Spring Fishing Tips

Game Plan for Transitioning Bass

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We talked about a week ago about the disappointment of chasing ghosts in fishing. Fishing where they were and not where they are so to speak. As promised we’re following up with the guys who figured the fish out in that same derby. And the lesson is not how they caught bass in this one day tournament but how they go about the approach to targeting bass in April and May when they are moving, changing and transitioning from one phase to another in the spring spawning cycle.

This time of year the fish can be very unpredictable. Big fish can seem to vanish for a period only to show up a few days later in inches of water. But several factors on Kentucky Lake the week of the Jet-A-Marina Classic led Troy and Todd Hollowell to the winning stringer of bass and an understanding of what the bass are doing this time of year given the conditions they were faced with.

Todd Hollowell is a touring pro on the FLW Tour and runs the Red Gold wrap on his boat. Troy has been fishing Kentucky Lake for a long time. The brothers get together every year to fish the Jet-A-Marina Classic which is one of the largest tournaments on the lake each year, with this event seeing more than 315 teams.

The lake warmed up a bunch in the weeks prior to April 7. In fact in some places the water was 75 degrees. Then a cold front came through and dropped the surface temperatures back into the mid 60s. The lake was slowly starting to rise from winter pool but not enough to put a lot of cover in the water. Then there was the clarity issue. The water on Kentucky Lake can typically be classified as stained, but this year anglers found it very clear.

Take those conditions and couple them with the days getting longer and you have fish heading for the shallows to spawn. Problem was spawning fish are looking for good clean hard bottoms. At that time the good clean hard bottoms were in 1 to 2 feet of water and that put a lot of small fish up. The fish on lakes like Kentucky that fluctuate know when the right stuff is in the right depth and will often wait a little longer for more harder bottoms to be in deeper water.

The Hollowells went with what they’ve been learning for the last 10 years on Kentucky Lake in this time frame. The bass are here one day and gone the next often.

“You catch a lot of fish this time of year that are on their way to somewhere else,” Todd Hollowell said. “They are there one day and then you go back the next day and they’re gone. It’s because they’re leaving one area to go towards where they intend to spawn. You literally find fish in all three phases. We found some fish out on the River. We found some fish in the mouths of the bays and half way back in the creeks and we found some fish all the way in the back of the pockets cruising and roaming.”

The Hollowells didn’t even get a check in the previous year’s Classic, but then turned around and won a boat in another tournament in the same month. They have learned a key ingredient is that you have to be willing to move around a lot and fish everything. You can’t just say I’m going dock fishing or I’m going ledge fishing. You have to be willing to fish out, to fish shallow to fish points to fish brush piles to fish everything and anything.

“I only got to put in a day and a half with Troy,” Todd said. “But we have learned a lot from another great stick on this lake who always seems to do well here in April and May – Craig Powers. He showed Troy a lot – things like using a wake bait and covering a lot of water.”

The Hollowells started out in the river and found a couple of good schools throwing the Castaic castable umbrella rig with Castaic Jerky J swimbaits on them. Then they went looking shallow after that.

“One of the biggest keys in the tournament for us was my sunglasses,” Todd Hollowell said. “I’ve been using the Gone Fishing Sunglasses and it’s my first year wearing them. But I saw a few fish in practice cruising the pockets that Troy didn’t see and that ended up being a key because we came back to those areas and caught some of the right fish to win the tournament.”

With limit schools found and a few places shallow where they thought some big bass were lurking, Troy and Todd had some confidence going into the tournament. But they still weren’t sure if they could get those couple of big bites you needed to win the tournament.

“We started out in the river where we found those schools and caught a bunch of bass and had a limit of 10-11 pounds early,” Todd said. “That enabled us to move around and hunt big fish. On the first stop we made shallow, Troy caught a 4 ½ pound bass on the wake bait. Then we jumped over to one of the pockets I’d seen some nice fish cruising and I catch back to back 6-pounders on a River Rat Tackle tube rigged in the Stupid Rig with a jighead that is Texas rigged like Terry McWilliams made famous here many moons ago.”

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Hollowell normally fishes a jig in those pockets, but because the water was so clear, he opted for a natural green pumpkin tube to catch those big bass.

They went back out deep for a while seeing if they could find another good fish in those big schools out on the river. Finally with just a little time left they ran back in and Troy catches another 4-pounder on a dock with a shaky head on his very last cast. That got them up to about 23 pounds and what ultimately would be the winning limit of bass.

The keys to their success came from a lot of springs on the lake. What they’ve learned is that first wave of bass that move up shallow when the water is clear on an otherwise stained fishery is the bass are spooky and skittish. Your same big baits might not be the ticket. The tube becomes more effective than the jig. A quiet waking bait becomes more effective than a loud splashing topwater.

And knowing the fish are moving and changing and you have to be open to change and fish a lot of different ways in the course of a day.

“Don’t be afraid to change and fish a lot of different ways,” Hollowell said.  “This was a team tournament and in a team tournament there really is never a need for you both to be doing the same thing. So Todd would fish up high in the water column and I’d fish closer to the bottom. We can cover so much more water like that. We weighed fish on a tube, shaky head, wake bait and more. The clear water affects them. The water levels affect them. So you have a lot to consider when fishing for bass that are prespawn, spawn and post spawn. Hartwell and Table Rock were both fishing this same way on the FLW Tour, so I think those two events really mentally prepared me for this tournament on Kentucky Lake.”