If you're anything like me, you've been itching to get your boat out on one of our local lakes. The water is finally warming up to the point where the fish are actively feeding and seeking forage. Despite not being able to actively target bass during the spring months in previous years, DEC now allows catch and release Largemouth Bass year round, as long as you are using artificial lures and not live bait. Certain bodies of water may have special regulations, so as a general guideline, always be sure to check them for your specific lake before you head out. The majority of bass fishermen tend to catch and release year round anyway, but being allowed to target Largemouth Bass in spring provides an angler with the chance to catch a true monster.
Like many fishermen, I always find the first few weeks of ice out to be a difficult, but rewarding time to target bass. I tend to start searching for Largemouth Bass in early spring around the same areas that I was catching them in the fall. In the fall they always seem to be schooled up in two different areas; these areas being deeper weed beds and drop offs. What I mean by deeper weed beds is weed clumps in 12-15’ of water, instead of the 3-8’ weed beds that fish can hold on in the summer. Most of us have a favorite lake that we fish, so we usually know all the specific details about it. In the lakes that I fish, like Saratoga Lake and Lake Lonely, I know which weed beds will die off in the winter and which weed beds remain and hold fish all year. Knowing where these healthy weeds are can make a huge difference in finding fish. Weed beds that stay healthy all winter will always hold baitfish, so there is a certain population of bass that never moves far away from those areas.
The bass will be lethargic from the cold water so I always do well on slow moving presentations. My top choices would be a deep crankbait, a deep suspending jerkbait, and sometimes a simple 3/8oz swimbait head with a 3” white swimbait. Deep diving crankbaits do well this time of year because you can reach the deeper fish and slow roll your presentation. Largemouth Bass will not want to expend much energy when feeding, but at the same time won’t turn down an easy meal. I will also tend to use a jerkbait designed to reach depths of more than 12 feet, which can target those fish feeding in the deeper weed beds and on drop offs. I always make sure that when I'm working my presentations this time of year, I give them extremely long pauses to make up for the lethargic nature of the fish. When fish are schooled up in fall, I tend to catch them on white swimbaits as they are feeding hard on baitfish before winter. So there are also times in early spring where I will go back to the same areas where fish were schooled up in fall, and catch them again on the same swimbaits.
As we begin to get some warmer weather days, temperature then plays a huge role as far as finding fish goes. When the water begins to reach the mid forties, the spots that are a few degrees warmer than the rest of the lake will hold more fish. You want to target the shallower areas of the lake you're fishing that have a darker colored bottom, because these are the areas that will warm up the fastest. The fish will begin moving into their pre-spawn patterns and will actively search out the warmest water. Largemouth Bass will eventually spawn at these spots when the water is warm enough; this usually happens around Mid to late May. Although not every fish tends to move into these areas immediately, this is where I consistently find the biggest and most active Largemouth Bass.
Crayfish will also begin to emerge from their winter hibernation under the mud and provide easy meals for spring bass. A key factor about crayfish this time of year is their coloration and behavior. Once the water hits the upper forties and low fifties, the male crayfish emerge first and begin seeking out their mates. This makes them an easy target for hungry largemouth bass. They tend to turn reddish in the spring when they first begin molting. Molting occurs when a crayfish sheds its old shell in exchange for a larger new one, which happens a few times a year. This molted, soft shell crayfish, will have a reddish appearance until its shell darkens. Some people also believe they can obtain a red tint in the spring due to the clay environment they were burrowed in all winter. Both factors allow bass to actively seek out that bright red color in the springtime. Not every lake seems to have “bright red” crayfish, but I’ve still found the color red to be key in spring. The warmest water in the lake will most likely be murky, so the color red shows up well. To match the hatch I will throw red lures that imitate a fleeing crayfish. These include craw colored squarebills, lipless crankbaits, jigs, and chatterbaits. If red colored lures don’t end up producing for you, two other staple colors to throw are white and black/blue. Black and Blue produces year round for me and excels in the muddier waters around us. Then white is always a good color to imitate a baitfish and will work in all water conditions.
Although we can now target Largemouth Bass year round, it is still our job as sportsmen to be extremely careful when handling these fish this time of year. They are pre-spawn and will soon be spawning in shallow water, so it is imperative that these fish are released healthy. This is also a great time of year for fishermen that do not have access to a boat, because the fish can be caught casting close to shore. If you do want to experience fishing from a boat, Lake Lonely Water Sports is a great, affordable solution, to get you and your family out on the water. They offer Jon boat and kayak rentals every day of the week on Lake Lonely. I always refer to Lake Lonely as the “hidden gem” of Saratoga, due to its phenomenal fishing and tranquil surroundings. I will also be booking fishing trips for Lake Lonely, Saratoga Lake, and Lake George for those who want a more guided fishing experience.