Get ready for springtime angling.
By Trent Jonas
Changes in the weather usually mean changes in your fishing strategy, whether it’s fishing deeper, changing up baits, or in some cases, switching up the type of fish you're going for altogether. As winter slowly turns into spring, fish will change their habits, so it’s time for you to do so as well. Here are seven fishing tips for early spring angling.
The best trout angling typically requires clear, moving water. In spring, you’ll most likely get fast moving streams—but you’ll also get dirty, high, and extremely cold water, as well. Although brown trout like cold water, they don’t like it below 40° F. For this reason, in the colder water of early spring, browns tend to tuck in pretty tight to river and stream banks. This helps them to avoid expending the energy necessary to fight the heavy currents of the season. At the same time, this means they’re not going to feed overly aggressively, so you need to be precise enough with your casts that you can get close to the fish with whatever pattern you’re using, whether nymphs that match early hatches or streamers.
Because of their ubiquity in the United States, early spring can mean different things for largemouth bass and the anglers who chase them: It all depends on where you (and the fish) live. When water temps reach the mid-50s, largemouth bass will into shallow water to spawn. In southern states, that may happen as soon as late February. So, in southern latitudes, you’ll want to bang a crankbait off cover or drop a swimbait to rile bass who are in pre-spawn or bedded down. On the other hand, in places where you have to wait for the ice to break up, largemouth tend to suspend in deep water and feed off schools of bait fish. For these fish, a jigging presentation with a spoon (mimicking the shad they chase) works well.
Stripers tend to be a little tricky in the early spring. They’re not quite running the eastern seaboard yet—although there may be a few early migrators out along the coast—and resident fish tend to be pretty low energy as they gear up for the spring spawn. Look for deep holes in river or stream mouths or channels that run along tidal mud flats. Use live bait and throw what the stripers are eating this time of year on the flats: clams, shrimp, sandworms and bloodworms.
In early spring, muskies are hanging out in the warmest water they can find, regardless of how much warmer it actually is than the main body—even a small difference will attract early-season muskies. Look for them in backwaters, bays, and eddies—which is where the species they feed on, like bluegills and suckers, congregate after the ice recedes. As aggressive as they are, muskies are sluggish in cold water, so you’ll want to use a slow presentation. This means using a bait that you can work slowly or at varying speeds, like a crank or glide bait.
In the spring, walleye are gearing up to spawn. They’re not usually triggered to do so until the water temperatures is 50 degrees or warmer, but until that time, they tend to hang out near where the spawning will take place. On larger rivers, they will hold near the mouths of creeks and smaller tributaries. Meanwhile, on lakes, they will tend to linger near the mouths of any streams or rivers that enter the lake. Look for these areas and concentrate on mud flats near them. Slowly trolling a crankbait along the bottom will often get the attention of spring walleye, as well slowly jigging a minnow from a boat.