The first matter of importance is locating fish. Pre-spawn typically begins when the water reaches 45 degrees, and ends around the 65 degree mark. This can vary from state to state, but is a fairly reliable template to gauge whether or not the fish are in their pre-spawn pattern. As the water warms and the spawn approaches, fish move out of their deep wintering habitats toward spawning areas. Locate a spawning area and the fish are going to be nearby. Bass typically prefer spawning in shallow bays, pockets and coves with a hard or gravel bottom. The best spawning areas vary from body of water to body of water, so do your research before you go fishing.
Your search for pre-spawn bass should begin in areas of deeper water near spawning areas. One of the best places to start your search is where a channel swings close to the bank or against the bank and then away again, close to where the fish will spawn. Bass will congregate in these deep water areas looking for an easy meal to gather energy for the spawn.
Channel swing banks are a great place to begin because of the variety of depth changes they offer. Once you've located what depth the fish are staging in, you can often replicate your success on other parts of the lake. A Gary Yamato D-shad is a great lure to throw to locate what depth the fish are at. When the water is 45-50 degrees, rig the bait weightless on a wide gap hook and position your boat parallel to the channel bank. On windy days, you may have to insert a nail weight into the D-shad to keep the bait in the strike zone. Start by working your way down the bank from the deepest water to shallowest water, casting the D-shad toward the bank at a 45 degree angle. You might have to vary your retrieve, but a simple twitch-twitch pause technique is often all it takes to elicit a strike from a bass.
Utilizing this technique with the D-shad is a great way to cover water, and it's also exactly the kind of meal a bass is looking for at this time. The side to side action from twitching the D-shad, and the slow sinking shimmy on the pause emulates a dying or lethargic shad which bass love to snatch up during the coldest period of the pre-spawn. I prefer throwing this bait on a 6'6" medium action rod, with twelve pound fluorocarbon paired with a spinning reel that has a fast gear ratio. The spinning reel allows me to cast the bait farther in windy conditions and the fluorocarbon allows the bait to stay in the strike zone, whereas mono causes the bait to float up. It's important to make sure the bait suspends on the pause rather than slowly floating up into the water column, as many of your bites will come on the pause of the retrieve.
When you've located fish with your D-shad, pay attention to your graph and what depth you've caught them in and continue working those areas with the D-shad. Once you've stopped picking up active fish with this technique, it isn't time to pull up the trolling motor and leave just yet. Bass tend to get stacked in these areas during the pre-spawn as they wait to move up into shallow water, and you can usually catch more by working the areas slowly. A great way to pick up inactive bass is by slowly working a wacky rigged Senko. Once again, depending on the conditions, it might be necessary to use a weighted wacky hook to keep the bait in the strike zone. A wacky rigged Senko is effective during this period because it also emulates a dying baitfish. The slow fall rate and shimmying action the Senko provides is irresistible to a bass that isn't looking to exert much energy.
Take the Senko and cast to the same areas you were catching fish with the D-shad. One of the best ways to fish this bait is to let the bait sink to the bottom, gently shake the bait up through the water column, and let the lure sink to the bottom again. Pay attention to the details when fishing this technique, as fish will take the bait during the pause, fall of the bait or as you're shaking the bait. Do not be afraid to fish this bait slow. It can feel like watching paint dry, but sometimes you will have to let the bait sit on the bottom for as long as fifteen seconds before an inactive fish will pick it up. Remember, if you caught fish in an area with the D-shad, there are almost assuredly more fish there and fishing the wacky rigged Senko slowly will put at least a few more into the boat.
I like to use a 7' medium heavy rod that has a soft tip. The soft tip allows me to effectively cast the bait, but the action of the rod has enough backbone to get a good hook set and play the fish. I like using a 7:1 gear ratio baitcaster with twelve to 15 pound fluorocarbon depending on what top of cover I'm throwing to. This gear ratio and line combination allows me to work the bait effectively.
Once you feel confident that you've combed through the area, you should be able to move to other similar areas of the lake and repeat your success. Don't be afraid to hit a large number of spots during this period. Fish move up in groups at different times and if you can't locate a couple quickly with your D-shad, it's time to move.
Once the water warms above the 50 degree mark, you can begin to cover water more aggressively. A great way to do this is to take your D-shad and rig it onto a scrounger jig head and continue to fish the channel banks near spawning areas. The wobbling action the scrounger head provides puts out vibrations similar to a crankbait but gives the fish a different look. This can be particularly important on waters that are highly pressured by other fisherman. Move down the bank the same way you would with the weightless D-shad, casting toward it at a 45 degree angle. Work the D-shad back to the boat with a steady retrieve. Once you locate what depth the fish are at, pick off as many active fish that you can and work the Wacky rigged Senko to pick up inactive fish.
Remember, fish move up in groups and these groups move up at different times during the pre-spawn period. This is why these channel banks are effective spots to fish during pre-spawn. The first wave or two of fish might be closer to the spawning areas when the water warms, but groups that move in later will relate to the same structures the earlier groups did. Groups will also move up at different times depending on what section of the reservoir you're on. Because the water warms faster in the upper sections of the lake, they will move up on these structures before the fish do on the back end of the body of water you're fishing. Channel swing banks are not the end all, be all structure during this period either. Often bass will relate to points, secondary points or even unassuming ledges near spawning areas during pre-spawn. The common factor with all of these structures however is deeper water adjacent to shallow water near spawning areas. Remember, wherever you find the fish during the pre-spawn, you can generally find more in similar areas on the lake. Remember to also fish these areas thoroughly once you do find fish, because when you find a couple, it's almost guaranteed there are more there. Use this template this spring, and you're going to catch more fish.
The Dreaded Cold Front
The pre-spawn period is often riddled with funky weather. One day it will be 70 degrees, and the next it will be 45. This cycle continues until the weather begins to stabilize at the end of spring and it usually puts the bass in a funk. When you encounter a cold front on one of your weekend trips, don't get too discouraged. It is true that bass will be more reluctant to bite, but that doesn't mean you can't find them and catch them. They will be relating to the same structures near spawning areas before the cold front came through, but most likely have pushed into the deepest water on that structure or the heaviest cover. You'll likely have to fish more slowly and thoroughly than you would otherwise. Another good suggestion is to downsize your wacky rigged Senko. If you were catching fish on a 5 inch Senko, it's probably a good idea to try fishing a 4 inch Senko. Be persistent and you'll catch fish, because they're still there. After all, if you leave a cheeseburger in my face long enough, I'm probably going to take a bite of it.
About the Author:
Blake is a pretty unfortunate guy. He's been diagnosed with a disease common among fisherman, called the fever. It appears the only known cure at this time is catching fish. Thankfully the disease isn't life threatening, but Blake has noticed time away from the water can bring about various side effects. They vary from irritability, the shakes, buying tackle he doesn't need, watching too many fishing videos on the internet, and he'll often inexplicably find himself wandering the aisles of local tackle stores. Blake studied English in college, and his doctor recommended he try writing about fishing to deal with some of the symptoms associated with the fever. Blake resides in the Kansas City area, and he has also found that being a member of a local bass club has helped him cope with the sickness. Thankfully, his wife is extremely supportive of him and will even occasionally join him on the boat. She is just thankful he isn't contagious.