In my opinion, the pre-spawn period offers some of the most challenging fishing of the year, but also potentially some of the best as well.
Volatility of successful patterns sways wildly as changing weather patterns make it difficult to keep up with the bass and their moods. However, once dialed in, some of the year’s biggest bass will come over the gunnel!
I believe the most important thing an angler can do during this period is to “fish the moment.” This means observing the conditions as they currently exist and use them to steer your decision-making. In other words, don’t get stuck on what worked a week ago! “Fishing the moment” is a mindset to have year-round, but its importance is highlighted during this time. In contrast, summer ledge fishing is much more stable of a pattern and is more difficult for changing conditions to derail.
Typically, when we think of weather changes that shutdown successful fishing patterns, often it’s the abrupt passing of a cold front that comes to mind. It’s very immediate, sudden and noticeable. For example, you may be catching bass right on the bank with shallow cranks in 57-degree water temps, but after a cold front hits, suddenly water temps dip several degrees and the pattern crashes. This can happen in a 24-hour period. Successful patterns before and after the passing of a cold front are often very different.
Warm Weather Affects Pre-Spawn Patterns
Often underestimated is how a balmy, warming trend will cause a shift in pre-spawn patterns as well, although typically it is more gradually occurring over the course of a few days. This kind of a weather pattern is especially detrimental to pre-spawn patterns when water temperatures climb out of the 50s and into the 60s. In this temperature range, bass will shift behavior from a feeding behavior over to a more docile behavior as the bass are now looking to spawn.
I just witnessed this type of change once again in a tournament held on Lake Okeechobee, Fla., Feb. 7-10, 2013. A big, cold front immediately preceded the first practice day causing water temps to fall heavily. In lakes with thick mats of vegetation, bass will position under these mats and can be caught by flipping a heavily weighted Texas-rigged soft plastic (craw, tube, creature, etc. — just make sure it’s compact).
That pattern was awesome and predictable to begin practice. However, over the course of the next few days of practice, overnight lows became warmer as did daytime high temperatures. So by the first tournament day, water temperatures were quite a bit warmer. I couldn’t get bit flippin’ to mats! Finally, I switched to a vibrating jig after the amateur in the back of my boat caught a second bass on his by swimming it through less dense vegetated areas away from the mats. I caught several bass the rest of the day on a vibrating jig, even though in practice the same lure yielded zero.
Then the next day (after another warm night), of course, I began fishing with the vibrating jig and immediately began catching bass. But it didn’t last because by midmorning, the bass’s behavior had shifted and they no longer would chase down a moving bait. I also noticed more activity in spawning areas than I had all week, which told me many of the bass shifted their behavior from feeding to spawning.
Switches To Weightless Worm
I struggled the remainder of the day, but caught enough on a weightless worm fished slowly around spawning areas to place in the money. Had I bullheadedly stuck with the vibrating jig, I doubt I would have upgraded my catch like I did with the worm. By the way, mentally that’s a hard gear to switch — from casting moving baits and covering water over to a presentation where you barely move at all!
So what’s the best way to prepare for a tournament during pre-spawn considering its volatility? First of all, monitor weather forecasts closely! This means knowing what the weather is before practice begins, understand the weather experienced during practice, and additionally monitor the forecasts predicted for the competition days. I do this for every event, but it’s critical pre-spawn. By knowing the weather, a fisherman can formulate game plans to cope with it. DO NOT put too much emphasis on successful fishing patterns in practice! That’ll send you to the bottom of the standings more than you like.
The second thing to do is have several rods rigged with various presentations and at the ready. Switch between them frequently as you begin fishing. Don’t be lazy or stubborn by sticking with something that’s not producing! Experience is a huge factor when conditions change, that is why pros are pros. They can draw upon past experience to better predict, which adjustments may be needed to produce bass.
Fishing is a constant affair of reading the conditions and making adjustments to presentation. The pre-spawn period emphasizes this part of fishing more so than any other period of the year. The most successful anglers will “fish the moment” and not dwell on what produced last week!
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Jim Moynagh writes a twice-monthly bass fishing column on sportsmansguide.com. Visit Jim on Facebook. He is a FLW touring pro, and a former Forrest Wood Open Champion with multiple top 10 finishes. In 2012, he finished in fourth place for Angler of the Year honors. He also finished in fourth place two-straight times in FLW events in 2012. His expertise is deep-water structure fishing for large and smallmouth bass.