Spring Smallmouth Patterns Too Good To Pass Up

by Chris Gorsuch

This month the trees and vegetation go from looking dead and gray, to a vibrant green and full of life. April is also one of those months where weather can change on a dime. I can recall more than just a handful of fishing days where it was winter bibs and jackets during the morning, and hours later we were stripped down to short sleeves and baking in the afternoon sun. Temperature swings of 30 degrees or more are quite common. 

  In area rivers smallmouth bass are coming out of the winter, hungry and seeking minnows, crayfish and aquatic insect larva. They need to feed and regain some of the weight they may have lost over winter. For many of us, tubes, jigs, and finesse baits are a staple this time of year.  These soft plastic imitations work extremely well slowly crawled and hopped along the bottom. We feel the brisk morning air and see water temperatures in the 40’s and presume a slower approach is best. 

  Almost every angler has witnessed situations where bass will seemingly shut down on these crazy weather days. On the river, it is even more a factor as the water temperatures rise and fall quicker than larger bodies of water. A mistake many anglers make is the assumption that bass have indeed turned off. They may have moved off a specific structure, or even started to turn their attention away from the lures being used; but rarely are spring bass turned off to the point of not eating.   

  Let me paint a familiar picture. It is common for anglers to look at springtime water temperatures in the 40’s and automatically believe they need to slow their presentations down. Certainly not an incorrect assumption, and so anglers turn to a more subtle pattern using tubes, jigs, and Ned rigs and begin to catch bass. Then when the bite slows, anglers move on to try different areas, but never really change the presentation or their approach. The thinking is, “It worked earlier in the day, so it should still work.” I personally get this thought process and have fallen victim to the same thinking at times. 

  Have you ever watched underwater footage of a bass coming up to inspect a lure and turn away?  Either something was off about the presentation, or the bass just lost interest. Here is what I have found to work best in these spring situations, throw a lure that does not give them an opportunity to pass it up.  A lure that is moving significantly faster than hopping a tube, or inching a jig along the bottom, can often make all the difference in the world. Smallmouth bass are opportunistic and are more prone to “chase” than any freshwater gamefish I have ever targeted. I have seen bass get finicky with finesse presentations, and absolutely destroy a crankbait on the very next cast. 

   During an early spring outing with my buddy Glenn, we had a decent finesse bite going when suddenly, the bass shut down. With nearly 20 bass landed, we continued to work the large hole for another 10 minutes without a single pick-up. Had the bass moved? It was hard to imagine that was the case. Almost in unison, we both picked up a crankbait rod and cast to the exact same spots we had covered with tubes, Neds, and other slower presentations.

   And as if there was some kind of switch thrown, we both hooked up before the crankbait went 10 feet.  To our surprise, the bass had not moved or dispersed, they just reacted better to moving baits. We landed seven more bass over a dozen casts and continued to the next spot. The rest of the afternoon, cranks, spinnerbaits and chatterbaits produced while the finesse pattern had faded. 

  Whether the bass were feeding, or just chasing down the lures out of anger, one thing was certain, the bass were acting as if it was just: “too good to pass up!” 

  Another way to look at it is that water temperatures in the 40’s come spring is quite different than it is during the late fall. In the spring, those water temps in the 40’s are a warmup. After a long winter with water in the 30’s for two to three months, water in the upper 40’s is a heat wave. 

  If there is one piece of advice I have for spring bass anglers, especially those that live and die on soft plastic lures, it is to give this a try. So many of my clients are reluctant to power fish, even when the tube and jig bite starts to fade.

   If you are averse to lures with treble hooks, toss a bladed jig. Feel free to select a trailer that best mimics the forage the bass are targeting. Minnow profiles like ZMan’s Razor Shad or the Yamamoto Zako are two of my favorites. Likewise, for craw profiles, we used the new CrushCity Cleanup Craw and Keitech’s Crazy Flapper as trailers on the chatterbaits and they worked incredibly well. If these baits are not in your wheelhouse, consider throwing a spinnerbait. Remember to vary the speed and keep those blades spinning. You may be surprised at just how effective this is in early spring. 

  Shake the myth that bass need warmer water for power fishing to play a solid role in catching. You simply do NOT need 50 or 60+ degree water for these baits to work. Test me on this, and do not be afraid to burn the baits every now and then. You will likely not be able to reel faster than a smallmouth can swim. Best of all, you may find this pattern works too good to pass up!

Author Chris Gorsuch is a licensed charter guide in the state of Pennsylvania. He started the Reel River Adventures guide service in ‘07 and spends 225-250 days on the water annually. His home base is on the Susquehanna River where he operates 20’ jetboats.You can follow his daily fishing reports on Facebook ‘Reel River Adventures-RRA’ & Instagram @Chris_Gorsuch

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