KVD's 6-season bass guide

Round-the-calendar fishing with Kevin VanDam

The upper end and the north side of a reservoir are two major spawning magnets. In spring, the water warms up earliest in the upper end, and later in the lower end. You can therefore target spawning bass in April in the upper end, and May in the lower end.

Again, look for migration routes leading to shallow, protected water. In clear reservoirs and many natural lakes, you'll be able to see bass on their beds; a tube bait is awesome here, as is a floating worm. A soft jerkbait works well for spawners if the water is a bit stained.

Postspawn: 70 to 75 degrees

This is a real tough time to pattern bass. I try to target either the fish that spawned earliest and are moving out toward their summer digs, or the late bedders.

When bass leave their beds, they're likely to hang around their spawning grounds awhile. Cover that's sticking up vertically from the bottom is very important now. They'll hang around boat dock pilings, submerged bushes or the trunk of a standing tree. You'll often see bass suspending near the surface now, looking like they're sunning themselves. Most bass are not very aggressive and won't feed much right after spawning, but they can be tempted to bite a reaction-type lure.

It's real important to keep your presentation up high in the water column, as opposed to bumping bottom. In dirty water, I'll swim a 1/4-ounce jig with a grub trailer — just reel it in, not hop it on bottom. A tandem Colorado or Colorado/Indiana spinnerbait is excellent in stained water. In clear lakes, topwaters work great: try Strike King's Spittin' King and KVD Floating Wild Shiner, or Lucky Craft's Sammy. These stay in the strike zone a long time — a big plus during postspawn.

Summer: 75 to 90+

Summer is main lake time. Bass migrate back onto the main body of water, where they hang around channel-oriented structure: humps, points, dropoffs, ledges. Your best bet in the first part of this phase is a slow tapering point at the mouth of a spawning cove.

In summer, light penetration is a major factor in determining bass depth. Bass will hold at the lower end of the light penetration spectrum, where they can still see adequately but remain concealed from their prey. In extremely hot water, bass avoid overstressing themselves by holding or suspending near cover or a dropoff for long periods, then feeding in short, aggressive bursts.

Rivers and river-run reservoirs are especially good in summer; they stay cooler longer and have sufficient dissolved oxygen from top to bottom. Smallmouth will be right in the current, often behind a rock or stump; largemouth favor slack water close to some flow. Bass in river-run reservoirs often have been conditioned not to feed until the upstream dam releases water and the resulting current repositions baitfish. Once current picks up, they focus in tight groups and often move shallower to feed.

Weed growth proliferates in natural lakes and in some reservoirs. Baitfish and bass will gravitate to weedy bays and pockets, where the water is cooler and highly oxygenated. Bass position themselves near irregularities in the weed bed, such as holes, pockets and points. They can be taken on the surface with a weedless frog or rat, or by flipping or pitching a plastic worm or tube bait through the grass.

Where weeds aren't prevalent, this is the best time to crank, especially if the water has a little stain to it. In clear lakes, a topwater lure can draw strikes until the sun gets above the tree line.

Fall: 75 to 55 degrees

I actually begin fishing a fall pattern when the water has cooled 10 degrees below its hottest point of the summer — this can vary greatly from lake to lake. A rapid temperature drop is best, for this can really put bass on the move from deep main lake structure to shallow water. Bass react to cooling water by moving shallower to big flats, long points with a gradual taper, and tributary arms.

Bass are more baitfish-oriented now than in any other season. Look for large schools of shad, alewives, etc., on your graph. In reservoirs, cooling water causes vast numbers of shad to migrate into tributary arms, and bass are close behind. Follow this migration by fishing the first third of creek arms in early fall, then gradually pressing farther back into the tributary as the surface temperature drops. I'll often idle my boat up a creek arm, watching my graph for suspended shad schools or looking for bait flipping on the surface. Isolated wood cover or boat docks in the backs of creek arms are dependable fall bass patterns. In lakes that don't have shad, bass feed heavily on bluegill and shiners, both grass-oriented species, so target weedy areas.

It's important now to keep your lure off the bottom, because most baitfish are suspended in the water column. Match lure size to baitfish size. My fall lure preferences include spinnerbaits with willow leaf blades (they match the profile of baitfish), and shallow to medium running crankbaits. In clear lakes, I like shad patterns; in murky lakes, I want standout colors, like chartreuse with a black or blue back.

Their aggressive pursuit of baitfish means bass often school on the surface in fall. Always keep a topwater lure, especially a noisy chugger, tied on now. As the water cools to the lower end of the autumn range, a suspending jerkbait will catch fish.

Originally published March 2008

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