Prespawn and spawning bass enter a phase will they will NOT chase down a horizontal presentation. What was the “ticket” a week earlier, is suddenly so widely ignored you wonder if they’ve all gone somewhere else.
It happens to me every spring, often on several different occasions. I will be doing really well with a “reaction” bite…crankbaits, spinnerbaits…something moving horizontally. I’ll get it in my head that I know what’s going on and won’t even gear up for something else. I’ve even left that “other” stuff at home. Then, despite everything being “right” (weather, temperature, water clarity) my reaction bite disappears. I often come up with many insightful and analytical excuses. But I’ll miss the simple fact that the bass haven’t left – they simply have no reason to. But their mood and focus have changed.
My thinking on this is that one of the stages of the prespawn is when bass first start roaming and becoming territorial. Although they may not be feeding heavily you can get them to react to what they can see/find. Hence the early spring success that can often be had with reaction baits – crankbaits, spinnerbaits, swim jigs and bladed jigs.
Then many (most?) of the bass in that given group or population, especially the males, will begin to really narrow down their focus and set up residence on a spawning location. They enter another stage of the prespawn. This is the immediate prespawn. You wouldn’t necessarily characterize them as being “on beds” but very near and some of the bed-making of these males has begun. I don’t believe all the bass in a given zip code are doing this at the same time, but when talking about a section of the lake or river, it’s common to see many of the bass entering the same phase at the same time.
Scratching the Bottom
This is when something that is worked on the bottom through the whole retrieve instead of just now and then begins to shine. Many baits will fit this niche. In fact, it’s often the style of jighead or weight that is just as important as what you decide to dress the hook with.
One of my favorites, especially for smallmouth, is the venerable ‘ol tube. Some still refer to it as a “Gitzit”, but more most it is simply the “Tube”. While many are very anal about the colors, even getting down to specific kinds of flake or glitter, I’ve found the weight of the jighead and the technique of the retrieve the most important factors.
Keep in Touch
The most critical part of working the bottom is to really be aware of what you are throwing to and what you are feeling. There are many aspects to this. As always, it starts with awareness of what is where. There is a lot of “dead” water this time of year and randomly searching will be inefficient. I must confess, part of my love affair with reaction baits in the prespawn is really part of an old habit to search for the right bottom composition and doing that with a slow-moving bait was too trying on my patience. Knowing exactly how things lay out on the bottom allows me to have the confidence to work a bottom bait precisely.
- Study your maps. Google Earth, paper maps, Bing Maps, whatever you can get access to. Today, it’s possible to make your own maps which is often necessary as many locations are not well mapped.
Learn how to interpret a hard bottom from a soft bottom on your sonar. Each unit can be a little different and is dependent on your settings. Take the fifteen minutes to see what your unit shows you over a know rock/hard bottom. Set it up so it shows up distinctly to you vs a soft bottom.
- Take advantage of side imaging/side scan technology. It takes some time/effort to learn how to use these tools in less than 8 feet of water.
- Use a braided mainline (with a section of fluorocarbon leader material attached) to help you feel. A braided main line and a modestly priced rod will detect more than spending a fortune for a top of the line rod and using mono, copolymer or even fluorocarbon line will.
- Use at least one size heavier weight than you would normally use for that depth. I’ll normally use 1/4 -5/16 oz. for those 2-6′ depths this time of year. In windy conditions, 3/8 oz may be necessary even in this shallow of water.
- Using a tungsten weight where your weight is in direct contact with the bottom (drop shotting, Caroling rigging, football heads, etc.) will telegraph things better. It’s also more expensive.
- Learn how to distinguish between mud, sand, gravel, river rock, boulders and basalt with the rod and reel in your hand. This just takes time and experience with what different bottom compositions feel like with your equipment.
- Keep your bait moving but also maintaining bottom contact. This often takes a combination of crawling, shaking, pullings, and popping to keep things moving along while still engaging with what is down there.
The goal is to know generally how the bottom lays out, then use the proper equipment to feel and work through exactly what is down there to trigger a territorial response. I like to think of the technique as “scratching”.