EARLY SEASON TRICKS AND TACTICS
By Ken Poor
When people put human characteristics on fish or other types of animals – Mother Nature must smile at the concept. That had to be the case recently when record setting warm weather lasted just long enough to trigger a serious case of spring fever in many northern anglers. Unfortunately, many of these anglers found out the hard way that the fish they were after had not caught spring fever yet, and they were being less than cooperative.
Anytime we get a chance to fish open water in short sleeve shirts – in March – in many northern states we should consider ourselves lucky and enjoy it. Normally at that time of year the ice fishing season is just starting to peak and we would still have a couple of weeks or more of late season ice fishing left.
When warm weather does return again there are some tactics you can use that will help put a few extra fish in the boat. First – remember that fish are cold blooded and when the water is cold their metabolism slows down. For the fishermen, this translates to mean that the fish are less aggressive when feeding in cold water and of
course the warmer the water the more aggressive the fish are likely to be – within reason.
During the early spring, there are specific areas in a lake that will warm-up faster than other sections of the lake. As the water warms in these areas it sets up a sequence of events that every fisherman should be aware of. New plant growth will begin to emerge and oxygenate the water, baitfish will move into the area to feed and game fish will move into the area to feed on the baitfish.
Fish instinctively seek out areas in a lake with the optimum living conditions. The essential elements include feeding opportunities, oxygen, ideal water temperature for a specific species of fish and suitable security (cover). The more of these elements you can combine within a given area the better the chances are that the area will hold fish.
Many species of fish spawn at this time of year so we should also consider available spawning territory.
Other elements anglers should be aware of that might influence a location where fish may hold include bottom composition and color. Dark bottom areas will warm up the quickest and large dark colored rocks will retain heat the longest. If these elements are on the north side of the lake, they will receive the sun earliest in the day and for the longest time during the day. All it takes is water that has warmed a few degrees compared to other areas of the lake to change a spot from a slow bite to spectacular fishing.
Run-off from area creeks and streams may add warm water and wash food into a lake. Dark water will normally warm up the fastest and retain heat the longest. Normally the water will be at it’s clearest early in the spring but it is not uncommon to find dark water in run-off areas just after a spring rainstorm or around creek entrances. Some species of fish will also stack-up (stage) at creek entrances in the spring prior to moving into them to spawn.
Current flow also provides a unique spring fishing opportunity especially for walleye around the dams on some northern rivers. Around the Great Lakes, walleye are not the only species of fish that move into the rivers at ice out northern pike and salmon also make the spring river run.
Clear cold water typical for early spring is a good reason to slow down and down size your presentation. Tube jigs, jigs tipped with a small plastic grub or minnow, 4-inch Texas rigged plastic worms, spoons or slip-floats dressed with small minnows are good early spring presentations especially when the water temperature is below fifty-degrees. When you think you are working them slow enough – slow down some more.
On bright sunny days when you know water temperatures are rising fast – try using small light colored spinner baits or a crankbait in some of the prime locations mentioned. Just remember to work them slow and close to bottom. Sometimes it is a good idea to let the fish tell you what they want.
The spring spawning run for fish are triggered by a combination of daylight hours and water temperature. Last weeks warm weather may have brought the water temperatures close to the optimum for spawning, but the daylight hours were just not there. I am pretty sure that Mother Nature was smiling last week as she tricked us fishermen again – but who gets the last laugh. For those of us that had spring fever and assumed that the fish would have it too and made it out on the water during last week’s warm weather – the fishing was great – even if the catching was terrible.