Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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On opening day, harass some bass

By Joe Shead
Contributing Writer


After a long winter, thousands of Minnesotans will be back in the hunt for bass come the May 9 fishing opener. Fishing League Worldwide angler and Shimano pro Josh Douglas, who lives near Lake Mille Lacs, offered some tips to help you formulate your opening day plan if bass are on your menu.


Although lakes in the southern part of the state will have been ice-free for several weeks, and northern lakes have just recently opened, bass will still be in a pre-spawn pattern all across the state.


“They’re looking to eat,” Douglas said. “They’re getting off a hard winter. As soon as that ice breaks, they start to move to the shallow water really, really fast.”


Douglas said bass anglers can sleep in on opening morning. Bass will be most active in the afternoon, after the water has warmed up.


“The key to pre-spawn is finding the warmest water you can,” he said. “Look for those same areas where they want to spawn in June.”


Douglas added that sometimes fish will be in flooded areas that may be high and dry by midsummer.


Let’s take a look at how Douglas approaches both largemouths and smallmouths early in the season.


“The largemouths should be back in little coves in real shallow, protected bays – places that warm up quickly,” Douglas said. “The smaller the lake, the quicker it’s going to warm up.”


When targeting pre-spawn largemouths, Douglas uses “reaction” baits to elicit strikes.


“It’s a good time to give them a bigger bait,” he added.


Douglas pitches chatterbaits, swimbaits, and spinnerbaits to the shallows on warm afternoons, reeling them in as slowly as he can. Lipless crankbaits can also be productive. Lily pad fields and old milfoil patches can hold fish on clear lakes, he said.


“The exception to that reaction bait would be flipping a jig to shallow boat docks,” Douglas added.


“If it’s dirtier water, that means there won’t be as much vegetation,” he said. “Hit hard targets in dirty water like laydowns, stumps, and docks.” 


Smallies tend to inhabit clear lakes, such as the Canadian Shield lakes of the northern part of the state and Douglas’s home water on Mille Lacs.


“The water is going to be really clear – the cleanest it gets all year,” Douglas said.


Long casts are critical to catch shallow bronzebacks in ultra-clear water, and you’ll have to finesse them with 1⁄8- to 1⁄4-ounce jigs. Douglas likes paddletail swimbaits or jerkbaits for early-season smallies. He matches the hatch, trying to imitate young perch or crayfish, and uses a slow, methodical retrieve.


“I’m never really burning it,” he said. “It’s really cold water and the fish are sluggish. They’re ultra-pregnant and lethargic.”


Douglas looks for shallow, rocky shoals, which warm up faster than surrounding areas. Shoals adjacent to quick drop-offs are best, and the edges where the shallow water gives way to deep water can be especially good. On warm, sunny days, smallies move up into the shallows in roughly 3 to 6 feet of water where they feed on crayfish and young perch. If the wind switches, the warm water can quickly blow out of the shallows and smallies slide down to 10 to 15 feet of water adjacent to these shallow shoals.


“It’s important to stay out of the wind,” Douglas cautions. “Those fish are looking for calm water. Calm water warms up faster.”


Douglas continues using the same paddletail swimbaits and jerkbaits when the fish slide deeper. In clear water, fish can still see them from a distance and they may travel to hit those lures. Just keep your presentation moving slowly so lethargic fish can catch it.


Early-season bass fishing doesn’t have to be complicated. Think shallow structure on warm, calm, sunny days, whether you’re targeting largemouths or smallmouths. Under cold conditions, fish may slide out deeper, but they won’t go far. 


Keep your presentation slow so sluggish fish can grab it and hold on. It sure feels good to hit the open water again!

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