Putting Some Spring Into Your Spring Run
by Rich Troxler
The spring run is right around the corner. A couple of warm days and the bass will start to get active again. Yeah, I know, some of you may have caught a few in some of the river outflows or where ever, but I'm talking about when the bass masses awake and the bites start to get more predictable.
So where do these “predictable” bites happen?
No secrets here, and nothing you haven't heard before from many sources. I have found that the most dependable early spring bites happen “deep” in the bays. There was a thread a little while back about what does “deep” in the bay mean. For me, it means a reasonable distance away from the nearest inlet.
So what do you look for?
You are looking for water that does not have a high exchange rate with the ocean. The ocean is much slower to warm than the bay, and warm water is the primary factor you should look for early in the spring. The whole food chain will wake up first where the water is warmest. It happens every year this way.
Several factors cause water in the bay to warm. Shallow water on the flats will warm quicker than deeper water, with flats having dark sand or mud bottoms warming the fastest. Flats bordered by sod banks that get covered during high tide are also good locations that warm quickly, as do the many drains that crisscross them. A couple days of warm sun can raise the water temps quickly in areas like these, especially if is not accompanied by wind, which tends to wick off the heat from the upper water column when it gets to blowing.
Lastly, I prefer to have a channel near by. I like flats that border boat channels (or natural channels) because I believe both the bait and the bass use them as highways. This is not a new concept by any stretch, but it is one that seems to hold true for me year after year.
All of these conditions / locations / factors are present in most decent sized bays, not just the bays of Long Island, but all up and down the entire range of the striper. All you need to do is find them and figure out access to them. Many back bay spots can be very productive in the spring, but it takes some investigation to sniff these little gems out, and sometimes it takes a little cat & mouse, or stealth fishing night maneuvers to uncover their true potential.
So what makes a dependable spring bite and how do you fish it?
First off, in early spring it doesn’t matter whether you fish day or night, the location will remain the same, deep in a bay. That’s not to say you can’t catch fish on an ocean beach in the early spring, it’s just that I don’t consider that fishing to be dependable. The ocean water is much colder in the spring and it is warmer water temps that drive early spring bites. Also, the conditions and structure in most bays remain fairly stable, year after year, so the bites are far more predictable. And that’s what you want, right?
So let’s put together the factors that get the bite going. The main three things are water temp, bait, and structure, in that order. As the water warms, the microorganisms that fuel the food chain start to bloom. The local resident white bait becomes active and begins to feed on the microorganisms, and the bass shake off the rust and begin to chow down on the white bait. The bass may nose around the mud flats also as a host of bottom fodder wakes up and sticks it collective head out of the mud. This gives rise to two possible approaches to how to catch them. Regardless, warm water is the factor that triggers the whole food chain event and the warmest water will occur during the outgoing, especially late afternoon or early evening.
If you fish days, the easiest way to find out if fish are feeding on bottom fodder, or are simply in the area, is to throw out the trusty clam/worm/chunk on a fish-finder and wait a spell. Bait is a tried and true approach to catching early season bass, especially when they haven’t fully recovered from their winter stupor.
If you fish bait at night, you will be very surprised at just how shallow bass will go in search of a meal. I’ve caught them off flats in 3 feet of water, maybe less, with nothing more than underhand lob and was taken off guard at how fast they tracked down the bait. This is “quiet” fishing, so keep the lights off and noise down. Once the spring really gets going, let’s say around late April, the fish are typically feeding on white bait and/or grass shrimp, and at night your ears will let you know if they are around.
The reason for this is that warm water is lighter than cold water, with the warmest at the top of the water column. And this is where the food chain will be. The microorganisms will be there, the white bait that feeds on them will be there, and the bass (and weakfish if you’re lucky later in the spring) will be there. So if you are hearing a lot of happy slappy’s, put the clam away and break out the small profiles.
White bait can be varied in size at this time of year in most locations. I don’t know what governs this for sure, although it probably has to do with breeding cycles and whatnot. What I do know is that sometimes the forage is small and other times, not as small. Bass on a spring white bait bite can get pretty specific in what they’ll hit, particularly if grass shrimp are around, so bring a variety of small slender profiles to the party.
This is teaser time personified, so make sure to bring some of those along also. There have been many nights when teasers were the only thing they would hit. As for plugs, a 5 ¼” SS needlefish is a great plug to start with as is a Bomber long-a. A small bucktail with #70 rind is also a good choice, or most any small shad head / slender rubber bodied combo. But when fishing a teaser I would suggest sticking with the SS needlefish for the simple reason of how well they cast.
Although bunker show early in the spring, there are usually not too many good-sized fish around at that time to feed on them. Around Long Island, bigger fish show up en-masse by the end of May and into June. By then, if they’re not swimming north, the bunker will have typically settled into many of their traditional bay spots and will draw those bigger fish to them. But that is a different story for another time.
So there you have it. Nothing you haven’t heard before, just a fairly simple refresher on how to develop some solid early spring bites in the bays of the northeast. Depending on where you live on the coast, just adjust the calendar references from Long Island to your area. I hope everybody has a great spring.