Hunting Spring Largies - The Fisherman

Hunting Spring Largies

Hunting Spring Largies Dressed
Dressed more like a surfcaster than a freshwater bass-man, the period after ice-out can produce some excellent fishing and you will often be the only one on the water.

In general, as a fisherman I try to fish in places where no one else goes or I try to be there at times when no one else is likely to be fishing. This might mean fishing for largemouth at 11 o’clock at night or trudging in through heavy rain and wind to fish a spot from shore that sees too much boat pressure on an ordinary day. The lengths that I have gone to in order to make these things possible probably should make me think about my priorities in life—if I had put that kind of time and effort into making my first million, I’d probably be eating dinner with Warren Buffet on my super yacht instead of sitting here worrying about the price of heating oil, but that didn’t happen.

Hunting Spring Largies Biggest Bass
With the arrival of those first scout herring or spring trout stocking trucks, make the switch to large swimbaits for a chance at the biggest bass of the year!

I took a long time off from freshwater fishing while I poured my heart and soul into surfcasting and so many of the things I learned from fishing the surf have been directly applicable upon my return to fishing for largemouths. The biggest differences are that freshwater bass are always somewhere in the pond and that secret spots and locations are pretty rare in freshwater fishing. This has led me to adjust my mindset to targeting places that are hard to fish; my number one rule is to never fish a pond that has a boat ramp. This cuts out just about every popular lake and pond you or I have ever heard of, but that’s the point.

Inevitably, there are others who think the way I do and, even on the most remote ponds in my area, we sometimes see other guys that are willing to go to the same lengths to slide a car-topper into some less-pressured waters. Of course there is a lot of trial and error that goes into this style of fishing because you won’t find much intel on the waters you’re targeting. My fishing partner and I once drove miles of twisting sandy trails to access a bog pond only to find that there didn’t appear to be a single living creature in the entire place!

But there is a period of time when even the ponds that are fished the hardest will go months with little or no pressure and that is the end of the winter. I’m just going to come right out and say that most fishermen don’t have the testicular fortitude for this kind of fishing. It’s cold, it’s slow and it takes some time to build enough confidence to drive yourself out there to freeze for five hours and maybe not even hook up. But the fact is, more often than not, you’ll be rewarded.


If there is even a modest warming trend in late-February or early March, the rides begin. I will make the drive almost daily past some of the ponds closest to my house looking for that first hint of cold blue peeking through the ice. When I see it, I immediately text my fishing partner to begin formulating a plan.

Our first trips are usually in waders. Our target areas are all roughly the same; they are areas that offer passage between deep and shallow water: a steep point, a trough coming up out of the depths, or a line of structure leading out of deep water. These are tactics I learned surf fishing, and these types of areas are some of the first places that see largemouths moving up to feed. We have caught fish just days after the ice melted in these locations.

We don’t fish in waders because we like soaking in sub-40 water for three hours; we do it because the presentation is easier. Using jerkbaits we can swim them up out of the depths into the shallows, which I feel is a more natural presentation when the water comes up a few degrees in the late winter. It’s also convenient because it allows us to pack up and move to a new pond if the bite seems to be off without having to load and unload the boat. And success at this time of the year is often made or broken by whether or not you can find active fish.

On these very early trips, jerkbaits dominate our arsenal. The best shore-bound baits that we have found are the Lucky Craft Flash Minnow 110, Rapala BX Minnow, Vision 110 and the Jackall Squad Minnow. Sometimes agonizingly long pauses are required to hook up, but, more often than not, the fish coming up these highways are moving up to feed and the hits are pretty vicious. Best of all, once you start getting them, it seems like the commotion attracts more fish to come up and investigate.

After a few weeks of open-water fishing, we will begin to increase the size of the jerkbaits and start working in more jigs and soft plastics. This is like pre-prespawn and it presents some of the best opportunities of the whole season to hook a giant. Best of all, you probably won’t see another boat or dude on the shore for at least a few more weeks.

Big Baits

In some ponds the local bass population gets a kick start. It’s an impulse they can’t ignore, a long winter probably translates to a lean feeding period and when big baits start popping up on their radar those fish snap right into gear. The two easiest scenarios to capitalize upon are trout stockings and herring runs.

Hunting Spring Waders
Waders allow the author to present his early-spring baits more naturally as the lure comes up from the depths into shallow water.

Any pond with a herring run is worth at least one look and you don’t have wait until a knot of herring has piled up at the bottom of the ladder. Herring scouts begin showing long before the big push and bass instincts are so sharp that it seems like one herring passes into the pond and the fish begin relating to the ladder and staging, looking for herring. My time fishing back rivers for stripers has taught me that herring like to travel tight to the shoreline, so you’ll often find big bass holding court in areas where a deeper pocket juts in close to the shore, or behind some kind of shoreline ambush—we’ve had particularly good success in areas where stone walls disappear into the water.

I will admit that my experience fishing trout ponds for bass is limited and I can only go by what some of the sharpest freshwater guys I know have told me. Basically, what they tell me is that when the fish truck pulls away from the launch, it seems like a bulletin has been broadcast throughout the lake. Freshly-stocked trout have zero instincts about predation and they become very easy targets for winter-starved bass. The bite will be on for weeks, but—just as the title of this article suggests—being first puts you in a very good position for some epic bass fishing with swimbaits.

It took me some time to commit to swimbait fishing. When you can easily catch 1- and 2-pounders on some kind of smaller offering it’s a challenge to give up the action in exchange for hoping for one or two big bites. But my experience has shown that late-winter and early spring are excellent times to build confidence with the big baits because the big fish are not seeing much pressure and they are hungry.

Hunting Spring Wokebaits
A few of the wakebaits produced by the author.

The baits I have done best on are wakebaits (I make my own.) and glidebaits like the River2Sea S-Waver. I’ve had limited success on the Huddleston, but I think it’s just a matter of putting in more time. I like to fish big baits really slowly—this year I picked up some RealPrey swimbaits and their ultra-slow kick and sink rate really have me excited for this season. My one word of advice for trying to get into swimbait fishing is not to bring a bail-out rod with a jig or jerkbait tied on. Only bring the big stick and the big baits, this way you won’t cop out and go back to catching rats for the bites.

There’s a lot to be said for fishing these ponds early—hey if you don’t go you’ll never understand what I’m talking about. After a few years of doing it you will begin to learn the timing of each pond; some are much slower to light up while others are already smoking when the ice comes off. Bass fishing is popular and gets more popular every day—we all like flip flops and sunny days, but if you want to a leg up on 99 percent of the rest of the fishermen, get out there when it feels too early and let me show you that it’s not. Catching a fish any time is awesome, but hanging a pig when almost everyone is saying it’s too early, well, it doesn’t get much sweeter than that!


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