“Staging bass in early spring” Catching bass is what makes us get up on bitterly cold and frosty morning to head out into the unknown in search of those green fish we love so much – John Badenhorst
Catching bass is what makes us get up on bitterly cold and frosty morning to head out into the unknown in search of those green fish we love so much. Catching bass, to some might be easy but spend some time with someone that you regard as a good angler and soon you will come to realize that it’s not simply about catching fish, it’s about hours spent in practice, research and months and even years of honing those skills.
It takes practice and patience to understand bass and their behaviour in relation to changing seasons, temperature, barometric pressure, water clarity and volume. There is most definitely also an element of luck involved but as legendary golfer Gary Player once said...”the more I practice, the luckier I get”.
The more time you spend on the water or walking the bank, the better you’ll become at bass fishing and finding someone that’s already spent the time and effort to figure some things out AND who is willing to share their knowledge is worth its weight in gold.
In winter, the baitfish slow down due to colder temperatures and so will the fish that hunt them. In some cases it’s best to mimic a baitfish in distress caused by a sudden drop in pressure or temperature and here, suspending twitch minnows worked super slowly can produce good quality fish. Bass become lethargic during cold snaps and will in most cases not even bother to chase a prey that seems like it might get away from it. Chasing a baitfish depletes energy reserves and in the colder months, it’s all about preserving that energy. When retrieving a suspending
bait, slow down to what you would perceive as slow and then slow it down even more. With soft plastics, a host of anglers have great success simply letting the bait fall to the bottom and then leaving it there “dead stick” for up to a minute and then giving it a slight twitch.
Using weightless baits also produce good results as the bait falls through the body of water way slower than you’d normally fish it even with a small sliding weight.
Fishing a drop-shot works like magic and here, the idea is to have your weight sitting on the bottom while your bait is suspended a few inches above. Lifting the rod tip just enough to move the bait without lifting the sinker off the bottom and then letting it drop again in order for the bait to fall a few inches is what usually triggers a strike.
With jigs or the Ned rigs, the idea is to gently lift the bait off the bottom by no more than two inches at a time and even tiny little tap-tap movements right on the bottom and pauses in-between will drive bass crazy. For football jigs, drop-shot and the mentioned Ned rig, it is advisable to have a short spinning rod with a rather flexible tip which will allow you to move the bait enticingly without lifting it too high and out of the strike zone.
Moving into spring or as us anglers know this time of year as the prespawn, bass will stage and by this, I want you to imagine the shore line... the shallows start to warm up and on good days, male fish will move up into the shallow to hunt and to start checking out possible spots for some nookie later in the season. These fish will not hang out permanently in the shallows as the temperature still drops during the night and would rather prefer to be in a more comfortable zone where wind and ambient temperature does not make a big difference. Most of these fish will be found in and around the 10 to 14ft range and will move shallower during the warmer hours of the day. When a sudden cold snap hits, these fish will hold tight up against structure like a brush pile, rock pile, sunken jetty or such, it affords them protection from the elements and will attract baitfish for exactly the same reason and this is where our friend the bass will ambush his dinner.
As waters warm up even more, scores of randy males will move into shallows to eat and sort out their bedroom arrangements for the party to come. Females will also move around feeding and checking out possible suitors for the next generation. On a recent trip to Witbank Dam, we were confronted with average water temperatures of around 12ºC and having heard that some anglers had in fact been struggling to get fish only a few days before, we didn’t get our hopes up too much. The morning started average and we managed to get a few solid fish as the day grew warmer. We mostly fished what we would term as a staging area in around 9 to 12ft of water. Usual
haunts during winter like the hump in goose bay didn’t produce a single bite, even on the ever popular drop-shot method. After scouting around for a while, we managed to find an area comfortably situated between two weedbeds with a nice little rocky ledge about 4m towards the deeper water. On the first cast I went on with a fish of around 1.2kg and from that point on, the bite was constant. Some bites were ever so gentle that the slightest tension on the line would cause the fish to drop the bait but some of the other bites almost ripped the rod out of my hands. We ended up with a total of forty fish for our efforts for the day and although we didn’t get the bigger fish, we did manage a five fish bag weight of around 5.6kg. The previous week, we fished Bronkhorstspruit Dam and where we had found fish of around 1.5 to 2.6kg barely four days earlier, we couldn’t pay for a bite and after many frustrating hours of casting as if we were fishing in the desert, we decided to work the areas right up against the reeds and very quickly figured a pattern as we managed to get some solid fish but nothing over 1kg. On both these outings, it shows how fish tend to move around as the days grow warmer and where you thought the fish might be holding has been vacated.
Crabs form a massive part of the bass diet at this time as the crab shell has a chemical called cithin which helps males with sperm production and helps females produce the protective layer around their eggs. Using crab imitation baits and
small jigs or soft plastics in light browns, Junebug and amber works best as these are “crabby” colours and fish will be locked into this. Over the last decade, many anglers have experienced how intensely those little green fish can be locked onto a certain pattern or colour and will flatly ignore any other offering.
Well, soon our pre-spawn season will be upon us and I’m sure that you’re looking forward to it as much as I am. Until then, remember, it is still winter so slow it down and then even more... and be patient because the next bite you have might just be a sought after PB or trophy.
Using crab imitation baits and small jigs or soft plastics
Gently lift the Ned rig off the bottom by no more than two inches at a time