Spring bassin' can be incredibly fantastic or unbelievably frustrating -- it depends on the day you happen to be fishing. To the avid bass angler, there is no season that offers more promise, yet more challenges. In this BASS PRO exclusive, two of the hottest anglers on the pro circuit, Florida pro Shaw Grigsby and Alabama pro Gerald Swindle, reveal how they deal with all the negatives that the spring season is notorious for dishing out...in many cases turning them into positives that put big bass in their livewells and big bucks in their pockets.
BASS PRO: What is it about spring that can be so frustrating to the bass angler?
GRIGSBY: It's the cabin fever syndrome: most fishermen have been cooped up inside all winter and are dying to get back on the water. Naturally their excitement level and expectations run high, so they're easily disappointed by cold fronts, muddy water and all the other bad stuff that spring can dish out.
SWINDLE: Anybody who's fished for bass much knows that spring is THE season for catching your biggest bass of the year -- the fish are feeding heavily to fatten themselves up for the spawn. When you've spent the off-season stocking up on the latest lures, respooling all your reels and poring over topo maps in anticipation of tangling with that lunker bass, it can really be a downer to get out there and strike out due to bad weather or some other factor that's beyond your control.
BASS PRO: Spring cold fronts are a leading cause of frustration to weekend anglers. What do you do to overcome their detrimental effects?
GRIGSBY: I've seen the air temp go from 75 to 18 degrees overnight during a spring frontal passage, but between tournaments and taping my tv show, I have to catch fish "weather or not." The good news is that while a cold front can slow down the bass bite, it normally won't scatter the fish. Therefore I fish the same areas where I caught bass during stable weather, but adjust my speed and expectations. Instead of anticipating a strike every third cast, I tell myself that I'm gonna have to slow way down and work extra-hard for a bite. I've caught some monster bass during spring cold fronts, most of them on tube baits. If the fish have already moved shallow to spawn and a front blows through, they'll usually back up to the closest heavy cover. Look for weed beds and flooded bushes close to spawning flats.
SWINDLE: Cold fronts are hard on all bass fishermen, weekend angler and pro alike, but they're as much a part of spring fishing as heat and humidity are to summer fishing. My best advice for dealing with a cold front is to realize that bass probably won't bite until later in the day. I've won many spring tournaments when I didn't get a single bite until 1 o'clock in the afternoon due to a frontal passage. Being aware of this keeps me from getting all bent out of shape when I don't catch any bass in the morning. I just make sure I'm on my absolute best places in the p.m. My bread-and-butter spring cold front approach is to pitch a tube bait into heavy cover.
BASS PRO: I don't know about you guys, but high winds always buffalo me in spring. How do you deal with them?
GRIGSBY: There are two schools of thought on the wind: either get in it and tough it out, or avoid it. In early spring, when the water temperature is still in the 40s, I usually get out of the wind. But once the water warms into the 50s and above, I like to stay in it. In clear lakes, the wind can be a huge help, because it diminishes light penetration so bass can't scrutinize your lures as carefully, and it roils up the water, allowing you to use a broader spectrum of baits. My favorite lures for windy conditions are suspending jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
SWINDLE: I like to stay out of the wind during frontal passages and target calm areas instead. High winds create muddy conditions, which can make a cold front even worse. But if the lake has warmed to 60 degrees or so and the weather is stable, I'll get right in the wind, which requires a dependable trolling motor. Shaw mentioned muddy water; I love to fish mudlines with a lipless crankbait or spinnerbait.
BASS PRO: Heavy rains and the subsequent high, muddy water can also make spring fishing tough. What's your take on dealing with these conditions?
GRIGSBY: A spring deluge can be warm or cold. I like a warm rain best, for it'll often trigger a mass emergence of crayfish and a great shallow bass bite. If warm water is running into the system via the tributaries, try an active lure like a crankbait or spinnerbait. On the other hand, if the rain is cold, use a saturation lure like a jig or tube. One spring we had a bitter-cold rain during a B.A.S.S. tournament on Sam Rayburn Lake (Texas), and I struggled to catch any fish. Rick Clunn won it; he later told me that he always sought out the coldest water in spring because (a) nobody else would be fishing it, and (b) he knew the conditions there would be prespawn instead of spawn, which played right to his strengths as a crankbait/spinnerbait expert. When the water rises quickly, I put my trolling motor on high and chainsaw my way into the newly-flooded cover. I've caught 9-pounders where I literally had to grab tree branches and pull my way to the fish to land it.
SWINDLE: I hate it, but I suck it in and keep fishin'. High, muddy water is super-tough to fish because there are so many newly-flooded targets, yet the water looks downright nasty. Experience has taught me that moving up into newly-flooded timber is usually a dead-end street. Instead, I find an area where the bank is steep, a spot where the water rose straight up on it, and flip jigs and tubes along the shoreline. The bass are often suspended over the top of the cover that was on the "old" shoreline before the water rose. I've seen the water rise 12 feet during a spring tournament; the bass were suspended along those steep, sloping banks instead of hanging around the newly-flooded cover way back in the boondocks.
BASS PRO: Often you can't find a parking place at the boat ramp on spring weekends. How do you deal with the intense angler pressure typical of this season?
GRIGSBY: You have two choices: either focus on an area where nobody else is fishing, which may require a hundred-mile boat trip one way in a major tournament, or fish the same water the other guys are fishing, but with a different lure or presentation -- for example, use a super-shallow crankbait if the rest of the pack is chunking spinnerbaits. Either approach will work, although I don't recommend 100-mile runs to the weekend angler!
SWINDLE: Shaw's right-on about using a different lure than the bass are used to seeing. I'm convinced shallow bass, especially, can quickly learn to avoid a lure if they're overexposed to it. I've fallen right in behind local anglers throwing lizards or spinnerbaits at shoreline cover in spring, and caught 'em one after another on a shallow crankbait. Of course, now that several hundred thousand fishermen have read this, we'll both have to find another lure to use!
BASS PRO: Many anglers who encounter a lack of bass activity in spring chalk it up to the bass "being on the bed." I know both of you are experts at catching bedding bass; what do you do when you have a hard time getting spawners to cooperate?
GRIGSBY: First I'd like to clarify that all the bass in a given lake won't spawn at the same time -- there will always be fish in the prespawn, spawn and postspawn mode. I happen to love targeting spawners, but if you don't, then go for pre- or postspawners -- again, fish to your strengths. Many bass club tournament anglers I run into tell me they have a huge problem with being on spawning fish big-time one day, only to have 'em disappear when a cold front blows through the next. Those big females don't just evaporate; they've moved to the closest heavy cover, especially matted vegetation on the bank. They'll sit under this stuff and wait for conditions to stabilize, then return to their nests once the weather improves. A tube or jig pitched into the grass will smack 'em.
SWINDLE: A cold night will often push spawners off the nest. Instead of panicking when you don't see that 13-pounder sitting on her bed that was there during practice the day before, check again in the afternoon, after the sun has warmed the water a little. Often she'll slide back onto the nest later in the day when the sun gets up.
BASS PRO: Any final thoughts on overcoming spring's bassin' frustrations?
GRIGSBY: It's real important, both to your fishing success and your mental health, to accept the conditions you're dealt with, and, if necessary, to adjust your expectations accordingly. It's so easy to get discouraged in spring, but when you're faced with flood conditions or that monster cold front, try to accept the fact that you and everybody else on the lake is gonna have a slow bite and adjust your presentation to make the best of a bad situation.
SWINDLE: Remember what I said earlier about bass not getting active until the afternoon when the weather is funky, which it so often is in spring. Both Shaw and I have won spring tournaments where we didn't have anything in our livewells until the 11th hour. Check your best spots repeatedly during the course of the day, and most of all, never give up!