Largemouths On The Rise

Baffled by rising water during spring on your favorite lake? Try this professional’s tactics for surefire success regardless of where you live.

Spring is largemouth bass time. Thoughts immediately turn to ol’ bucketmouth once the mercury begins its slow, deliberate ascent skyward. Catching a lunker is a rite of passage, so to speak, among bass anglers. For most of us, spring marks the best time on the calendar to hoodwink the bass of a lifetime. Spring can also be the bane of bass anglers if heavy spring rains raise the water level of their favorite lake.

Pitching and flipping jigs and plastic worms to flooded cover pays dividends during high-water conditions in spring. Photos by Marc N. McGlade.

High water often frustrates anglers who don’t know how to catch largemouth bass under these “adverse” conditions. For many savvy anglers — tournament pros and weekend warriors alike — these conditions are anything but adverse.

“That’s when you can really score on fat, pre-spawn largemouths,” said Curt Lytle, a Suffolk, Va., bass professional.

Spring rains inundate many lakes’ banks, which means trees and shrubs are under water until the high water recedes. This can be an exceptional time to catch shallow-water bass in this transition from the loosening of winter’s grip to the warming days of spring. Some anglers curse rising water, but these fish react accordingly and having the know-how to catch them can provide dividends unlike any other time of year.

Water Temperature Is Key

“The water temperature is very important,” stresses Lytle. His experience tells him the largemouths will be in the last quarter of the creeks — when the water temperature is in the 50s — preparing to spawn.

“In fact, I don’t even bother with main lake guts if the water temperature has been in the 50s for one week. Even if a cold front comes through, once these fish have moved to the backs of the creeks they’ll stay there. They simply move to the nearest deep water if a front passes through.”

Rising water doesn’t always mean good fishing; at times, it can be downright tough particularly if it rises quickly. “On rising water, the water needs to come up and stay put before the fish move up. With stable high water, they’ll move up.”

Certain species of trees and bushes — when under high water — give Lytle’s stomach a case of the butterflies because he knows what’s in store. “Buckbushes, willow trees and sweet gum trees are my absolute favorite cover to target during steady, high water,” noted the winner of the 2000 Missouri BASSMASTER Invitational tournament.

Lytle prefers to fish the buckbushes and willows when the water level has risen as little as 1 foot. If, however, the water rises a few feet, Lytle believes sweet gums play a very important role in tricking these transition bass.

It’s during these conditions that proper tactics and techniques are paramount to success, whether you cast for cash on the tournament circuit, or fish for fun on the weekends. Lytle and his peers on the tournament trail like to pitch and flip plastic worms and jigs to the newly found cover, unless it’s windy.

If the wind is blowing, which is common during early spring, Lytle will opt for a spinnerbait, with the thought that wind pushes plankton and the baitfish follow the plankton. Bass, in turn, lie in wait for the baitfish.

Professional bass angler Curt Lytle says a flooded lake usually has the bulk of its pre-spawn and spawning fish in 5 feet of water or less, unless a cold front has passed and pushed them a bit deeper.

“If your home lake has big bass in it, go with the jig. It’s truly a big fish bait and you’ll increase your odds of hooking a monster. If, on the other hand, your home water is more of a ‘numbers’ lake, then I’d choose plastic worms. An excellent worm choice for this application is Hawg Caller’s Jackpot, the 4-1/2-inch corkscrew worm.”

Lure Use Depends On Water Clarity

In dingy water, Lytle uses a black and chartreuse color combination for the jig-and-pig, and fishes black corkscrew worms with a hint of red flake. He also dips the worm’s tail in chartreuse worm dye. If the water is slightly stained, he’ll choose June bug plastic worms and a black and blue combo for his jigs.

Lastly, if the water is clear, Lytle uses green or pumpkin colors for jigs and worms. As for spinnerbaits, Lytle prefers tandem nickel willow-leaf blades on a white or blue glimmer skirt in clear water. In dingy or muddy water, he has scored with gold blades on a Colorado and willow-leaf combination with a chartreuse and white skirt.

“A flooded lake usually has the bulk of its pre-spawn and spawning fish in 5 feet of water or less, unless a cold front has passed and pushed them a bit deeper,” Lytle said.

Does his technique of pitching and flipping into flooded cover work? “I remember my five-fish, 21-pound, 6-ounce limit on Kentucky Lake during the spring of 1998 in a Red Man tournament. That’s how I won the tournament. It really holds up year in and year out, regardless of where you live.”

So whether you fish Kentucky Lake or some lesser-known body of water, if there’s high water covering bushes and trees, Lytle declares this technique is a sure bet. Try it yourself and you might just net a few fat spring bass on your favorite lake — while others are cursing the rain and high water.

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