Tech Tips for Early Season Multispecies SuccessBy Jason Halfen - April 14, 2021
Early season fishing can be a daunting proposition for many anglers. Which species of fish should we pursue? Which part of the lake holds the most active fish? Once we start fishing, which baits or lures might be most effective? These five tips are proven winners in the spring and will get you on your way to early season multispecies success.
Water temperature is the keyNo matter which species of fish you decide to pursue as your season opens, water temperature is the key to success. Surface water that is even just a few degrees warmer than surrounding areas will tend to concentrate actively feeding fish. In general terms, focus your efforts on soft-bottomed bays that are off the main body of water. The best bays will frequently be sheltered from the prevailing wind to minimize the influx of cold water. Within these bays, shallow, near-shore areas are generally better than deeper ones. Interestingly enough, current from river inlets can be a double-edged sword in the spring: while current will help to attract and retain species like walleye, cold runoff delivered by river inlets can also reduce local water temperatures and turn the bite off. Monitor surface temperatures with your electronics as you approach river inlets; if you encounter a plume of substantially colder water, it's time to continue your search in another area.
Think small and subtle for panfishMany a panfish has landed in a livewell after munching a chunk of nightcrawler or slurping a crappie-sized minnow in the spring. Nevertheless, savvy anglers recognize that they will typically catch more and larger fish by using artificial presentations. Such an approach has the added advantage of making fish far more releasable, as bluegills and crappies are rarely hooked deeply when caught on lures.
Early season crappies love minnow imitations. I enjoy presenting a 1.5-2" minnow-profile soft plastic dressed on a 1/16 oz jighead that features a wire bait keeper, which helps to keep the bait rigged correctly on the jig over many fish catches. A long cast and slow swimming retrieve that keeps the bait above emerging weed or standing wood cover can be highly effective. On windy days, suspend the same lure beneath a float, and allow wave action to provide all of the swimming motion needed to land a bounty of spring crappies.
My favorite rod for both bluegills and crappies is a 7-foot, light power, extra-fast action rod. The length of this rod helps to propel lightweight offerings long distances on the cast, and also moves a lot of line fast to ensure productive hooksets what a strike occurs far from the boat. Its light power rating ensures abundant sport from our panfish targets, yet also retains plenty of backbone to handle the incidental bass and pike that you'll encounter in the panfish zone.
Early season bass are ready to feast
Cold water bass are notoriously fickle feeders. However, this lethargic attitude is rapidly replaced with an aggressive, predatory stance as water temperatures rise into the 50s. Their rapidly warming environment puts bass on the feed, as they increase their calorie counts in advance of impending spawning rituals.
Hard baits are excellent choices for targeting early season bass. In southern reservoirs, the LIVETARGET HFC Craw can be fished productively along swing banks as creek channels run from the main lake toward the backs of bays. In the north country, where pre-spawn bass congregate near shallow weedgrowth, the LIVETARGET Sunfish Rattlebait is an outstanding option. In this situation, a steady retrieve through the tops of submerged weedgrowth in 4-8 feet of water is all that is required to catch and release vast numbers of early season largemouth. The Sunfish Rattlebait's ultra-lifelike appearance and profile, three-dimensional anatomical features, tight swimming action and high-frequency rattle all contribute to the lure's remarkable effectiveness.
Rattle up post-spawn walleyesOnce the ice is off the lakes and water temperatures have risen into the 50s, walleyes will have completed their annual spawning movements, but will remain in relatively shallow water in search of recuperative meals. Contrary to popular belief, these fish can be targeted with great success using lures that provoke aggressive reaction strikes. A great place to look for these post-spawn walleyes is on the edges of near-shore sand flats, frequently in 8-12 feet of water.
Lipless rattlebaits, like the LIVETARGET Golden Shiner rattlebait, are outstanding choices for targeting post-spawn walleyes wherever they swim. These baits excel at provoking reaction strikes from walleyes, especially when presented with an active rip-jigging motion. Within this family of lures, the ½ oz size is preferred for beefcake Great Lakes walleyes, while the smaller, ¼ oz rattlebait is a good choice for inland waters, pressured fish, or post-frontal conditions when a more subdued presentation may be required.
Line selection for presenting lipless rattlebaits to walleyes is similar to that used for bass in the bays, with 20 lb test PowerPro serving as an excellent foundation, terminated with 2 feet of 15 lb test fluorocarbon leader. A powerful, responsive rod is preferred when rip jigging rattlebaits - look for a rod that is 6'8" to 7' long with medium power and fast or extra fast action.
Whether your boat took a long winter's nap under a blanket of snow, or you fish throughout the year on soft waters, pay attention to the basics of boat and motor maintenance to ensure enjoyable trips in the early season. Arrive at the ramp with a tank of fresh gas, oil for two-stroke motors, and a fully charged complement of batteries. Ensure that your boat and trailer registration are current, and that you possess this year's license documents. Planning to fish before sunrise or after dark? Take a moment to check your boat's navigation lights, as filaments may have snapped during the cold winter months. And for goodness sakes, wear your lifejacket, as the cold waters of the early season dramatically increase the threat of hypothermia and limit survivability, should an unplanned swim be added to your early season fishing trip.
Fishing season is at our doorstep. These five tips are guaranteed to bring you early season multispecies success and help you to build some great memories on the water this spring.
- 5mm tungsten jig
- minnow-profile soft plastic
- Soft plastic tails
- 7-foot, light power, extra-fast action rod
- LIVETARGET HFC Craw
- LIVETARGET Sunfish Rattlebait
- 20 lb Seaguar Smackdown braided line
- LIVETARGET Golden Shiner rattlebait
- 20lb test PowerPro
- 15 lb test fluorocarbon leader
- 6'8" to 7' long with medium power and fast or extra fast action