Black Bass Basics - locating bass in the spring
Throughout the coming months, Fish and Fly will build up a basic but in-depth guide to fishing for black bass, one of the world's premier sport fish on the fly. Whether you're a bassing beginner in America, Europe or South Africa, this is a series for you.
Remember, in springtime, the dominating factor in the life of black bass is spawning. This is what drives their movement from deep water towards the shallows that warm fast. The males make this pilgrimage first, often hanging in slightly deeper water, just off the spawning sites. Early in the pre-spawning season, they'll be difficult to catch because they're not feeding anything like hard. You've got to be looking at water temperatures over the mid fifties before fly fishing makes any real sense. Once the water hits the sixty degrees mark then you can expect really dramatic action - especially as there aren't many prey fish about and the fish are on the move a great deal of the time, hunting very actively indeed.
You can begin to expect spawning to start once the water temperatures reach the mid sixties. After spawning, the females in particular don't feed much at all for the next twenty days or so. Males generally guard the nest and they'll strike at lures that come too close and spell out a threat. But whether you should target males at this time of the year is a debatable point here at Fish and Fly…
So where to look? Remember your first aim is to locate shallow water that warms up fast. Typically, you'll find ideal areas in coves, secluded bays, dead-end channels, all those quiet bits of water where there's not much depth, and, essentially, where there's good protection from cooling winds. This can be given by trees, high banks or reed beds.
There are other factors to be aware of, however. If the shallow, warm water has deeper drop-offs close by, so much the better. Also, if your shallow areas are slightly cloudy, this is all to the good. Deep, clear, cold water isn't what bass are looking for at this time of the year. Floating vegetation of any sort is also excellent because it gives the bass a feeling of security in shallow water.
Also, look out for emerging lilypads which are just beginning to push towards the surface. These pads offer cover for the adult fish but, more importantly than that, for the newly-hatched youngsters. Areas with a lot of tumbledown tree branches and roots provide the same sort of service and look out, too, for emerging bulrushes because bass will often build their nests deep in the heart of these.
Use your brain power here. Think about prevailing winds. If they're nice and warm you might well find that coves facing them warm up quickly and attract bass in. But if the winds are cold, look for bays well out of their way, which is sheltered and which can absorb the sunlight. Think about incoming streams, for example. If these are coming from high moorland, they might well be cold and bring the temperature of the water in a bay down rapidly. This can be especially the case after heavy rains.
As with all location techniques, you've got to take your time. Choose a nice bright day to pole your boat or canoe very gently around the shoreline. Make sure you've got good Polaroids and a peaked cap to keep stray sunlight out of your vision. Move cautiously. Look carefully. A full day spent looking can pay massive dividends in sessions to come.
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