Springtime Locational Patterns: Pre-Spawn is 50 to 59 degrees F. Spawn is 60 to 66 degrees F. Post-Spawn is 67 to 72 degrees F.
Pre-Spawn: Largemouth bass Follow a seasonal pattern typical of largemouth behavior on most reservoirs. In the spring, fish begins to move from the creek channels in the main reservoir to the secondary channels and into the coves and creek arms. This movement begins when the water temperatures move into the high 40's and the low 50's. Initially, location will focus on the main creek mouths, but as water temperature reaches the upper 50's the bass will move up the secondary channels towards their spawning grounds. Pre-spawn bass are school fish, and during the early pre-spawn these schools will be tightly packed. The first stages of the pre-spawn migration occurs in 20 to 30 feet of water; at the end of this period the fish will be in the 10 to 15 foot depths. As the fish move to the actual spawning grounds, not all schools will follow the same migration pattern. One school may move up a secondary channel until it reaches a timbered point. Here the fish may swing away from the creek channel and follow the edge of the timberline toward the spawning flats.
Another school may follow a creek channel until it intersects with a sunken roadbed. It may then follow the roadbed toward the shallows. How shallow the fish will move depends on weather conditions and water clarity. On a warm overcast day a school may move up on the flats and begin to scatter in 10 to 15 feet of water. But the passing of a cold front and plummeting water temperature could quickly drive these fish back down into secondary channels and 20 to 30 foot depths. Because of erratic weather and water conditions, the early spring can frustrate anglers, with fish "here today and gone tomorrow." During most of the pre-spawn, fish will hold close to cover. This means that lure presentation has to be "right on the money." With water temperatures in the 50's, a bass's metabolic rate is slow and it will seldom chase a lure more than a few feet. The reason many anglers fail to catch bass during this period is they ignore the overall activity level of the fish and use the same speed of retrieve as during the bulk of the summer. For slow moving pre-spawn bass, a slow dropping jig n pig combination or a single bladed spinnerbait is the best choice. And remember, during pre-spawn, stick to water in the 10 to 30 foot range. Many anglers make the mistake of fishing too shallow and miss out on the fine action of this period altogether.
Spawn: As water temperatures move into the low 60's, schools of bass will begin to scatter and move into the shallows. The males will move into three to five feet of water and begin building their nests, while the females usually hold in the eight to ten foot range awaiting a courting male. Nesting takes place on a mud or mud / gravel bottom, and the nest is invariably located up against some type of cover. The bass instinctively seeks some type of object in order to cut down on the amount of territory they have to defend from marauding bluegills and crappies. If a bass can build its nest against a stump or under a log, it can face out toward these pesky predators and will not have to worry about attacks from behind. While actual spawning may take place over a period of three to four weeks, the spawning peak will occur when the water temperature is about 64 degrees F, and if this temperature coincides with a full moon we can look forward to a "bumper crop" of baby bass. During the spawn, water clarity can vary quite a bit, depending on whether it is a dry or wet spring. Fishing tackle can vary between spinning and baitcasting, and the line size can vary between six and twelve lb. test, depending on water clarity.
Post-Spawn: After the spawning rites are complete, bass are very difficult to catch for three to six days. It seems that they use this time to clean out their systems and to recuperate from the rigors of mating. At this time bass move into a little deeper water and once again hold close to cover. But when this resting period is over, the mood changes dramatically from one of lethargy to aggressive feeding. At this time the bass form into small schools of eight to ten fish. You can expect to find these schools in eight to fifteen feet of water with long points, humps, ditches leading to secondary channels, and roadbeds the key locations. Fish location during the post-spawn is not easy, because small schools of bass are constantly moving and cover a lot of ground. It takes hard work to locate post-spawn bass, but once you do, you're in for the time of your life. During the post-spawn, lure selection is the widest of any time of the year. Topwater baits and deep diving crankbaits can both produce fish, depending on bass location and mood. Topwater lures may seem a strange choice because most fish are not located in the shallows, but they feed so aggressively during the post-spawn that a noisy surface plug will actually "call them up" from the 10 to 12 foot depths.
Summertime Locational Patterns: Summer is 73 to 85 degrees F.
Typically the summer period is characterized by movement of fish out of the creed arms and back to open water. Some of the best locations include sunken islands, secondary creek channels near the main creek channel, roadbeds, and the main creek channel. The best location is where there will be a combination of good structure, for example where a roadbed crosses an old creek channel, or where an isolated sunken island touches the main creek channel. During the summer, patterns of fish location are sometimes difficult to establish and at other times amazingly simple. It is important to remember that, throughout the summer, bass will school by size and that different schools exhibit different migration patterns. It can be tough to stay on moving fish, so once you locate them, make as many casts as you can. When the action slows, try to determine what structure the fish are migrating along and follow it until you reestablish contact. Summertime bass may move slowly or quickly, depending on the cover available. If the fish are following an old creek channel devoid of timber, they will move quickly. If, on the other hand, the creek channel has lots of timber and brush, the fish will linger as they move up the creek bed. It's difficult to say how far feeding fish will move, for behavior varies from school to school. But if a school has a definite summertime home, it probably will not move more than a quarter of a mile from sunrise to midday. And during the cold-water period, the school may move less than 100 yards in a day.
The depth of summertime bass depends on water clarity, light penetration, and water temperature. In the early summer, fish are often found in 15 to 20 feet of water. But even if the temperature gets over 75 degrees F, largemouth will not move as deep as their cousin the spotted bass. It is unusual to find largemouth in over 30 feet of water. Time of day is an important determinant in locating summer bass. Early morning and late evening will find shallow water movements of bass on shallow tapering points and around vegetation such as coontail, moss, pads, and vines grasses. Topwater plugs are a good choice when fishing the shallows. Sunken islands are also a good bet for early morning and late evening fishing and can be worked effectively with a plastic worm or a jig n pig. A classic early morning hotspot is the shallow tapering flat of an old sunken roadbed. As the sun gets high in the sky, the bass will simply move down the roadbed until it intersects a creek channel. Then the fish will meander down the creek, stopping at about the 20 foot level. Transportation routes are the least of a bass's worries. A variety of lures work during the summer period, but the plastic worm is without a doubt the best choice. Other good choices for the summer are vibrating lures and crankbaits.
Cold Water Locational Patterns: Fall temperatures are dropping from 85 to 55 degrees F. Winter from 54 to 40 degrees F.
The two cold water periods of fall and winter slowly blend into each other, without any drastic changes in fish attitude. As water temperatures begin to cool, bass form into schools that are much larger and tighter than summertime schools. While a large school of summertime bass may contain 30 or 40 fish, a school of late fall bass may number over 200. A summer school of bass tends to spread out horizontally and is loosely grouped. In contrast, a cold water school is tightly packed, with fish stacking vertically 12 to 15 fish deep. Thus, a large school of bass in the fall will occupy less space than a smaller summertime grouping. Another colds water behavioral pattern than differs from the summer is that fish hold close to cover. All these factors combine to make fish location during the cold water periods more difficult than any other time of the year. Often during late fall you can spend three or four hours patently working different structure until you finally get your first fish. But once the first fish is located, a limit can be taken on consecutive casts. Of course tightly packed schools of bass do not develop overnight. As the summer ends and the first crisp nights fall cause a slight fog on the water, bass continue to relate to classic structure; they simply begin a slow migration into deeper water. They begin seeking out the deeper roadbeds, the deeper timberlines, and the deeper creek channels.
The general preferences, however, is the channels. When water temperature reaches 50 degrees F., it is not uncommon to find largemouth in 30 to 40 feet of water. The best fall location is where two creeks join on a timbered point. Another classic fall location is where a creek doubles back on itself forming a "saddle" (a sharp U shape). The main difficulty with fishing cold water bass is that it requires patience and a methodical approach. This means fishing an area slowly and thoroughly before moving on. The best approach is to select an area that looks as if it holds a concentration of fish and then work it slowly. Vertical jigging is a popular fall and winter technique. With fish reticent to move more than a foot to inhale a lure, it is a good idea to slowly drop the jig, bounce it in place for a few minutes, and then move only four or five feet and repeat the process. A lure must be presented right in front of a bass's nose. When fishing in the timber, move from tree to tree making sure to fish all sides of each tree. Relax, and resign yourself to not covering much ground. There is simply no way to fish deep and rapidly. The bass are absolutely catchable, but finding them can take plenty of time. Although most of the bass move to deeper water when the water is in the lower 50's and mid 40's, there are days when the fish will be two or three feet below the surface. They will not, however, be in the shallow coves, but rather suspended in the tops of sunken timber. A warm sunny day in December or January can pull fish to the surface like a magnet. This is a vertical migration, however, and the bass will quickly drop back into the deep water when weather conditions change.
The key to fishing cold water largemouth is locating steep drop offs or timber near deep water channels. Once a cold water school of fish is located, it will stay in the same vicinity most of the winter. There may be some minor migrations, but the fish will not move the great distances they often do during the summer. If you know and area holds fish, simply work it over slowly. If you are "on fish", it's only a matter of making the right presentation and that means selecting from a few proven cold water methods. The standard repertoire of cold water lures include tailspins, twinspins, jig n pig, and jigging spoons. One lure that often works during early the cold water period, and is usually overlooked, is the deep diving crankbait. The reason many anglers fail to use a crankbait during the cold water period is that they have trouble keeping the lure down and at the same time moving it slowly. The fall is one time when it is critical to use plastic bodied or sinking crankbaits. The balsa lures work fine in the summer when bass are aggressive and can chase a lure some distance, but when the water is cold, bass move more slowly and it is impossible to keep a balsa lure deep without you add a sinker or two. If you try to fish a balsa crankbait without additional weight it will simply bounce to the surface. It is recommended to use a good neutral buoyancy or sinking crankbait that can be cranked down to the proper depth and then slowly crawled across the bottom. Observations by skin divers have proven that cold water bass almost always take a lure as it is dropping. When casting to locations that you think is holding fish, position your boat that the cast is made from deep to shallow water. Then, when you realize your jig or spoon it will be working downhill. This allows you to slowly drop the lure down a ridge and into a creek channel, where the bass often hold during the fall and winter. In the summer, simply reverse your position so you are casting from shallow to deep.
Then you can work your lure uphill and over the lip of the creek where summertime bass often hold. Of course under both circumances line watching is very important. At the slightest sign of movement in your line, set the hook and quickly make a mental note of the depth at which the fish stuck. If you get one strike there are probably a hundred more bass down there just waiting to fill your limit. It's difficult for most anglers to believe that they catch 40 or 50 bass out of one school, but it can happen in the fall and winter so long as water temperature stays above 41 degrees F. And the water is not muddy, cold water fishing can be exceptional. However, once the water temperature drops below 41 degrees F., or if a cold winter rain muddies the water, it's all over. The combination of cold, turbid water is the death of bass fishing.