Bass fishing in spring and early summer

Eric Davis

Mayhood's Sporting Goods

Submitted Photo

CHENANGO COUNTY – Growing up in the southern Finger Lakes region – just outside of Watkins Glen – I always looked forward to the summer months when I didn’t have to go to school and I could go fishing.

For the first 10 years of my life I spent the majority of my time fishing with my grandfather in his trolling boat. Getting up early to be ready when he got there, stopping at the tackle shop to look for anything we might need, fishing and then going to Curly’ restaurant for lunch. The prefect day for any young boy.

Once I hit my teenage years, I started to bass fish more and more thanks to my friend and his three brothers.

During the summer between eighth and ninth grade, I ran into Todd (friend) in Walmart one day in the fishing aisle and talked fishing with him for a bit. We had played soccer together as six or seven year old's, and were in the same grade but never realized that each other were into fishing.

A few days after our encounter, he called my mom’s house and asked if I wanted to come to his family’s dairy farm to fish a couple ponds that had bass in them. A couple hours later his mom came and picked me up after running errands and off to the farm we went. I ended up catching one bass, the only bass any of us caught that day.

This started what became one of my best friendships throughout high school, college, and to this day. I eventually learned to hunt just about everything on the farm, shooting my first turkey on the Youth Hunt – mentioned in my previous article about the Youth Turkey Weekend.

As high school went on, we would spend as many days fishing as we could. I eventually bought a small truck and an old bass boat. This became one of my greatest possessions and my favorite thing to do on weekends was to spend the day looking to get onto the largemouth in Cayuta Lake, nicknamed Little Lake, as the lake is very small.

By spending every free moment I had on the lake, I learned a lot. From knowing when the bass would be shallow, or deep, if they were hiding in the weed-beds or under boat docks. The greatest thing I learned while fishing was to keep trying something else until they start biting.

While pursuing my undergraduate degree at SUNY Cobleskill I enrolled in multiple Fisheries courses. Some of the courses were required for the Wildlife Management program, and some I took as elective credits. In these courses I learned even more that could help my bass fishing trips. Such as, understanding plankton population trends throughout the year, how they will influence baitfish, and in turn the predatory fish – like bass. Or, even when to start looking for fish in deeper water due to changing oxygen levels because of stratification.

With the combination of college coursework and 'hands-on' learning throughout my teenage years, here are some generalized thoughts on what to do depending on the time of year. This article will only cover spring until early summer, summer and fall will be covered in another article later on.

Early Spring – from ice out until May – with the water temperature being low, fish are not super active so focus on either reaction bites or finesse tactics. I have had decent luck using a lipless crankbait, such as a Rat-L-Trap, retrieved at a moderate speed, or with square-billed crankbaits that are slowly retrieved.

Look for fish around dark objects in the water, like stumps or large rocks. These warm up faster than lighter objects in the sun light and can have a small patch of slightly warmer water around them. For slower fishing, a drop-shot rig with a small to medium plastic worm or minnow that is worked back without a lot of pace can get sluggish fish to bite.

There is a theory used in fishery sciences called the Optimum Foraging Theory. Boiled down, it says that fish will forage based on a 'best bag for my buck' basis. So in cold water, a bass may eat a larger bait if it isn’t hard to catch because it will get more calories from the food versus the calories it spends on catching the food. But a large bait that is hard to catch won’t be as enticing as a small bait that is easy to catch.

Late Spring – May through June – some small bodies of water that warm up faster than larger lakes will have bass start showing signs of spawning earlier, so there might be a variance in what the fish are doing.

Spawning is pretty temperature correlated for bass. Largemouth bass start looking for spawning locations when the water temperature reaches 55 degrees. Larger females tend to hang out in slightly deeper water near spawning grounds until the water reaches closer to 65 degrees, so try throwing deep diving crankbaits in 10-15 feet of water that is located close to shallow water.

I tend not to fish for bass that are on spawning beds, but common lures are bright color soft plastic baits. This makes it so that you can see when a fish grabs your lure to remove it from the bed.

The bass sees anything that is near the bed as a threat to their eggs or fry once the eggs hatch, and will attack it to remove the threat.

Once the spawn is over, males will guard fry from predators and remain pretty easy to catch in shallower water – six feet or less. Females will retreat to deeper water to recover and can be hard to catch for a week or two. After that, they start feeding heavily to get back 'in shape' and become a little easier to catch. Look for them near drop-offs where they can cover the entire water column looking for prey. There is a narrow window where they are feeding on anything and everything. This is a great time to experiment and get some confidence in lures you haven’t used much.

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