We’re quickly approaching my favorite time of the year. While the meat of the prespawn bite may not be here yet, the early prespawn bite will be here before you know it. I’ve been waiting all year long and I’m getting antsy just writing about it.
In my opinion, this is absolutely the best time of the year to catch a true giant. A lot of the other anglers are still finishing up their hunting seasons and honey-do lists, which means you might have this special bite all to yourself. If you’re smart about how you approach this time of year, you can have some ridiculous days on the water.
I put the boat in for a few hours this weekend and I’ve already started finding some eager prespawners ripe for the picking—in just 44-degree water. After thinking on it for a few days, I wanted to share my most important considerations with you.
Warming trends are key.
This can be a little tricky to explain to such a broad audience because the term “warm” is so relative to your particular location. But I’ll use my local weather as an example to better illustrate my point.
This winter, our highs have been in the 30s and 40s during the day. My deer hunting season ends on January 14, so you can take a wild guess at what I’m doing come mid-January—I’m thumbing through all of my weather apps looking for upcoming warming trends and scheduling my life around them. More specifically, I’m looking for three consecutive sunny days with daytime highs in the upper 50s to mid 60s.
These warmer temperatures allow hard, shoreline cover to conduct heat throughout the afternoons and in my experience, it takes a few full days before the bass catch onto what’s happening. On that third day, you’ll find bass in uncharacteristically shallow water ready to gorge on a well-placed bait. The water temperature surrounding this hard cover (riprap, pea gravel, clay banks and laydowns) can be several degrees warmer than the rest of the lake.
In the life of a bass, just a few degrees is all it takes for their proverbial switches to flip; and I have personally seen the switch flip in just a matter of hours.
The wind is your friend… kind of.
While I’m studying the temperature forecast, I’m also paying close attention to the expected winds. As you know, the north winds this time of year can be brutal and seem to negate any tangible increase in water temperature. It may be a beautiful 60-degree day on the water, but a strong north wind can make fishing incredibly difficult.
For instance, I almost went fishing today. It’s roughly 60 degrees and although it seems like a nice day to fish, we have cold, 23 mph north winds. I know the fish aren’t going to bite very well, so I’m writing this article instead.
Here in Georgia, a light and variable west or south wind can do wonders for the early prespawn bite for two reasons: It’s normally a relatively warm wind and doesn’t drive down water temperatures. Also, that small bit of surface disturbance breaks up the profile of your lure and makes bass more willing to attack it.
Pay close attention to nearby fronts and gain an understanding of where your cold and warm air is most likely to come from. If the wind is cold, it might be tough. If the wind is warm, you just might experience the beatdown of a lifetime.
Find the dirty water.
I still haven’t quite figured out why so many anglers run from dirty water. I guess it depends on your background and how you’re most comfortable fishing, but I’ll tell you one thing: My dream day of early prespawn fishing would be the third day of a warming trend and chocolate milk-colored water. That’s one of the deadliest combinations you could possibly hope for.
Case in point: Look at the water color in the lead photo of this article. It looks like ketchup.
First, and most importantly, dirty water is dense and warms up much quicker than clear water. Remember, it only takes a few degrees to trigger a major change in bass behavior. I’ve routinely seen a 5-degree temperature increase when going from clear to dirty water. Sometimes all it takes is a quick run up a muddy river and the giants will be ready to wrestle.
Dirty water can also make bass much more secure in shallow water and, not to mention, much more predictable. Let’s put this in human terms: Imagine you’re in a dark, smoke-filled room. If you want to leave that room, you’re going to feel your way around the walls in order to find the door.
Stained water makes bass do the same thing—they can’t navigate as effectively, so they’ll position right next to hard cover, whether it’s a stump, dock post or small irregularity. This makes them much less apt to roam freely and much easier to pinpoint.
Sunny days make for easier fishing.
Not only do sunny days create warmer water, but they also put bass in predictable spots, just like we discussed with dirty water. When you combine dirty water and a day full of sunshine, potential hiding spots for early prespawners will stick out like a sore thumb.
On these days, I’m not fishing very much “in-between” water. If the bank is bare, I’m kicking my trolling motor on high and racing to the next high-percentage target. Even a stump the size of a small bucket will draw big females in from a distance. If there’s a piece of cover within 50 yards, a female bass will find it and post up until the next cold front hits.
There’s only one moon phase I care about.
You’ll find some people who swear by the full moon when targeting spawning bass, but you don’t hear it mentioned much in the early prespawn period. While I don’t think it’s the end-all, be-all (see the reasons above), I’m a firm believer that it does play a role in the movement of big bass this time of year.
If you can go fishing within three days on either side of the full moon, I’d strongly suggest you get out there and give it a shot. Save up some sick days and try to take a day off work. I’ve caught some of my biggest early prespawners in that time period.
For instance, we have a full moon coming up on January 31. I’m certainly not saying that all of the bass are going to go into full prespawn mode—because they won’t—but there will be some big fish move into the shallows, even if it’s only for a few days.
Check out the local weather forecast around that time period. The one day that sticks out to me is Monday, January 29. It’s at the end of a three-day warming trend, it’s going to be sunny, winds will be light, we'll have some warm rain on Sunday and it’s two days before the full moon. I’m going to be fishing that afternoon. The big fish will be biting.
Although the big “wave” that everyone waits for probably won’t move up until our next full moon on March 1 when the days are a bit longer, I’ll probably have most of these fish all to myself. They’re dumb as a bag of rocks when they first move up and many biologists will agree that it’s not uncommon for the biggest females to move up first.
If you have a date in your head that usually dictates when your prespawn fun begins, I’d urge you to reconsider. Pay very close attention to the weather, ride around the lake and look for dirty water and pull up the full moon calendar on your phone. You’ll be darn glad you did.
I’ll be writing some more pieces that go into further detail of prespawn bass behavior, so keep checking back. I want to help you catch the biggest bass of your life.