It may be the roar of the creeks and rivers that just opened up, or the smell of rain for the first time in months. Whatever the trigger may be, if you haven’t already started you need to start thinking of spring and all the excitement it could bring to you, if you are up for it!
This year I did not get out on the ice as much as I had hoped but it has only made me more excited for the open-water season that is about to start. We are so fortunate to be surrounded by the most beautiful rivers and lakes, each with its own angling opportunity. Spring, in my opinion, is the best time to be out on the water. Many different species will already be in the shallows or on their way up and can be very easy to intercept. With a handful of lures and some discipline you can be extremely successful this season. I use the word discipline because if you are anything like me you want to cover water quickly, try all the new lures you’ve been busy investigating all winter online, and the result is fishing too hard too fast because you are over-excited about finally being able to get out in the boat.
Early season you need to fish shallow, slow, and with a smaller presentation. If you are targeting Walleye they do not usually move very far from their spawning areas and can spend two or three weeks lying around in the shallow water post-spawn before then even begin to transition to summer humps. Almost anywhere you cast there could be a hungry Northern Pike waiting to smash your bait at any moment. Crappie and Bass start to make their way up from their winter homes. It is by far the best time of the year to be a multispecies angler. You can catch many different species in the same day sometimes by choosing lures that appeal to more than one type of fish.
Casting small jerkbaits or shallow-running crankbaits is a great presentation to target different species throughout spring. If you notice they are very active you could even try a small lipless crankbait as well. Later in the spring you can land Bass, Pike and even Walleye on small topwater lures too. When it comes to fishing a jig, use the smallest size you can get away with. If permitted live bait always works great but in my opinion I believe soft plastics catch more and I have more confidence using them. A small twister tail grub or minnow would be my favorite, usually in a three or four inch size. Experiment with different colors because each day can be very different.
I remember one day a few years ago if you did not have something dark green tied on, you were not having a good day. My Dad was on fire landing one after another on his forest green coloured bait and the rest of us couldn’t catch a thing. We switched to the exact lure he was using and then we all started catching. The next day the weather changed; a cold front came through and we all had to change color again because they did not want anything that was green. It is so important to pay attention to small details like the size, profile of the lure, retrieval speed, and color. Small adjustments in your presentation can lead to big success.
If you are new to angling or want to try exploring new areas, start preparing from home. Grab your paper map or your GPS unit and before you head out on the water for the first time do some studying. Look for shallow bays or basins of the lake you plan to try. Any location where there may be a neck-down or a river or creek that flows in is also a good place to start. The fish will be where the water is warmest, scattered down shorelines and subtle points within the shallow basin, usually in ten feet of water or less. A key presentation throughout the spring is casting. You could park the boat in the middle of a shallow bay and if you fish vertical you will hardly cover any water and since the fish aren’t grouped up yet you might not have the best success. Always remember to move slowly and fan-cast all around the boat in every direction when you are in a shallow area, slowly retrieve it and repeat.
A typical day for us would be drifting down shorelines trying to keep the boat in approximately ten feet of water if possible. The person at the back usually puts on a jig with a soft plastic minnow or twister tail and casts it backwards, or trolls a small crankbait. The other anglers would be casting all around in front and towards the shoreline. This way we cover all areas in that zero to ten foot depth range.
When you come across a point or a shallow flat that you think may be holding some fish, stop the boat and cast to cover the area. Spend a few minutes doing this and then carry on. If you do find an area that is holding a decent school of fish you can always stop progress to fish vertical as well. Covering water slowly in the spring is essential, but also remember not to run away from an active group of fish should you find it. I am guilty of this when fun-fishing and even in tournaments. We think that we need to keep moving all the time and we end up running away from fish as we call it. Later in the day usually you realize wow, we had way more bites on the this point we should head back there and try it again, and usually it’s too little too late and that school either shut off or moved on.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and remember to always have fun and treat every day on the water as a learning experience. Take a notebook with you and write down the speed you were going, what colors you were using, the water temperature, and anything else you can think of and start keeping a fishing log of your experiences. Next year you can pull out that book and say hey the water temperature and conditions are exactly the same as this day last year, maybe we should try doing this again and see what happens. In fishing the conditions are ever-changing and nothing is ever guaranteed but having a reference and notes to work off of and add to is one small way to increase your success out on the water. I know it sounds cliché but catching fish is fun, the more you catch, the more fun you will have. With a little effort at home planning and preparing and taking time to make a few notes here and there you will have even better results out on the water year after year.