In my opinion, the first three weeks following ice-out, preceding to the spawning period offers anglers some of the best fishing of the year. About a week following ice out, smallmouths are usually schooled and stacked in large groups along the edges of structural elements. In contrast to largemouths which will move into shallow mud bays with warmer water, smallmouths move to warm water lake locations that are best influenced by wind direction, sunlight penetration, and proximity to annual spawning location. Identify these spots, you can literally catch 100 fish or more in a single day.
Size: 900 acres
Lake Type: Raised Mesotrophic
Maximum Depth: 55 feet
Avg. Depth Fished: 5 to 10 feet
Water Clarity: Dark Brown
Primary Fishery: Musky, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass
Areas of Focus: Offshore points and sandbar complexes
Time of Day: Mid Morning
Lure Used: Rapala X-Rap (Hot Head)
Over the years, I’ve found that certain strategies work better than others when the ice disappears and bass reappear, lasting through the spawning period. One of the fascinating aspects of bass fishing is that patterns, techniques, and colors work universally, almost everywhere smallmouths populate. However, the specific techniques and lure types I fish most often in spring seem to relate best by region and specific water bodies. On my northern lakes, no other spring presentation beats a suspending jerkbait.
After the water finally warms to 55 degrees, smallmouths bolt for the shallows and congregate near their yearly spawning locations. This is when I demoralize fish with a suspending jerkbait. I believe a suspending jerkbait outfishes everything else during the short window preceding the spawn. Because water temperatures are still on the cold side, I am slow with my approach and focus on a plotted milk-run of known spawning flats. In this video, Jacob Saylor and I are targeting a large spawning flat that gradually meets the deepest basin of the lake. On this mass mainlake sand structure dotted by rock and wood, smallmouths congregate by the dozens to feed and eventually spawn.
My favorite jerkbait and smallmouth lure of all time is the Rapala X-Rap in sizes 08 and 10. They work in most situations, allow for long casts and maximum water coverage, trigger active and inactive fish, and suspend the best of any bait in its class. Smallmouths respond to the pause about 99% of the time. They suspend perfectly, and work best when worked progressively faster as the water warms and when retrieve is catered to the activity level and feeding moods of fish. Color choice is purely optional as I’ve caught smallmouth on almost every color in its lineup. But if I were to select for the dark brown water like this 900 acre lake, hot fluorescents such as the Hot Head get the only call from me.
The best retrieve is one where the angler can be creative and form an aggressive retrieve that is based according to the behavior of the fish. Jacob had the hot hand on this day, as his retrieve and presentation suited best for the fish.