This year, winter has been about as persistent as I’ve seen it in a long time. Everyone I talk too has been sick of the cold weather and they’re ready for the warm weather to get here and stay here.
That’s been the problem – winter conditions have lingered much longer than normal for much of the central and southern parts of the country. I’ve seen this scenario before and what happens is it backs up the spawning cycles and gets those lakes off their seasonal schedules.
But, you know, that’s not all bad. I know it can be frustrating when you’re all geared up and ready to stand on the end of your boat and go look at the fish, but even though the sight fishing deal has been significantly delayed in a lot of areas, I’ve found that this can actually offer an upside to anglers who are patient and persistent.
My philosophy on fishing is that once the spawn starts in a lake, the fish will move up in waves. The movement to the bank will be strong for a while, it will slack off, another wave will move up and then it will slack off again until the final wave of fish make their move. That’s not an exact formula for every lake, but this staggered process is pretty much the norm – as long as you have normal weather patterns.
But when winter keeps pushing the fish back and pushing them back, I think it kind of ends up like a champagne bottle after a NASCAR victory – you pop the cork and it all comes flying out at once. You know, those fish get so anxious to move up and do their spawning thing that once the conditions get right, you’ll often see one massive wave of fish running to the bank.
I’ve seen that recently at home on Lake Tenkiller. A spawning pocket that would normally have maybe 10 fish in it has 40. With the weather remaining cold so late into the season, the fish didn’t come up in that typical wave pattern. For the most part, they come up in one big group and that packed a lot more fish into the spawning areas.
This is when all the waiting you had to do pays off. A delayed spawn will bring so many fish to the bank in a short period of time that you’ll be amazed at the level of opportunity. Rather than taking about 6 weeks, the spawn will take maybe two.
From my experience, when you get the hardest winters, it seems like the following springs are the best for fishing. For a fisherman to take advantage of this, you really have to stay on top of the conditions. Don’t get discouraged or impatient. Just keep watching the weather and understand what makes everything start moving each spring.
Whenever the fish start coming up, that’s what gets the wheel turning. In most lakes, the fish will begin their prespawn staging when the water temperatures reach the low 50s and they’ll start moving up as the water pushes into the upper 50s.
During normal conditions, we’ve all come to expect the new and full moons to spur those fish to move up, but I think that when a long winter delays the spawn, the moon phases become less important. The fish still feel the influence of those big moons, but I just don’t think they’re necessarily waiting for it. I believe that once that water gets warm enough, they’re going and it doesn’t matter what kind of moon’s hanging up there.
As soon as they get some warmth they’ll come up, even if it’s between the major moon phases. Warm days are important, but warm nights are the key. You want that water temperature to rise and stay up there, so overnight temperatures are really important to kicking off a delayed spawn.
Once this movement begins, it opens up the tacklebox. By that, I mean the spawn allows you to catch fish a bunch of different ways and I think that’s what fishermen like the most about this time of year.
However, when a delayed spawn finally begins and you have a giant wave of fish moving up, you need to be a little more selective. More fish means more big fish fish, so make the most of your time on the water by targeting the ones that’ll really bulk up your limit, or just make for a memorable day of fun fishing.
You have to expect a lot of bites from those smaller males, so think about what you can do to trigger those bigger females. In this scenario, I’d go with a Yum Money Minnow on a 3/8-ounce swimbait head or a Super Spook. Both of these baits present a larger profile that will often intimidate the smaller males and make those big females bite.
Like any fishing scenario, the key to maximizing a delayed spawn is keeping an open mind. I think that whenever things get messed up by a long winter, you can’t say: “It’s the third week of April and they always spawn in this spot.”
You have to take every day like a new day and let those fish tell you what’s going on, rather than following preconceived ideas about what’s going on.