JEFF KNAPP: Early spring is good time for bass
A look back over my fishing logs reveals that most years my best day for big numbers of big river smallmouth bass happens in early spring. Many times ice is still flushing from the river.
WEATHER: Not surprisingly, weather plays a big role in early-season river smallmouth fishing success. Ideally, what you’re looking for is a warming trend — a period of consecutive days of sunny, stable weather. Two days can trigger some action, but three or four days can really get them going. It doesn’t have to be radically warm. Highs in the 50s will do it, particularly if there’s plenty of sun, just enough warmth to raise water temperatures into the low 40s, the level that spurs smallies into action following a winter of relative inactivity.
While the first warm spell of the spring often equates into an outstanding day or two, this isn’t to say it’s a black-and-white situation. Throughout the early spring period there are windows of smallmouth activity, followed by spells of inactivity, sport that closely follows the swings of the weather pendulum. This pattern continues until the spring weather stabilizes, water temperatures warm up and stay warm and the fish move into their pre-spawn patterns.
Naturally, rivers are subject to dramatic rises that blow out any chance for productive fishing. Typically, though, such high-water events occur a bit later in the spring, usually later in April.
SMALLMOUTH BASS LOCATION: By the time a river cools down into the low 40s during late fall, river smallmouth bass will have moved into areas that furnish the correct habitat to see them through the winter months. These “wintering holes” feature fairly deep water with little to no current. Come spring, river bass will be in the same basic areas.
Wintering holes — which in most cases are the same spots winter anglers catch walleyes, northern pike and muskies — are found below barriers that block the river’s force, such as islands and shoreline points. Shoreline points often exist at the mouths of feeder streams, the result of rock and gravel washing into the river over the years.
Deep holes on outside river bends also have the potential to hold smallmouth bass at this time of year, particularly if the shoreline includes extensive submerged rocky areas, which forms slackwater pockets in which bass will hold.
Another key area is a rocky flat located downriver of an incoming stream. Since many wintering holes are formed by gravel bars at creek mouths, it’s a common scenario to have a shallow flat extending from the point out into deeper water. Shallow flats proximate to wintering holes often provide the perfect situation.
CATCHING THEM: Basically, your approach should be two-fold: jig-type lures for semi-active fish that won’t move for a bait, but will bite one if the opportunity comes by; and minnow-shaped baits for more aggressive bass that are on the hunt for food.
Jig-style choices include the classic twister-tail jig, the tube jig and natural hair jigs.
Twister-tails in the 3- or 3?-inch range, coupled with a leadhead jig of one-eighth-, three-sixteenths- or a quarter-ounce is a basic setup every early-spring angler should have rigged. The same can be said for the tube jig, rigged with insert style jigheads in the same weight range.
One of the biggest thrills of river smallie fishing at this time of year is taking them on minnow baits, more specifically suspending jerkbaits. While hard-bodied jerkbaits in the 4- to 5-inch range can take bass along the edge of wintering holes, the perfect spot for them is over those shallow rocky flats — say 3 to 6 feet deep — close to the hole. Especially toward the end of a sunny day, when the water temperature has climbed a couple degrees, smallies will stack up on flats and crush a jerkbait.
Fish the lure with gentle jerks, then lengthy pauses — some as long as 10 seconds. Nearly all of the hits will happen on the pause.
[PHOTO: Dave Lockard showed off a brace of Allegheny River smallmouth bass before he released them during an early-spring outing. Jeff Knapp/Gazette photo]