Well, we sure have had a roller coaster ride of weather these past few weeks. And although we still have to get through a lot of winter yet, sooner or later, old man winter will give in and spring will take over.
We did get a nice little thaw with lots of rain to end the short ice fishing season and many of the local waterways have lost most of their ice. I made a trip up to Lake Erie this past weekend to check on the water condition. Unfortunately, the harbors still are mostly iced in, but a lot of the main lake is becoming ice free. When the boat ramps become ice free and accessible, many die hard walleye anglers will head out after them even with the water still in the thirties.
Walleye will be biting as soon as the ice is gone as they are putting on the big feed in preparation for their spawning season which is only a couple of months away. Despite the near freezing water temperatures, they will still be aggressively feeding unlike most other fish this time of the year. Many anglers will target them in the western basin of Lake Erie as they start to head to the reef complexes and rivers where many of them spawn.
Although slow trolling deep diving crankbaits is a key weapon in the spring, jigging hair jigs can be very successful as well. Whichever method you use, speed is the key. Presenting your bait as slowly as possible is important. Color of either lure needs to match the water color, using darker colors for stained or muddy water and lighter colors for clearer water.
Once the water begins to warm a little more, the bass will start to bite as well. This time of year, I prefer to use a jig and pig combo but slow rolling a spinner bait can be effective as well. I try to stay away from plastic baits this early in the season as they lose a lot of their attraction and flexibility in the colder water. Crankbaits and jerk baits can be deadly this early as well.
Whatever lure you decide to use, the key to working your bait is going SLOW! Remember, these are cold-blooded creatures, so their metabolism is extremely slow this early. So, your bait needs to match their level of activity. If you think you are fishing slow, slow down some more. I can’t stress this enough. Hits may be extremely light as well as bigger fish may just mouth the bait. Stay alert and any sensation of heaviness needs to be answered with setting the hook.
Early spring water is typically very muddy so I am big on using fish attractants to help the fish find your bait with their keen sense of smell. Finding structure near deep water can be helpful but more importantly is finding the warmest water this time of year. Often, you will find bass just slowly cruising bare banks just because it is shallow and warm, but bass will use an ambush point if it is available.
Finally, the time of the day can be very critical in the early season. Most fishermen have the mindset of being the first on the water before everyone else has beat the water to death. But, this time of the year it is advantageous to wait to go later in the day.. The longer you wait, the more time the sun has to warm up the shallower water. On a sunny day, water temperatures can climb five degrees or more in a shallow bay, which can be the difference between a good trip and a bad one.
If bass isn’t your preference, the crappie fishing will get hot soon as well. Oftentimes they are the first fish of choice early in the year. They are an early spawning species and become active in the spring much sooner than other fish. Head for sunken trees near deep water and the fishing can be furious. When you find one, you will usually find many, so keep moving from spot to spot until you find them. Delaware Lake is managed for crappies and can produce some awesome stringers but Clear Fork Reservoir can be decent as well. By far, the best luck can be had using live minnows for bait. Keep your bait as close to the structure as possible and adjust your depth until you find their preference.
Better weather is ahead. Just be patient. When it does arrive, get out there and do fishing. Spring is the best time to catch the really big ones!
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.