Figuring out the fish

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Steve Bowman

I think the biggest impact from the cancellation of the Sabine River Elite Series event is that it created the longest break during the 2018 season, excluding the Classic. So it’s been important to keep in tune for competition. I’ve found myself going fishing several times a week, not necessarily to catch anything, but to hone my skills and stay sharp. 

I’ve fished a variety of waters close to my house for the purpose of figuring out the fish in different scenarios. I’m hoping this exercise will serve me well this week at the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite on Grand Lake, because this could be a tough one to figure out.

The reason I say this is that, due to the extremely cold winter we’ve had, we’re going into what should be a postspawn tournament, but it’s actually going to be a prespawn tournament. The extended cold weather really has pushed things back that far. 

I believe there will be some fish spawning, but we’re right on the front edge of it. It’s not like a few of them might be done; most of them haven’t come in yet.

What’s interesting is that we’ll be facing a very similar situation next week at Kentucky Lake. In fact, at one of these two event, we’re probably going to hit dead-on perfect right as the fish pull up. If it doesn’t happen this week at Grand, I think it will happen at Kentucky Lake. 

When you have a mild winter, fish can gradually advance through their spring cycles. Not all the fish can spawn at once because not all of their eggs are ready. So the ones whose eggs are fully developed can pull up and spawn and then, a few weeks later, the next group gets ready and they pull up to spawn.

The result is a long, drawn-out spawning season. On the contrary, when you have a delayed spawning season, you have the wave that was ready in late March overlapped by the next wave, and the next wave and the next wave. None of them have been able to move up, but when the conditions get right, they’re all coming in.

Delayed spawns can be frustrating, but here’s my observation: I believe a hard winter sets up the entire season for better fishing. That’s because they all start to spawn at the same time, they all finish spawning at the same time, they all go postspawn and start into their summer patterns at the same time, they all move into their fall patterns at the same time. It just puts them on the same time cycle.

That makes the fish more predictable and groups them up better for the whole year. Because of this, I find that a year with a hard winter can be a positive.

Now, as far as this week on Grand Lake, I’m going to have to work hard to dial in something specific because one of the biggest impacts of a hard winter is that fewer things work. It makes it more important to find what I call “the deal.”

It seems like in every tournament there’s a deal — a bait, a type of water — you need to be in. Once you intersect that deal, you can do really well. In a staggered year, something may be working fantastic, but there will be a lot of things working a little bit.

But in a year like this, there will be one or two major deals happening, and you have to get on that particular bite. If you do, you’re going to be around groups of fish.

One other thing to note is water temperature. I’ve found water as cold as 53 in practice, which for almost May is unheard of. The warmest water I found was barely 60 degrees and that was late in the afternoon with the sun out, so that water would have been probably 56 in the morning. 

But all this could change, as we’ve had temperatures in the upper 70s the first part of the week and, after a little cold front, we’ll be back up to 70s by the weekend. Every day of sunshine and warmth will bump up those water temperatures, so we’re right on the threshold of the spawn. I could happen during this event.

One thing’s for certain, because this week’s tournament is an event that could change midstream from a prespawn to a spawn event, you always want to practice for what’s coming — and then you hope it gets here.

I’m practicing for a spawn event, and I know that’s a gamble because it may not come. But if you haven’t practiced for it and it does come, you’re behind the eight ball.