. Herring usually opts for natural colors and favors red bug and green pumpkin in the warm-water bass factory, but doesn’t hesitate to mix it up with something gaudy and off the wall, like purple with a pink tail. “Use the lightest weight you can get away with to avoid stirring the bottom,” advises the pro. “Pay attention to your lure. Even with light weight you can feel the bait drop into a bass bed.”

Pro’s pointer: Fish fluorocarbon to get more strikes.

Lake Marion, South Carolina; Pre-spawn

About 80 miles north of Charleston is Lake Marion, the upper of the twin reservoirs often referred to as Santee Cooper Reservoir. Although billed by many as an on again-off again lake, Marion is a consistent producer and favored destination for Team Polebender Fishing Adventures proprietor and regional tournament competitor Scott Peavy. If the sun is up, Peavy is on the water. His strategy for pre-spawn Marion bass is clockwork.

Plan A

In the morning, Peavy will be swimming a Bling or Sunset Craw BOOYAH Hard Knocker lipless crankbait and Chartreuse and White ½ ounce BOOYAH Tux and Tails spinnerbait over the numerous “hard ridges.” The hard ridges are shallow areas (usually 3 to 4 feet deep) off the bank surrounded by deeper water (often 8-to-11 feet deep); 4-to-6 feet deep is generally the most productive depth. If the water is clear, fish an Emerald Shiner Smithwick Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue.

Plan B

At 10 o’clock, Peavy stows his casting rods and pulls out his pitching stick. “For the rest of the day, I’m looking for three or four big bites,” declared the successful guide. Peavy pitches a 3/8 ounce BOOYAH Bankroll Jig dressed with either a Christie Craw or a YUM Chunk around cypress trees. Black/Blue is the default color, but Peavy switches to Green Pumpkin when he finds clear water around vegetation or over depressions in the bottom

Pro’s pointer: Use fluorocarbon line — it’s clear, sensitive, and you’ll get more bites .

Toledo Bend, Texas; Pre-spawn

This massive, cover-rich, and productive southeast Texas impoundment was veteran FLW Tour pro Pete Ponds’ pick for where to go in late February and early March. The lake is repeatedly stocked with Florida bass and produces ample double-digit largemouth; pre-spawn is prime time to catch them.

Plan A

“Fish transition areas outside spawning pockets in coves,” recommends Ponds. “Good spawning areas will have hard bottom. Back out from these areas to areas or bands of hydrilla and fish the inside edge of the hydrilla.” Ponds favorite way to fish these edges is a weightless wacky rigged YUM Dinger on a small Gamakatsu circle hook fished with braid and a 6-to-8 pound fluorocarbon leader. “Let the bait free fall to the bottom. I’ve had 40-50 fish days and bass up to 8 pounds with the Dinger,” testified Ponds. Ponds opts for Green Pumpkin but switches to Watermelon Seed if the water is clear.

The veteran pro mixes it up with a Bandit Footloose over the grass and along the inside edge. When I asked color, Ponds mentioned Tennessee Shad but emphasized that presentation is more important than color. “Use a stop and go retrieve —10 cranks, pause 2 seconds. Repeat.”

Plan B

There are also spawning flats in the main lake. These are hard-bottom areas that rise to about 4-feet deep. Work the grass with a Rayburn red or Toledo gold BOOYAH Hard Knocker. “Retrieve the Hard Knocker to tick the hydrilla and snap it free. This pattern generally produces bigger bass,” said Ponds

Pro’s pointer: Pre-spawn bass often bunch up. Note exactly where you caught the fish. Then make repeat casts to that exact spot.

Lake of the Arbuckles, Oklahoma; Pre-spawn

This scenic, 2,350 acre lake in southern Oklahoma has abundant, quality largemouth. Smallmouth are few but big. FLW Tour young gun Zack Birge, your guide for this lake, predicts Lake of the Arbuckles will produce the next state record smallmouth. The bass are pre-spawn. Here’s how the young pro catches them.

Plan A

Look for transition areas—small, shallow pockets where the bass will spawn with deep water nearby. Many of these areas are next to little points on bluff walls. The clear water provides excellent conditions for a jerkbait, and Birge opts for a Chrome/Blue Back Smithwick Elite 8 Rogue. He mixes it up with a football jig with a craw trailer; peanut butter and jelly is a good color. “Focus on 8 to 15 feet, but move shallower later in the day,” advised Birge.

Plan B

When I asked Birge what to do if Plan A isn’t working he replied, “Go to the diner and come back later. The transition area pattern can produce all day, but I’ve had days when nothing happened all morning and then I put 25 pounds of bass in the boat in a few minutes. Right time, right place. Keep at it, move around.”

Pro’s pointer:  Don’t be afraid to downsize your line. “In clear water, I’ll go as light as 8 pound for a jerkbait and use a spinning rod, and use 12 pound fluorocarbon for the jig,” said Birge