Our Outdoors: Staking Out Spring Spaces

By Nick Simonson

As a weather junkie, I know that any forecast over five days out is not to be trusted.  As an angler though, especially the glass-half-full kind who relishes the thought of the season’s first cast over running water, I know that even a 16-day experimental forecast which shows a hint at extended temperatures above freezing needs to be taken seriously.  With just such a half-promise of an early spring melt beginning to register on the U.S.S. Our Outdoors’ long-range scanners, I’m already charting a course for all those places spring fish hang out. While it differs from lake to lake and stream to stream, there are classic spots for popular gamefish to scout out now for early season efforts.

Pike Places

One of the first fish to be on the move each spring is the northern pike, and in those states with no closed season such as North Dakota, some of the fastest fishing action can be just a couple of weeks down the road when feeder creeks begin to flow with the water of melting snow which draws prespawn fish up seasonal waterways.  Basically, wherever there are streams with moving water attached to a larger river or lake is where you’ll find prespawn pike.  As sight feeders, be certain to target them with something that will get their attention, whether it’s brightly colored jigs and upsized plastic twisters or large flashy flies, make it big and gaudy in the dingy runoff of the season to be certain they see it.  Consider coulees, creeks and even drainage ditches which connect to primary flows for targeting early-season pike, where the option is available.

Target early season crappies in the areas on or around old reed beds in shallow bays on the north side of bigger lakes and reservoirs. Dabble jigs and tubes or use a cane pole to get offerings up into the cover when needed. Simonson Photo.

Go North for Crappies

One of the first fish to make its spawning moves as the ice goes out on area lakes is the crappie.  Both black and white varieties of the fish will find warming waters in favorite bays and coves which often fill with reeds, cattails and other shallow vegetation each spring.  In those places where last year’s brown stalks remain and new green ones are emerging, they’ll stake their claim and beget the next generation of speckled panfish.  Make note that those most promising areas are often bays on the north side of lakes which receive the most sunlight early in the season and warm just a touch faster than the rest of the main body.  When scouting new waters for springtime adventures, put a pin in those likely places or simply return to those you’ve identified over the past few seasons as successful spring spots for slabs. Cast and dabble small jigs dressed with plastic tubes on a long rod or even a cane pole in the emergent vegetation to find fish, keeping enough distance to avoid spooking them.

Walleye Run

Give me a gravel stretch under a pinch point and a population of walleyes in any flow and I’ll be happy.  Bouncing a jig along the shoal feeling for the ticks and bumps of the strata below and the occasional dead-weight sensation of a walleye on the line is a rite of spring.  Those stretches of running water with shallow points, sandy substrates, and places where walleyes can hold out of the current, such as behind a break, boulder or submerged timber are classic spring haunts that create fast action as evening approaches and hungry fish start to feed in the warming water. Stock up on favorite jigs and plastics now to be ready to do some exploring of these areas which may have shifted some over the past year due to current flow, obstructions and other subtle changes in the aquatic environment. 

Bronzeback Abodes

Smallmouth bass are my absolute favorite spring fish.  Whether in the shallows of a lake or river, finding prespawn smallies on the bite can produce some of the season’s best fishing.  As water warms and cools with shifting spring weather, identify notable spawning areas such as rip-rapped shorelines, gravel breaks and catch fish as they move up into those places during stable weather and a warming trend.  Fish will be around them from the start of the season well into summer.  Don’t forget to identify docks, downed trees and other obstructions and offer up a few plastic tubes, jigs, stickbaits and other favorite bass lures in those spaces of cover for the gamest fish that swims.  When the inevitable spring cold front dives through the region, simply back off the shallow spots into deeper water nearby to find fish.  They may be a bit lethargic from the temperature and pressure swing, so downsize to smaller jigs dressed with materials such as bucktail, krystal flash and marabou which can be worked slowly and provide subtle movement which will still trigger a spring bite.

Planning out a rolling spring adventure plan, keying in on the seasonal movements of fish which will begin as soon as the ice comes off, is a smart move to increase success on the water. Knowing where fish go and where they can be found as waters start to warm will help set the wheels in motion for a successful season.  While the world may be wrapped in white for a few more days – and may see more despite what the forecast says – opportunities are just a few short weeks away to find these fish and more in the spring waters…of our outdoors.

Featured Photo: Skinny Space. Small rivers host runs of walleyes in the spring ahead of spawn. Look for fish below barriers like dams, texas crossings and shallow riffles and explore the bottom substrate with a jig-and-minnow offering. Simonson Photo.

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