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Written by Mike Folkestad   
Saturday, 05 March 2011 04:49

The first warm days of each year that offer hints of spring tend to get fishermen fired up. However, we're not the only ones affected by the shifting seasons. With sunshine and southerly winds warming the water, bass begin moving out of the depths with the spawn in mind.

When water temperatures in 56- to 58-degree range are accompanied by strings of sunny days--which typically occurs in February along the Southern California coast, early March on desert lakes like Mead and Havasu and later in more northerly climes--the earliest spawners begin moving up. The biggest females in the lake generally are the first to arrive, and anytime we get sunny weather this time of year, I'll start looking for them.

Remember, though, the bass will drop back from the bank if a cool-weather system moves through, especially in the desert lakes. But they will come right back up with a couple more sunny days.

Concerning Coves

On the desert lakes, which cool down much more during the winter than do the coastal lakes, I always begin looking for spawning fish in northern coves. In addition to receiving more sunlight, northern coves get the most benefit from warm, southerly winds. The combined effect is reverse, and the desert lakes now warm more quickly. In coastal lakes, any cove that's somewhat protected from the wind, but gets plenty of sunlight, is apt to have some early spawners in it.

Within coves, I look for a few different things. First, I seek flats that have the right bottom composition. Bass prefer to spawn over hard bottoms like gravel or sand, as opposed to mud or silt, and they like a flat with some stick-ups, stumps, rocks or other cover scattered over it. I also look for little cuts off a main cove, which might be affected by southerly winds that warm the whole cove, but are protected from most direct winds.

The biggest fish, which usually spawn first, typically establish their beds a little deeper than the smaller fish that spawn later. During the first part of the spawn, for example, I expect to find beds mostly in the 5- to 15-foot range, but I've seen them spawn as deep as 20 feet. As the water gets up around 60 degrees and the spawn hits full force, I'll do more looking in the 2- to 5-foot range.

Water clarity also affects spawning depths. In general, the clearer the water, the deeper the bass will spawn. In addition, the big fish that spawn first seem to like to have deep water nearby, which probably provides them an added measure of security.

Of course, experience is a good teacher on any given lake. The same elements that make an area good for early spawning one year, make it a good area the following year, so fish will be in many of the same spots year after year.

Silent Approach

If I'm looking for beds, I first want to get a good idea of what the bottom looks like in an area. Due to factors like water color and bottom makeup, every lake will have its own distinct "look." Once I have a good idea what things look like, I start searching for any shiny spot I can identify. It could be a big, round opening that you couldn't miss if you tried, or it could be just a few shiny rocks about the size of half-dollars.

I look especially hard for beds around cover, and between pieces of cover. If a couple bushes are four or five feet apart, a bass is likely to spawn right between them. The bushes provide the fish cover to flee, without having to stray far from the bed.

When I search for beds, I try to work with the sun behind my back as much as possible. This way, any fish wanting to see me is forced to look into the sun. At the same time, it makes it far easier for me to see under the water. I'm also careful not to wear anything flashy, or wave a fishing rod, if I even think I might be near spawning fish. Basically, keep quiet and avoid sudden movements.

I'll also be extremely careful about how I operate the boat. I'd much prefer to approach a bed with the trolling motor on a slow, steady setting, than kick it on and off, or have to switch it to reverse when I get close to a fish. Actually, the best way to approach a really big fish in shallow water is with a push pole.

Believe me, it doesn't take much to spook a really big fish, especially in very clear water. Sure, the 3- or 4-pounders don't spook nearly as easily, but they aren't the fish I'm after this time of the year!

Finding good spawning coves, then catching the bigger fish that inhabit them, takes practice. But once you start focusing on likely areas and getting a feel for the "look" of the bottom, you'll spend less time searching and more time catching. Which is what spring fishing is all about.


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