Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Mapping your way to spring angling success

By James Lindner

Angling Buzz

When open water finally prevails across the Ice Belt, it’s time to jump in the boat, blow off the stink of winter, and cash in on one of the best bites of the year – if you can find the fish.

What’s the easiest route to fish on nearly any lake, no matter how big? Use the mapping feature on your electronics in conjunction with the surface temperature thermometer to find shallow, warm water.

No matter if you’re talking about panfish, pike, walleyes, or bass, when they break out of their winter doldrums, they head to shallow water, looking for food.

The first thing I do when I hit a spring lake is check out the Lakemaster contour map of that specific lake on my Humminbird Helix sonar/GPS/chartplotter. Then, by punching a few buttons on the unit, I highlight every part of the lake that’s 8 feet deep or less. This shows me the backwater bays, channels, and – especially – expansive shallow flats that are likely to warm up first. 

My game plan now is to find the warmest water available. Many times after ice-out, the main lake is just 35 degrees, while some of these shallow areas have water that’s in the 50-degree range – and that’s where the fish will be. 

At this point, I feel like I’m on the right track, but there’s more exploring to do. I’m looking for the warmest water of these shallow areas, and that’s where the surface temp readout on the sonar unit becomes invaluable. I cruise and note the trends regarding what part of the bay or flat is warmest.

I’m also careful to observe the wind. For example, let’s say I come to a bay with ample shallow water. If the wind is from the east, it’s likely pushed all the warm surface water to the bay’s west side.

It never ceases to amaze me how fish can find the warmest water in an area like this, but they do. You can bet the west side of the bay will have more fish than the east side, even if the west-side water temperature is just three or four degrees higher.

Another big factor that helps water warm is a dark lake bottom. Find areas that have dark, dead weeds on the bottom and you probably have found warmer water. 

As for how to catch them, remember that these fish are in these shallow waters to feed, and they’re fairly aggressive, even if they won’t move a long ways to chase a bait.

I like to cover water with horizontal presentations, with jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, and soft-plastic swimbaits – spring’s holy trinity of lure types. Just make them size-appropriate for the species you want to target.

This spring, map your own way to success by finding the shallow-water areas that warm the earliest.

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