The pre-spawn pre-spawn.
That is the way Lake Fork guide David Vance looks at the current bass fishing condition.
That is a good thing because it means the weather is back to a more normal pattern and the bass are acting like they should.
“When this cold front blasted us and dropped the water temperature the fish that were grouped up moved shallow as soon as the temperature dropped. The deep fish dispersed and the big fish started moving in. Everything we caught (since Christmas) was in eight feet or less,” he said.
For some fishermen this may be a hard concept to understand because they do what Vance calls tourist fishing — they fish the way they feel and not how the bass feels — more this time of year than in the spring or summer.
Vance said common wisdom would suggest that the bass would go deep with each drop in the temperature, but because they are following the shad and the shad don’t like cold and are looking for the warmest water possible they are going to go shallow. The guide explained this is caused because the water temperature at say 10 feet isn’t much warmer than water at 25 feet, but that shallower water can warm daily with sunlight.
“I am through deep fishing. I have been deep fishing the last three months, but as this front comes in I am going to concentrate all my time on shallow water until May. By shallow I mean 12 feet or less water,” Vance said.
Guide Brian Duplechain is in agreement.
“I can’t begin to tell you how many calls I have had saying they were finding fish in 25 feet of water and now there is nothing there. Everything is in 40 feet, and those are hard to catch, or moving shallow,” Duplechain said.
Referring to them as transition fish, Duplechain said the only four times he has ever come home without at least one fish has been on January trips on Lake Fork.
“The two toughest months to catch bass are September and January. They are transition months. In September they are going from summer to winter patterns, and in January they are leaving winter patterns and going to spring, at least in the fishes’ minds. We have some fish that are going to spawn in February and that is only three weeks away,” Duplechain said.
Calling this the worst time of the year to be running around the lake, Vance said fishermen will do better to stay in one area when they start catching fish.
“If you catch fish on a bank or flat you need to go back and fish that bank or flat five or six times. You didn’t accidentally catch the only fish there,” he said.
However, not every day is going to produce fish this time of year. Noting that the bass like consistency, Vance said the worst days usually come after a weather change happens quickly. He also prefers the cold, overcast days leading into a front more than the high blue sky and high pressure days that follow them.
“The best way to find fish is with fast-moving baits,” he said. Vance prefers reaction baits like small crankbaits, three-quarter ounce Rat-L-Traps and spinners. “When the fish are scattered out they work well because you can cover so much water with them,” he said.
Unless it is reeled past a bass in the mood to feed, it is most likely going to have to be dragged right over it to get a strike. Also, Vance warns fishermen to be prepared for a different feel when a bass does take it.
“In warm water they will hammer it. Now you will get a bite that feels like you hit a stump or reel into a wet towel,” he explained, adding that fishermen need to vary retrieve until they find what the fish want.
Duplechain added that jigs still have their place, but for bass in 10 to 15 feet of water in creek channels and where creeks swing close to shorelines.