The Pulse

Spring Smallmouth Bass Fishing - Hayward, Wisconsin 03/28/2014

It is now April. The lakes, most still covered with a considerable amount of decaying ice. The three most noticeable signs of spring tell me fishing season is nearing; longer days, the arrival of robins and social media uproar over new gear. One of my favorite fish to target is the Smallmouth Bass. And how can it not be? I open my season every year guiding trophy smallmouth on lakes in which they reside and grow to trophy proportions. In the Hayward area that means Round Lake, Grindstone and Lac Courte Oreille. With another very cold, very late spring in progress how can you expect to put numbers of trophy smallmouth in your boat throughout the first few weeks of the season?

Being a fish head, like the rest of you I've read my fair share of articles about targeting fish only to come away empty handed. My goal is to give you solid information regarding exact fish locations and presentations that will get you bit.


When thinking about early spring bronzebacks two factors come to mind. The first factor being proximity. Instead of thinking about the location these fish are in think about what these fish want and need to be proximate to this time of year. Like most fish Smallmouth will seek out the warmest water located on desirable locations. Regardless of how cold the water is in the spring smallies have spawning on the mind which means the most desirable locations are those suitable for spawning. The water temperature will dictate the proximity of that fish to his final spawning location. Prime spawning grounds are rock reefs with an assortment of small rock, gravel and sand in depths from 1 foot to 12 feet. Smallmouth winter in deeper depths and hold to deeper structure, 10 to 35 feet.
With a colder spring I anticipate the water temperature to be around the low 40s come opening weekend. This is going to keep most of the fish proximate to their wintering haunts. Now this doesn't mean they will be found in deep water. Take a look at illustration 1.

This is the southwestern corner of Grindstone Lake, a big smallmouth factory. The red oval highlights shallow spawning habitat, lots of little points, humps, rocks and sand. Most of it is less than 12 feet deep. When the water is in the 40s these fish will be closer to deep structure. The two red arrows are rock bars dropping off into deep water providing a location proximate to spawning grounds and their deep water haunts. These are excellent spots throughout the early stages of spring. Spring is truly a time of year when 90% of the fish are in 10% of the water. That being said when you find these fish they will be there in great numbers. If you are just picking up one or two then they are thick on a spot you aren’t fishing. So stay mobile hitting spots proximate to warm water, spawning habitat and wintering locations and you will find the sea of bronze.
Illustration 2. This is Lac Courte Oreilles near big center bar. In the ovals are great deep water wintering locations for smallmouth. In the rectangle is a stretch of featureless sand shoreline extending a long ways into the main lake. These sand flats are well worth a look in the early season period. Trophy smallmouth will crawl as shallow as a few feet of water.


Presentation is much simpler than location. A suspending jerk bait takes the cake this time of year. Presentation is simple, the colder the water the longer the pause. In very cold water a 10 second pause will get bites that a quicker retrieve will not. When choosing a jerk bait make sure it suspends. The best jerk baits in my experience are ones that suspend with their head down and the butt of the bait pointing at an angle to the surface.

Another favorite would be a tube style bait. I like compact body style tubes in a 3 inch. One key to fishing these baits early is using a lighter head. The majority of the time I am using heads weighing 1/16th or 1/8th an ounce. This gives the bait a slower fall and if a sluggish fish slurps the bait it has a much greater chance of ending up all the way in his mouth as opposed to just the skirt of the tube.

Another lure that is a must this time of year is a blade/Rattle Trap style of lure. One of my favorites is the Rapala Rippin Rap. Let the lure sink all the way to the bottom then aggressively rip it up and let if fall back to the bottom. For some reason when nothing else works this technique can draw a lot of bites.

The optimistic part about chasing early season smallies is that they are far less affected by cold water than other species. Regardless if the water temperature is in the upper 30s or mid-50s, right out of the gate excellent trophy smallmouth opportunities exist in the Hayward area.

Look for proximate favorable locations and conditions to find piles of early spring smallmouth bass. Combine that with a few simple presentations and show old man winter he has stayed his welcome.