Don’t jump the gun on the spawning season

Every angler looks forward to that early spawning period when fish are shallow and big ones are easier to target. I’m not talking about sight fishing, but rather when there’s that first push of bass to the shallows and the fish are aggressive.

Unfortunately, predicting that movement isn’t an exact science and more often than not we jump the gun. Sure, there are instances when we’ve seen a giant wave of fish move up overnight; it’s those experiences that make us think it’s going to happen every year.

But it doesn’t.

The GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods on Lake Hartwell was a good example. The pre-tournament predictions called for a huge movement of bass to the shallows, but it never materialized. There were some fish moving up, but not the numbers that many anglers predicted.

Most of us put too much emphasis on factors that we thought would attract bass shallow without considering all of the little ingredients that trigger that movement.

Probably the biggest mistake anglers make is they get hung up on water temperature. Sure, warming water is important in the early spring, but it’s also highly overrated. I’ve seen big groups of bass move into the shallows when the water temperature was in the low 50s.

Influences that trump the spring transition and are more important are length of daylight and moon phase.

The longer the days the more anxious the fish are to transition toward spawning areas. Now, if we have an extended winter followed by a major warm up that coincides with the right time of year and a full moon, magic can happen.

That’s what occurred when Dean Rojas set the record for the heaviest stringer at Lake Toho a few years ago. With the moon growing full, we had a huge movement of giant bass to the shallows on the last day of practice and the first day of the tournament.

So moon phase is huge. I’ve seen huge schools move to the spawning flats during a full moon when water temperature was too cold and the fish weren’t biologically ready to spawn. The males are ready but the females are just up there probing around because of the pull of the moon.

Another consideration is the type of lake. You will see bass make faster transitions from winter holes to spring spawning areas in shallow natural lakes with vegetation and shallow stained water lakes.

The transition takes longer on deeper, colder and clearer lakes, like Table Rock and Lake Hartwell. On those lakes, you see more of a trickle of bass moving onto flats. 

If we would have had the same weather we experienced at Hartwell along with a full moon it would have provided a different scenario. There would have been an abundance of fish shallow.

Water fluctuations can be another key factor and probably came into play at Hartwell. Rising water can bring in waves of fish and Hartwell had been rising steadily in the weeks leading up to the Classic. We probably put too much emphasis on that because, during competition week, the water not only stabilized but began to drop.

In hindsight, I should have done a better job of predicting what was going to happen at Hartwell and how those fish would have changed by looking at all the subtle details.

Successful fishing boils down to taking a hard look at all the factors and truly understanding what is happening. In other words, let the fish and your time on the water provide all of the clues before you make assumptions that the spawning transition has begun.

It’s all part of having the right attitude!

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on Bassmaster.com. You can also find him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.