Spring is prime time for trophy largemouth bass

By Kevin Kelly 

A winter back-loaded with cold and high water can make the season’s stay seem unusually long and especially harsh.

The first warm days of the year never come soon enough. But when they do, a feeling of euphoria sweeps over anglers because springtime offers some of the year’s best opportunities for trophy largemouth bass.

“Fall is a great opportunity to catch a big one, but your best shot at the biggest bass of the year, or your life, is right now,” said Geoff Roberts, a conservation educator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and an avid bass angler.

The longer periods of daylight and the warming water temperatures of springtime tell largemouth bass that it’s time to move shallow. It’s also at this time when the big bass are at their heaviest, especially ravenous females that must pack on weight in preparation for spawning.

Kentucky boasts numerous lakes that hold “good” to “excellent” populations of largemouth bass. In the annual Fishing Forecast, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife classified 40 fisheries in those two categories.

Anchoring the list of “excellent” largemouth bass options are Barren River Lake in the southwest along with 8,210-acre Green River Lake in Taylor and Adair counties and the 6,614-acre Kentucky portion of Dale Hollow Lake in Clinton and Cumberland counties. Also making the cut were 760-acre Beshear Lake in Caldwell and Christian counties; 2,500-acre Herrington Lake in Boyle, Garrard and Mercer counties; and 767-acre Lake Malone in Muhlenburg, Todd and Logan counties. 
Smaller state-owned lakes in central Kentucky earning an “excellent” rating for largemouth bass are 142-acre Wilgreen Lake and 81-acre Lake Reba in Madison County; 148-acre Bullock Pen lake in Grant County; 317-acre Guist Creek Lake in Shelby County; 136-acre Elmer Davis Lake in Owen County and 181-acre Kincaid Lake in Pendleton County.

Wilgreen Lake’s bass population stood out in last year’s research in the Northeastern Fisheries District. It yielded good numbers of fish more than 15 inches and 20 inches, but bass don’t have to search hard for food with gizzard shad prevalent in the lake. The largemouth in the lake are robust.

“You can fish pretty much across the whole dam on that lake,” said Tom Timmermann, Northeastern Fisheries District biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “We see some nice fish across the dam. That would be a nice place to try. If you’re fishing Wilgreen, Lake Reba is just on the other side of Richmond. It has nice numbers of fish over 15 inches as well, and half of that is bank accessible. Those two lakes being the size that they are, it might make for a good day to fish one in the morning and then try to fish the other in the evening.”
Bass typically start to move shallow when the water temperature ranges from 55 to 65 degrees with farm ponds and smaller lakes warming up first.

“At a certain point, you’ve got fish in all three phases: pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn,” Roberts said. “If you try targeting the pre-spawners and you strike out doing that, try something a little different like sight fishing. And if you can’t get anything going there, look for the post-spawn fish.”

Good lures to have on hand in early spring are jig and trailer combinations, spinnerbaits, square-billed and lipless crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits and other shad imitations.

Try to intercept bass at spots that lead to spawning areas, Roberts said, such as deeper points and the deeper stretches of banks that lead into embayments, creeks or a big pocket, and work back.

“What you want to try to find are basically what bass use as highways,” he said. “Bass like to feel secure and they like to have ambush points, so they’re going to use whatever cover is available as they work their way back in until they go to where they’re going to spawn. And then they’re going to do the exact same thing coming back out.

“When they do get shallow, look for any stumps, lay downs or structures like that because that’s what they’re either going to be spawning next to or hanging out by either in preparation for spawning or immediately after they spawn.”

Spring fishing is grateful fishing, and the thrill of an early spring reunion with the water never grows old. The pull of a trophy largemouth bass only makes it better.