So, originally the plan was to write another article after I went fishing at Newton Lake about a month ago. However, the plan was also to whack the fish that day, but not all plans work out. We ended up catching about 60+ white bass and 20 or so largemouth bass, almost all on squarebill crankbaits, but there wasn’t really anything too exciting or much to brag about that day. I also chose not to write an article because of the drastic difference between Newton Lake and normal lakes around Illinois. Most of the lakes around here finally unfroze about a week ago, but lakes like Newton Lake and Coffeen Lake (another lake I fish a lot) are power plant lakes, meaning these lakes have a power plant on them that flows hot water into the lake, never allowing the lake to freeze. Because the water temperature and everything is so much different on these lakes when compared to a regular lake, the information I gathered from my trip wouldn’t really be that helpful to most of you.
Now, getting onto our topic of the day, springtime fishing! When talking about springtime fishing, I’m talking about early springtime (right as the ice melts) all the way into prespawn and early spawn. This time frame is usually mid-February to mid-April here in the Midwest.
I have listed my five favorite spring-time baits below. These baits are in no particular order, just the five that I use most consistently to try to find my first bass of the year!
1. Jerkbait: Ah, the staple of bass fishing in the spring time. This erratic lure is meant to be jerked, twitched, and worked until the bass the just cannot stand it any longer. The best way to think about working a jerkbait is to pretend you’re AGGRESSIVELY trying to ‘walk the dog’. Your rod movement will be stronger than when you’re ‘walking the dog’, but essentially it will be the same rod motion. Now, the most important part of jerkbait fishing when it’s cold is to remember to pause the bait. A lot of your bites will come after the bait has been paused for a few seconds, so you have to remember to pause the bait and don’t get anxious. I like to start my day by pausing the bait between 3-5 seconds before I make the bait move again. If the fish aren’t hitting that, I’ll start pausing 7-10 seconds and so forth until you get a feel for what the fish want. They will always tell you what they want, just be patient. I like to keep my colors pretty simple: when there’s sunny skies and clear water, go with a flashy color, like a chrome. When it’s cloudy with clear water, I like a translucent color, and when it’s sunny with mildly-stained water, I would throw a very obvious color, like a flashy gold or even a chartreuse of some kind. The best way to figure it out is to just play around with it, however, if the water is muddy or if the water is stained on a cloudy day, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest a jerkbait. There are better presentations on days like that. For throwing a jerkbait, I like a shorter rod and a faster reel. The shorter rod is so I can twitch and jerk the rod tip without smacking the water, and the fast reel is for picking up the slack line only. When fishing a jerkbait, you are creating action with the rod, never the reel. My current setup is a Big Bear Rods 6’9″ medium-power rod with a fast action tip.
2. Squarebill Crankbait: When throwing a squarebill, you can’t be afraid of contact. You’re going to run into things, and you’re even going to get hung up occasionally; it’s all part of the game. But the reward can be a hefty, hefty sum. When fishing a squarebill, it’s extremely important to run into things because most of the time, you are looking for a reaction strike. This means that the fish are not necessarily hungry, but rather they are just reacting instinctively when you bang that crankbait up against the wood right beside them. This brings me to my next point: where to throw a squarebill? I like to throw a squarebill anywhere that I can bang it into things like around wood, rocks, or even shallower docks, but wood is my favorite type of cover to throw it into. I use only about three different colors 95% of the time. The first color being some sort of shad imitation, whether that be a sexy shad color or more of a silver shad. The second color I throw is a chartreuse/black or a chartreuse/blue. I use this color in dirty water when I know they are feeding on baitfish. And the third color I use, though more rare, is a red squarebill. I like to use a red squarebill when I know that the fish are consistently eating craws. I tend to lean towards two rods when throwing a squarebill, either a Big Bear Rods 6’9″-7’3″ (depending on what you like and are comfortable with) medium-power rod with a fast action tip or a rod in the same length that has a medium-heavy power and a moderate action tip. I like to use the medium-power rod when the cover is more scarce and the medium-heavy power rod when the cover I’m fishing is heavier/thicker. As for the reel, I like to use a medium retrieve reel for squarebills, anything in the 6:1 ratio range is fine by me.
3. Lipless Crankbait: One of my biggest enemies as an angler; the lipless crankbait. Though I have had some good days throwing this thing, I have also has some very unproductive ones to go along with the good days. So while I’m pretty confident throwing the previous two baits, the lipless seems to still stump me every now and then. However, I will still tell you how and when I fish them. I really only like to fish lipless cranks around grass or rip-rap. When I’m fishing it around rip-rap, I like to do a yo-yo retrieve (if you don’t know what that is, look it up on YouTube and you can thank me later), but if I’m fishing around grass, I like to find where the grass is in the water column and then just let the bait tick the top of that grass while ripping the bait out of it, trying to cause a reaction strike. Again, I like to really only use a few colors for my lipless crankbaits. I like a sexy shad color when it’s cloudy outside, a shiny color (chrome or gold) when it’s sunny, and a red color for when the fish are feeding on craws. For the yo-yo retrieve, and really any retrieve except for the aggressive ripping, a regular crankbait rod will do just fine. When I’m ripping the bait, however, I like to have a stiffer rod on the deck. I choose my Big Bear Rods 7’3″ medium-heavy power rod for this job paired up with a higher speed reel.
4. Spinnerbait/Chatterbait/Swim Jig: I put these three baits together because I feel like they are interchangeable most of the time, but I will tell you when/where I throw them differently. I like to throw a chatterbait around grass and spinnerbait around wood or rocks. However, there’s a catch. If it’s a slick-calm day, I try to avoid either of these baits and switch to a swim jig for all circumstances. I don’t like a chatterbait or a spinnerbait without any wind because I feel like they are too ‘loud’, if you will, without some sort of wind or current to break up the clarity. The colors I choose for the baits are pretty simple again. If the fish are feeding on shad, I’ll throw some kind of white, white/chartreuse, or white/black to imitate a shad. If the fish are eating bluegill (I won’t throw a spinnerbait in this scenario), I’ll throw a natural presentation, such as a green pumpkin color. And if the water is very stained or muddy, I’ll throw a black and blue chatterbait or a predominately-chartreuse spinnerbait with a big Colorado blade. The rod I like for all of these applications is a Big Bear Rods 7′ medium-heavy power rod with a fast action tip. All of these baits have one relatively-thick hook, and I like some backbone in my rod so I can really drive the hookset through the fish’s mouth!
5. Jig: And last, but not even close to the least, is the jig. Now the jig is a bit different ball game. While I love throwing a jig as much as the next guy, I tend to hold off on the jig until it warms up just a bit. I usually don’t start throwing a jig religiously until around mid-March. The fish aren’t moved up into the shallows yet until around that time at the earliest, so I don’t see a point in jumping the gun with the jig right away if there are other baits that will most likely produce fish more consistently for the time being (jerkbait, lipless crankbait, etc.). And don’t get me wrong, I’ve always got a jig tied on and I’ve caught fish on one earlier than that, but I just tend to start with the other baits first and go from there. I like to keep my jig colors pretty simple, natural and stained water. For my natural colors, I’ll have the classic (green pumpkin) paired with some kind ‘craw’ color (red flake, blue, orange, etc.), and for my stained water, nothing beats the good old-fashioned black and blue in my opinion! For my rod selection, I keep it reasonably simple. When I’m fishing a jig less than 3/8 oz., I go with my Big Bear Rods 7′ medium-heavy power rod with a fast tip, and when I’m throwing jigs that are 3/8-3/4 oz., I choose my Big Bear Rods 7’3″ 3/4-heavy power rod with a fast action tip so I have some more backbone against the fish!
So there you have it, my top five baits to throw from the time the water unfreezes until the fish begin to spawn! What are your favorite baits to throw this time of year? Either let me know in the comments below, or ask us either on Facebook or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org! Thank you for reading, and I hope you learned something useful today that will help you next time you’re out bracing the cold on the water! If you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our page and share us with your friends!