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Keith Nighswonger's
Western Fishing Network

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For me, the division between Winter and Spring can clearly be defined by one critical factor: Water Temperature. Weather patterns don’t know about calendars and water temperatures can be relatively warm at times when they should be cold. When thinking about water temperature it is important to understand that for the most part, water temperature becomes a cyclical factor, with warm temperatures falling as the Winter months approach, and then beginning to rise again, signaling the approach of Spring. It is the rising temperature that occurs in the late Winter that I will address in this segment of Seasonal Patterns.
In my experience, the magic water temperature seems to be 60 degrees. In the years that I have bass fished, 60 degrees is the temperature that will bring the big females into the shallows to begin the spawning activity that we associate with the Spring, which is why I consider the Spring to officially start when the water temperature in a particular lake reaches 60 degrees. It should also be noted that it may be Spring in one lake, but not in another. I began to notice the relationship with 60 degree water temperature on Southern Nevada’s Lake Mead. Tournaments and fun fishing, I began to notice a late Winter pattern that always seemed to hold true. I like to fish the shallows with reaction lures, while at the same time, being on the lookout for shallow cruisers. Morning launch time temperatures were 56 or 57 degrees. As I worked my morning areas, I found spawning beds, but no fish. During the course of a 75 degree, early Spring day, water temperatures can climb 4 or 5 degrees and I would find that when I revisited some of my spots in the afternoon, you guessed it, the bass had moved up.
What was taking place at Lake Mead during those early Spring days was a false spawn. In the afternoons, when the water reached the magic 60 degree mark, bass would enter the shallows, and begin to fan out nests. As evening approached, and air temperatures began to fall, so did the water temperatures. When the water fell below 60 degrees, the bass would leave their shallow water nests and move out to more comfortable zones. The entire process would begin again the next day, no bass shallow until the afternoons when the water reached 60 degrees. 

Staging Areas
Where do bass go when they leave the shallows in the cool evenings? Or maybe the question should be where do they come from when they move to the shallows. The answers in each case is the staging area. The concept of a staging area is a bit difficult to understand sometimes. It is the ultimate example of a “honey hole,” because it will continuously replenish itself with fish. The staging area is a “land mark” of sorts that fish will use as their main navigational route to the shallows and then back to their normal holding depths. Staging areas can be isolated trees, brushpiles, points or large rockplies. Each of these features offers the bass a transition from deep to shallow. As the water warms in the early Spring, bass will gather in these areas. As the water temperature rises closer to the magic mark of 60 degrees the fish will actually move vertically along the particular cover (like you and I use an elevator,) until they literally find the depth they want, and move in to begin the spawning activities.
I was able to watch the phenomenon take place one early Spring at Southern California’s, Lake Perris. In the gin-clear water I spotted a 4 pound bass at the base of an isolated tree in about 12 feet of water. I tried to get that fish to hit a grub, but it would only swim off each time I dropped my grub. Leaving the fish I decided I would come back later. The morning water temperature was 56 degrees. Later that afternoon, I decided to go back and check on my friend. When I entered the cove, I noticed my temperature gage said the water had warmed to 58 degrees. I found my friend, (the same four pounder,) suspended in the tree about 5 feet below the surface. Swimming a grub in front of the tree caused her to charged out and hammer my bait.
Releasing the fish, I decided I would continue to check on her and the tree over the next few days. The next time I came to this cove was two days later. As I entered the cove, I noticed the water had warmed to 61 degrees. In my mind I new this meant that some fish would be in the shallows. I first checked my tree that was in 12 feet, I wanted to use it as a land mark to begin searching the shallows. As I moved shallow, I began seeing bass anchored on top of big boulders that were in the shallow water, (an important thing to note is that rocks absorb heat from the sun, and at least at Lake Perris, many of the fish actually spawn on top of the rocks.) A big shadow caught my attention, and as I looked through my polarized glasses, there she was, (or at least a carbon copy of the fish I had caught two days earlier.) She had used that tree to stage before moving shallow. Sensing I was on to something, I stayed in the area, fishing, but mostly watching the activity unfold. I began to notice other fish were moving into the area where I was, and they were coming from the direction of the tree. This is where I learned what I understand today about bass and staging areas. I moved out to deeper water and began to Carolina rig a plastic worm. I caught several fish from the area around the tree. More importantly, I returned many times over the course of the next two months and was rewarded most every time. In the early Spring, I am convinced the fish I was catching were actually moving up. However, as the Spring moved closer to the Summer, I am also convinced I was catching fish that were finished with the spawning process and were actually moving back to deeper water. So I was able to get these fish coming and going! 

Early Spring Tactics
I like to fish a crankbait in the late Winter and early Spring, because I feel, the crankbait is best suited for helping find these transition or “staging” areas. If I am on a lake that I do not know very well, I can fish a crank in 10 to 12 feet and cover a lot of water. I fish these baits very slow, even slow pulling them sometimes. When I do catch a fish, I like to drop a marker at the boat so I have a reference point. Keeping my boat next to the marker, I will make repeated casts to the area where my crank fish came from. Having found a possible staging area, I like to fish the area very carefully with a 3/8 oz Weapon jig with an R & R Strokers plastic pork trailer. The jig is always a good choice because this time of year bass are looking for big meals as they prepare themselves for the upcoming spawn.
If I have already located areas that I know the bass use to move to the shallows, I may incorporate a plastic worm. I will start with a 5” R & R Strokers worm fished Texas style, doodling around deeper cover. If I find the fish are inactive, I will change the presentation to a Carolina style worm rig. It is very important to note here that beginning with a Texas rig is the way to go. If the fish are in an aggressive mode, they will be “turned on” by the sound and vibration of your weight. If the fish are keyed into this vibration, we want the worm and hook to be located at the center of the commotion! If you start with a Carolina rig, you may find that you miss a lot of strikes. Aggressive bass will actually strike the weight because it is the source of attraction to them. If I don’t get bit on the Texas rig, I will move to the Carolina rig, because I believe the fish are looking for a less threatening presentation.
The key to fishing this Early Spring transitional period is patience. You may not find bass all over the lake, but when you do come in contact with a spot, chances are it will hold several biters for you!


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