Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

By Dan Small

Contributing Editor

Spring is a real teaser at these latitudes. When mid-April
brought temperatures soaring into the 80s, it looked like we’d have
bass and bluegills on the beds by the opening day of the inland
fishing season. A week later, cold fronts and snow squalls brought
us back to our senses.

So now, it’s anybody’s guess what anglers will face on the
opener. As lakes make their transition from winter to summer, how
do you decide where and how to fish on your first few outings of
the season?

With so many lakes, new tackle, and fishing strategies to choose
from, remembering three basic concepts will help you plan a
successful opening-weekend trip. Concept No. 1: warm water attracts
fish. Concept No. 2: green weeds hold fish. Concept No. 3: baitfish
are scarce.

Warm water attracts fish

Everyone knows fish are cold blooded, but we often forget this
fact early in the season when looking for a place to fish. Most
fish species seek warmer water early in the year, as their spawning
time approaches and they pull out of winter inactivity. Water only
two or three degrees warmer than the rest of the lake will pull
fish from a great distance and concentrate them in a small

The activity level of each species will vary, depending on how
close the ambient water temperature is to that species’ preferred
temperature and whether or not they have finished spawning.
Northern pike and walleyes, which will likely have finished
spawning by opening day, will be more active at lower temperatures
than bass and panfish, which will not spawn until later.

Lakes in the southern part of the state will warm sooner than
those up north. Small, shallow, dark-water lakes will usually warm
sooner than large, deep, clear lakes. Flowages generally warm up
before natural lakes because most are shallow and dark.

A shallow, mud-bottomed bay at the north end of any lake will
warm up sooner than the rest of the lake because shoreline trees
protect it from a north wind, because it receives more direct
sunlight this time of year than a bay at the south end of a lake,
and because its dark bottom absorbs sunlight, thus producing warmer

The cooler the spring, the more exaggerated these differences
will be. In early May, a small, dark, shallow lake in the southern
part of the state may be a month ahead of a large, deep, clear lake
250 miles farther north. Sun trumps wind, however, so lakes will
warm quickly during sunny weather, even if the air is cool.

Green weeds hold fish

Like all green plants, aquatic vegetation converts carbon
dioxide to oxygen. In late winter and early spring, when dissolved
oxygen levels are low, fish are attracted to oxygen-rich patches of
new vegetation.

Green weeds also attract things bigger fish eat insects,
crustaceans and smaller fish and they provide cover for predator
and prey alike.

Look for new vegetation in shallow bays, on shallow bars and
humps surrounded by deeper water, and on flats. The scarcer the
patches of green weeds, the more important they are to fish. In a
cool spring, one or two small patches of green weeds on a bar or at
the mouth of a shallow bay may hold everything from panfish to

Baitfish are scarce

Since most minnow species spawn in spring and summer, their
numbers will be lower now than at any other time of year. Small
panfish and game fish, too, will be relatively scarce, since most
yearlings will be too large for all but the biggest predators to

Game fish will be hungry as their metabolism increases and they
approach or finish spawning, so live minnows and artificial baits
that imitate minnows are especially effective in spring. Smaller
minnows are often a better choice early in the year, when game fish
might not want a big meal. If minnows are unavailable, small
crankbaits and jigs with plastic tails often produce just as

Putting it all together

We all have our favorite lakes, but early in the season, it
makes sense to pick one where the fish you seek are likely to be
more active and more accessible. A delayed spring might mean you’ll
still find walleyes close to spawning areas come opening day on a
deep, clear northern lake. An early spring might mean you’ll find
bass already on the beds on a shallow, southern lake.

Regardless of the lake, you’ll find more fish where you find
weeds in spring, so now is a good time to work places that might be
too weed-choked a few weeks from now. If there are few or no weeds,
try other shallow structure such as wood, brush, or cribs.

Gear your presentation to the activity level of the fish you are
after. Walleyes and pike are likely to be more aggressive than
muskies and bass now, but don’t assume they will be at summer
metabolism levels. Lethargic fish, as hungry as they may be, are
less likely to chase large, fast-moving baits than they are to pick
up a small, slow-moving bait that hovers temptingly in front of
their snouts.

These concepts may seem pretty basic at a time when gear and
presentations lean more and more toward the high tech, but even the
fanciest gear won’t catch fish if you fish in the wrong place, at
the wrong time with the wrong bait. Keep them in mind as you fish
this spring, then let me know how you do. You can reach me at

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