By Chad Hoover
The morning air stings my cheeks. My dew-soaked kayak is cold and uninviting. I take my time setting up the fishfinder and rod holders. In a few short moments the sun will crest the treetops. The warmth will make the morning paddle more bearable.
It's that indeterminate time between late winter and early spring. Many anglers wait for this transition phase to pass before setting out in search of the first bass of the year. I find this time the most exciting. The personal watercraft are still covered and stored, the boat ramps are vacant, tackle shops aren't crowded, and the water is all yours.
My attention turns to the sound of scuffling feet approaching from the darkest part of the parking lot. A grizzled voice breaks the silence before the figure comes into full focus. "There's a lot of water roun' here. You fishing this big ol' lake in that thang?" the voice asks. "I reck'n you gone getcha a workout t'day!"
In an awkward silence, the man awaits a response. He motions over his shoulder to an old johnboat protruding from the bed of a battered pickup truck. "That's my rig o'var there," he says unnecessarily. No one else is within miles.
I tie on the morning's initial lures, convinced the stranger believes I'm about to paddle all over the lake looking for fish—as if I had a johnboat with an outboard. Finally, he blurts the question: "How far are you paddling?"
My answer: "All the way to the fish!" And no farther.
Early spring bass fishing is equal parts rewarding, magical, and perplexing. My approach is straightforward and paradoxical. I don't look for fish until I find them.
First, I search pre-spawn transition areas. This approach results in a few fruitless trips, but ensures that I am in the right place at the right time when the big girls start to move to the shallows, feed aggressively and behave predictably.
Of all the reasons that the pre-spawn is my favorite time of year—lack of crowds, conditions that allow caught bass to recover quickly, aggressive fish that play to my power-fishing strengths—the most important is the chance to learn. Targeting staging fish makes you a better fisherman. During pre-spawn, you will identify staging areas, travel corridors, structural changes, and cover—a wealth of data. It pays huge dividends through the summer. As winter approaches, you can play these patterns in reverse, benefiting again.
ON THE EDGE
Fish the edges. Advice to fish edges, drops, and contours is not groundbreaking. However, for kayak anglers that have limited range and mobility, making smart choices is critical. The real decisions should have been made before you got there.
When selecting a launch site, destination, and technique, consult your fishing journals, read fishing reports, and evaluate credible tips from fellow anglers.
Considerations should include distance to potentially productive areas, time on station, and conditions at the destination upon arrival.
In early spring, you are searching for staging fish, which typically position themselves in places that provide easy access to three things: forage, spawning grounds, and deep water, where they can shelter from severe weather. To find these areas, I start with known spawning grounds and work my way back, looking for likely structural changes that will position fish. Remember, for the most part, structure positions fish and cover holds them. After developing a tentative gameplan, I begin with some real-world recon. I look for structural elements such as depth contours, points, secondary points, channels, creeks and ditches, and then determine which of those areas also have cover. Cross-referencing structure and cover gives me a few "on-the-spot" locations to watch, and determine when the fish have moved in.
BREAK IT DOWN
After defining several key areas worthy of my initial efforts, I employ a simplistic approach to narrow it down to the most productive real estate. Three lures make up my find-the-fish strategy: lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits and Carolina Rigged soft plastics. I use the lipless cranks to search the upper two-thirds of the water column, then fine-tune that area with the spinnerbaits, especially when the fish are holding at a predictable depth. I scour the bottom with the Carolina rig.
The lipless crank is the most important bait in my arsenal during the pre-spawn. Its vibration is irresistible to aggressive fish looking to put on spawning weight.
The Carolina rig is one of the easiest and most overlooked methods to find fish during almost any season. It can be fished effectively at most depths. By adjusting lure size, color, surface area, hook size, and buoyancy, you can alter the performance of this rig to offer numerous presentations. It is not a mindless drag-along-the-bottom presentation if you use some imagination and creativity.
Hold Your Ground
Pre-spawn weather is unpredictable and potentially irritating. When holding position to make pinpoint presentations is critical, an anchor trolley is indispensible. Use it in conjunction with any number of stay-put or slow-down tools such as stakeout poles, bush hooks, anchors, and drift chutes. If you can hold position, you can make the incremental presentations required to fully cover areas suspected to hold big fish.
— For Chad Hoover, kayak fishing for bass—black, striped or even sea-going—is equal parts obsession and profession. He hosts 'Kayak Bassin with Chad Hoover,' seen on WFN, and runs KayakBassFishing.com, a resource for freshwater small craft anglers. Hoover is the owner of Hook1 Kayak Fishing Gear.