It's common bass fishing knowledge that a lake's entire population of largemouth does not assault the shallows to spawn in one great wave.
Instead, the population makes the trek in staggered steps according to changing environmental conditions. Even so, one big move of monster females and their largemouth mates typically punctuate a springtime spawn.
Understanding how all of the chips fall into place for that magical move is key to scoring huge catches and making lasting memories of a storybook prespawn-to-spawn springtime fishing trip.
Just ask Preston Clark, winner of a Bassmaster Elite Series event in 2006 on the Santee Cooper lakes. His winning weight was 115 pounds, 15 ounces, in an April tournament in which an incredible wave of largemouth moved shallow during the four-day event in South Carolina.
Or pose the same question to Alabama's Steve Kennedy, who broke Clark's record one year later on the opposite side of the country in early April. After four days of fishing California's Clear Lake, Kennedy and seven other anglers broke the century mark in their final catches. Kennedy led the pack at California's Clear Lake with 122-14.
These incredible, coast-to-coast catches beg an answer to the following question: What is the proverbial trigger that releases the last great wave of big bass?
"It really depends on the fishery," observes Kennedy. "But there's always one thing that resonates no matter where you are in the country, from Alabama to California."
And that's how the fish funnel up and into a tributary to their final stop at the spawning areas, he believes.
"The last deep bank in a given tributary is where you'll find the biggest concentrations of big bass," Kennedy notes. "They want that deep water and after they are committed to the spawn they will look for any breaks they can find in the backend of a creek."
"From there, the fish will scatter out onto the spawning flats," he adds. "But if you can find that one, last deep spot in a tributary you normally find the biggest concentration of big bass."
Gerald Swindle, a fellow Alabama Elite Series pro, believes that warm nights are a catalyst. His final day was capped by a 10-6 largemouth, one of several double-digit bass caught during the competition.
"I'm not a biologist by any means, but we see this time and time again," he observes. "And what we see are these big bass showing up in shallow water early in the morning, making it obvious they are nocturnal, moving up at night. It was just amazing at Clear Lake."
According to Swindle, the fish make their textbook migrations in early prespawn from deep water to main lake points, and then move on to the secondary points within a tributary.
"They go point to point, just like following a route on the interstate," he says. "The points are like rest areas where they can rest and feed."
He continues, "thermal warmth during daytime is a given. It's the nighttime consistency the fish need to keep them moving inward."
"If there is a cold night where the temperature takes a big dip then it slows the movement," he adds. "A lot of anglers don't think about the nighttime movement and activity of prespawn bass, but I believe it's a key to their migration."
With the fish constantly on the move, another question requires an answer. And that is, where can an angler intercept these nomadic fish as they make sometimes unpredictable moves into the shallows?
Swindle and his peers key on points all the way to the headwaters of a tributary. Additionally, the fish will funnel into ditches, cuts and channels as the tributary narrows in size and depth becomes more defined.
"The good thing is the fish become more concentrated as they move shallower, making the strike zone smaller and easier to find," says Swindle.
"Watching the daytime weather forecast is a give for anglers and especially during springtime when the weather changes all the time," he says. "But it's equally as important to follow the nighttime lows, when the fish are making their final move to the spawning flats."