Updated: Sep 17, 2021
Discover our strategy to consistent, productive days on the water while fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania.
Winter to Spring Bass Fishing Transition
The transition from winter bass fishing patterns to the spring prespawn in Pennsylvania reservoir lakes has been a topic that has confused anglers for years. During the winter months in Pennsylvania, most reservoir bass spend their lives in the middle of creek channels, either close to the bottom or following bait around the lake. Bass are cold blooded animals so the water temperature naturally plays a role in dictating the activity level of the bass. As the water starts to warm up and spring rains push nutrients into the current, bass begin following the nutrient rich current into the main lake in search of shallower water to feed and spawn in. During this early spring transition to warmer feeding zones, bass can be caught using many different baits creating a challenging but rewarding day of bass fishing.
During winter and early spring, I use two simple approaches to locate bass: bank fishing and offshore fishing. I begin my days by fishing rocky, sun beaten banks before moving offshore to target schooling bass on the move. Below is an outline of my approach to consistent, productive days on the water fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania lakes and reservoirs.
Ideal Bank Fishing Zones
The first step in winter and spring bass fishing is to observe your surroundings and identify your ideal fishing zones. There are only so many hours in a day, let alone when in a tournament or out with a client on a trip. Learning to identify areas with the highest chance of catching bass is key. Observing your surroundings takes no electronics and is a great way to familiarize yourself with where you’ll be fishing.
During the winter and early spring, my first focus of the day is on fishing broken, chunky, rocky banks onshore. I look for banks near a deeper water drop off like the image shown. I want the bank to be facing the sun, collecting warmth throughout the day. Rocky banks are good fishing areas but rocky banks with wood cover create an even better bass fishing environment. Look for bluffs, points stretching out into the main lake and areas where there’s a lot of exposed wood, or even trees in the water itself.
Bass are creatures of habit and their surroundings dictate their behavior. During the transitioning from winter to the spring prespawn, bass are going to be coming up in the water column throughout the day into these warmer feeding areas. When bass move up into that higher water column, that’s where you’ll find an actually catchable fish versus down deeper where your electronics will really help you.
My suggestion: Go explore, look for the features described above and go fish it. Then, do it again until you achieve your desired result. Like many things in life, practice makes perfect. I apply these same fishing strategies to both my personal fishing, tournaments and trips with clients.
Bank Fishing Baits
I jig fish because I consider it to be one of the most versatile baits out there appearance wise. When bass are looking for new areas and they find forage, whether it's crayfish, sunnies or baitfish, they’re opportunistic creatures and aren’t going to pass up a meal. To breakdown a seasonal bass fishing pattern of any kind, you are going to have to start somewhere. Fish a bait consistently in the areas where you have the highest percentage chance of catching something. From there, adjust your strategy to what is occurring, and keep fishing. Common baits for winter and early spring bass fishing include swimbaits, jigs, jerk baits and crank baits.
Practice, Practice, Practice
My consistent success is due to the fact that I’m on the water most days practicing and making observations and adjustments in my fishing style relating to how the fish are biting that day. Since jig fishing has been the foundation of my fishing career, that’s what I am most confident in myself. Your fishing strategy should be unique to you. Pick up a bait and rod that you’re comfortable with and go fish.
Ideal Offshore Bass Fishing Zones
After bank fishing, I move offshore to areas with deeper flats to target schooling bass on the move with a search bait. In our local Pennsylvania lakes and reservoirs, good offshore fishing typically happens in deeper flats with long outward reaching points. These areas typically have stumps, rocks, tree piles and other structure scattered across the bottom.
The photo on the left is a great example of an offshore prespawn bass fishing location. This long point stretches out into the main lake with deep water on both sides and the main creek channel close by. There is rock and wood along with transitions from sand to gravel. Please note that this area along with the visible shoreline is underwater during the spring and summer when Blue Marsh Lake raises its water levels.
While electronics can play a major role in offshore fishing, the most important thing is to be covering water with your bait. At any point bass can become triggered to start foraging and strike. In order to get bit, your bait has to be near fish and the only way to achieve this is by covering water.
Using Your Electronics
For those using electronics for offshore bass fishing, side imaging is very helpful in finding structure and areas that can hold large schools of fish in a feeding area or staging area. While electronics aren’t a necessity for catching bass, they do make it much easier to identify ideal fishing areas with a high probability of catching. For anglers looking to improve upon their electronics knowledge, Due North Fishing specializes in educating anglers on using and reading electronics for fishing at Blue Marsh Lake in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Offshore Fishing Tackle
The most effective bait for me to cover water is with a crank bait. If I’m fishing in 12 feet of water, I like to use a 15 foot diving crankbait to get the most out of the strike zone I possibly can with each cast by keeping my bait closer to the bottom longer. The offshore areas I like to fish are long sloping areas between 10-15 feet deep. After casting, the retrieve can vary from a slow approach up to a fast, erratic, starting and stopping motion to create dynamic bait action to trigger a bite. It’s a bass’ instinct to be reactive towards erratic behavior nearby.
Another way to get this erratic bait action is by allowing the bait to bounce off the bottom of the lake. Not only is this effective at triggering a bite, it also allows you to feel your way through the lake. The more experience you have doing it, the more you begin to create mental maps of the bottom of the lake. This mental imaging becomes like a super power when it comes to finding catchable bass. This is a really quick and easy way to get the most out of your fishing strategy and begin creating a clear correlation between what you are seeing on your electronics and what you are feeling on the bottom as you fish.
Schooling Bass 101
Now let’s say you catch a fish on a spot. Awesome, but now what? Take some pictures and leave? In our experience, where there’s one bass, there’s usually more. The whole goal of offshore bass fishing is to find where bass are and hone in on a reliable strategy that leads to catching more. This is an important element to becoming a consistently successful weekend angler or a competitive tournament angler. Understanding the cause and effect of bass habits will lead you to creating a clear and efficient fishing strategy. Think to yourself, what triggered that fish to bite? Was it the bait or was it the way the bait moved right before the fish hit? Think about the small details and try to repeat the methodology behind what created the strike. Fish are creatures of habit and their movements are dictated by their surroundings. They are predictable but you need to be observant, pay attention to detail and most importantly, think like a bass.
Don’t overthink it. Go out and practice with a rod and bait you are comfortable throwing. Look for the attributes we’ve discussed and get comfortable using your electronics for simple items like water depth and temperature to help you move offshore with more confidence.
If you’d like to practice these techniques in person and learn more advanced methods to catching fish consistently, our fishing program focuses specifically on in depth explanations backed by experience and research. There’s a method to the madness and we can help unlock it for you. Contact us today to discuss your fishing goals.