By Bill Dance

I’m a pretty upbeat guy when it comes to almost anything related to fish and fishing. That’s why folks are flabbergasted when I turn curmudgeonly when it comes to spring.

I hate it!

Okay, maybe I don’t really hate it, but I certainly don’t bring that unconditional love to spring bass fishing that most fishermen seem to do.

Why? You can dial in on bass behavior and patterns when conditions are stable, but about the only thing that “stable” and “spring” have in common is the same first letter.
wee craw
To hear many fishermen tell it, every bass on the continent takes up shallow residence in early spring, and they’re easy pickings. Hogwash!

Where I live in Tennessee, a weather system moves through every 36 hours on average. Typically, that translates into two cloudy days followed by a sunny day. The sunny day is characterized by a high-pressure system. Bass positioned deep are affected very little. Not so with those that have moved shallow.

No, bass don’t move suddenly from 5 feet of water to 30-foot depths. Nor do the bass at 30 feet immediately rush to 5 feet when conditions are favorable. But I can guarantee you that the shallow fish will be more affected by a pressure change.

So during this transition period from late winter through the early spring prespawn period, I won’t arrive at Rebel Lake with just an assortment of squarebill crankbaits and other shallow-running baits.  I’ll be prepared to fish some deep-water patterns, too.

Late Winter/Spring Transition
I will prepare for three different patterns on any lake in late winter – at least one each for shallow, deep and suspended fish.

The lower end of the lake – near the dam – is normally deep and clear, and bass tend to position themselves in 18 to 22 feet of water, though sometimes at just 15 or 16 feet. I can catch these fish jigging a Cordell C.C. Spoon.

I find bass in the upper creek arms in 3 to 5 feet of off-color water, and I often will catch them slow cranking. Here bass are pushing shad up in the water column and even close to the bank. A stop-and-go retrieve with one of the five Rebel Crawfish crankbaits or a Crank-R may trigger them. The age-old Rebel Minnow might work, too.

When a cold front hits, that shallow pattern ends for a day or two.

The shallow-running Bomber Flat A will catch bass feeding on shad that have moved shallow, but surprisingly it will catch bass suspended in deep water as well. I make a long cast with the Flat A, crank it, stop it, twitch it – work it just like a twitch bait. I may fish it with a spinning rod spooled with 6- to 8-lb test to get better depth.
I can catch bass on a jerkbait or a Rebel Tracdown Minnow, too. I prefer slow-moving presentations the majority of the time in winter. Slow presentations produce more strikes than ripping the bait for me.

Dead-sticking works when it is super cold. The Tracdown Minnow sinks gradually but slowly. I will cast and let it fall, counting “1…and 2….and 3,” sometimes up to a “7” count. The strike won’t be hard. Often I will just see the line twitch.

Let me repeat: prespawn is the worst time of year for me because the weather is so unpredictable.

Hard-bottom areas on the north shore will be the first to warm. Bass will choose the largest form of cover available: wood, logs, stumps, even vegetation. Those areas will draw bass and food.

But, bass movements to the shallows are sometimes tentative. Cold fronts are a big turnoff. Some fish – not all -- will high-tail it to the first breakline if a cold front hits, and they may hang there until the barometric pressure stabilizes and the water warms before returning shallow.

Water temperature and clarity are extremely important at this time of year. Stained and murky water warms faster than clear water. And slightly warmer water will attract fish.

Bass prefer slow-moving “eye contact” lures like lizards, tubes, grubs and worms during the prespawn, and I fish these lures with the lightest slip sinker I can fish effectively. I may also slow-roll a spinnerbait or fish a jig with a plastic trailer.

I will also work a Rebel Crawfish crankbait slowly, then stop it…reel slowly…and stop again... I experiment with different sizes of this bait series as well.

Lengthening days mean longer hours of increasingly high sun and generally warming temperatures. Once night temperatures stay above the 45- to 50-degree mark for three or four nights with daytime temperatures running 20 to 25 degrees warmer, we will see a positive and noticeable difference in bass activity, especially in shallow water.
Many fishermen believe that the shallowest water warms the quickest, but this notion is misleading. Areas that warm most rapidly will be protected areas – pockets, coves and other such shielded spots on the north and northwest end of most lakes.

Remember that bass activity is principally a function of water temperature, and bass can detect extremely small differences in temperature.

A cold north wind will chill the surface water and push it to the south shore. Warm south winds will warm the north shore. I will monitor the angle of the wind, too. A warm wind from the southeast might increase the water temperature in the northwest arm by three to six degrees or more.

Like I said, this is a crazy time of year to fish. So many patterns come into play, and so much of our success depends on timing.

Pay attention to weather and water conditions, and be prepared to make adjustments.

See you on the water…and catch one for me!