It's been a tough winter. You've probably been cooped up for months and have started seeing a strange object in the sky at times during the day. It seems to illuminate the surrounding landscape.
That's the sun.
Suddenly, many of us are starting to see photographs of big fish popping up on our social networking sites. This, along with warmer days, causes us to rush outdoors and hit our local lakes to see what might be biting. But the spring transition can be a very frustrating time for anglers. We expect to catch fish easily, but that doesn't always happen.
If you've been fishing at all throughout the winter you've probably been catching fish deep. Now, conventional wisdom says fish should be shallow right now in most southeastern states. Stripers and white bass should be running up creeks and rivers. Largemouth bass should be in the creeks and adjacent semi-deep water. Crappie should be on the beds, often in concurrence with the dogwood's blooming. But they aren't blooming yet where I'm at.
If you think you're just going to go out and start consistently whacking target species in the shallows from here until mid-summer - you're probably going to get frustrated pretty quickly.
I suggest being prepared to fish both a winter pattern and a spring pattern on any given day, until you start seeing warmer days and nights consecutively in your home state. It seems the last two winters have seen front after front sweeping across the country, dumping loads of precipitation and flooding rivers and creeks.
This can cause fish like crappie, white bass, stripers and largemouth to stage in water a good distance from the banks or river mouths. And they might stay there awhile. Or they could move back and forth daily.
If you're on the water early, by all means, start shallow. Throw your Texas rigs, jigs, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jerkbaits. But if the water is still cold, or the color of coffee from flooded creeks, the fish just might not be on the banks or in the shallows at all.
One great method to try to determine what your specific target species might be doing on a slow day is long-lining. You can be in a kayak or a boat. Start in 8 to 10 feet of water and drop a few in-line spinners. Perhaps a gold and a silver variety. The fish will have a preference. I'll usually try a few with hair and a few without. If you start in the back of a creek, or in a river mouth, you won't need any weight. Watch your sonar and do your best to avoid snags. A pedal-powered kayak is ideal for this, as it operates quietly.
If you've had a good warming trend of three to five days and this isn't working after an hour or so, go deeper. Add some weight to get your lures running lower and perhaps switch one in-line spinner out for a rattling crank bait. The idea is to find actively feeding fish. If you spend a few hours in the shallows you think the fish should be cruising, and see no strikes, the fish may be staging deeper.
Sooner or later, as you cover deeper and deeper water, you should find biting fish. Then you can pursue them in any number of ways.
If you find crappie you can stop and try throwing jigs or even minnows if you prefer. If you find white bass they will hit the same in-line spinners you were trolling repeatedly when casted at them. If you find stripers just keep circling the area. If the fish are small, up size to one-ounce bucktails and you should see bigger fish. If you find schooling largemouth, either a crankbait or a rattletrap should work just fine. Cast over the busting fish and drag back through the commotion. Nearly any lure will get hit, but I prefer crankbaits that run four to six feet deep. If they aren't hitting those, the rattletraps usually work. Try a steady retrieve first; if that doesn't produce strikes try yo-yoing.
If you have a blue bird, high pressure day, and after several hours you haven't had any success, try even deeper water. Look in water as deep as thirty feet and try to locate trees or other underwater structure. If the lake you're fishing is stained, the fish will likely be holding tight to structure. You can jig vertically over the structure if the wind is cooperative, but if not back off and throw jigs or plastics rigged on Carolina rigs or even shakey heads. These are good choices for targeting bass species in deeper water holding tight to structure.
Many of us expect to be able to go out, sit in coves and pound the banks this time of year, but it's early yet. This can be frustrating when it doesn't produce. But it doesn't have to be. Be prepared to change your tactics drastically and have the tackle with you to do so. This will enable you to have more options available on the water when chasing a specific species, and it will also give you chances at different species should the fish you seek be negative or hard to find.