Spring Fishing Highs and Lows
By Steve Scaramastro written May 2016
Spring bass fishing highs and lows are what keep us excited to hit the waterways every chance we get. A recent trip to the lake was going to be a welcome getaway. I booked a cabin for three days, and my only plan was to fish. It’s springtime, and the bass should be shallow and on the beds. I had visions of sight fishing in two to three feet of water and casting lizards and buzzbaits at bedded hogs. Springtime fishing has a reputation for being the easiest time of year to catch bass, and big ones too. It is with this very optimistic mindset; I left for the lake. I was rigged up and ready to rumble.
I’ll save readers a lot of time at this point. Nothing went as planned. The weather turned into a high-pressure system with clear blue skies, and the wind is always blowing stronger than forecast from the wrong direction. The fishing was difficult, to say the least, but it forced me to do some learning. I changed tactics, I used my electronics to find grass beds, I threw finesse baits, I did a lot of things I didn’t plan on doing.
My three-day trip to the lake can be boiled down to a “tale” of two fish. These two individual fish represent the highs and lows of bass fishing; both of which drive me to continue coming back for more.
Spring Bass Fishing Highs and Lows Bass One
My first morning on the water, the air temperature was 55 degrees. I awoke to a gorgeous sunrise on the Tennessee River, pointed my boat toward the gold rimmed eastern skyline, and dropped the hammer. Fifteen minutes later I was pulling into my first spot of the day, a beautiful cove with transitions from sheer ledges at the mouth, to steep gravel bars lining its sides. Finishing up with mud, grass, and timber on a wide shallow flat in the back. This cove has everything a bass could ask for…everything. It also has everything an angler could ask for; it’s like a match made in heaven.
I entered the cove as the sun crested the hills behind me, and the early morning light revealed wispy, swirling sheets of vapor rising from the water like ghosts. Under this thin veil of fog, I could occasionally see fish hitting on top. This ghostly hollow is where the day would begin.
The tough part was figuring out where to start. I idled to the back of the cove and began throwing my favorite lure, “The Lizard of Oz” at obvious structure. The ghosts swirled around the boat as I cast to a spot where the point of a small pocket hit the main cove. The water grew darker as it entered the forested pocket. Branches overhung the muddy, grassy bank, and my lizard plopped into the water just inches from dry ground.
In between drags on my lizard I studied the area. The back of the cove was maybe two feet deep, with bright green weeds and brilliant yellow flowers giving way to sparse clumps of vegetation in the water. I eased the lizard another few inches toward me. A trio of Canadian geese flew into the cove, honking as they lowered themselves into the mist and glided toward the shallow yellow flowers in the back. I dragged the lizard again. I heard the geese splash down and go silent. The air was cold enough to make you ball your fists trying to keep your fingers warm. Nothing was touching the lizard here.
I eased across to the other side of the cove, taking a quick glance to the east, praying the sun would climb faster and warm me up. As I crossed the cove, I retired the “Lizard of Oz” for the moment and picked up a swimbait. It was a compact, heavy lure I could throw a long way, and would help me cover water.
This side the cove was a long gravel bank, overhung by the forest growing downhill right to the edge of the water. The long tan ribbon of gravel offered a very small bit of shallow water before dropping off to 12, and then 20 feet. Ledges like this are a scary place for a swimbait, anything could be down there. I’ve caught largemouth, smallmouth, catfish and drum on sections like this. There is literally nowhere for a swimbait to hide on this gravel bar.
I threw a long cast to a half-submerged log, overhung by willows 40 yards up the bank. When my swimbait hit the water, my plan was to hop it twice then reel in the slack. Hop, hop, reel. Hop, hop, reel. This was the pattern I’d use as I searched for active bass.
The cast was perfect; it hit within 6 inches of the log. Hop, hop, BAM!!! I got hit hard on the second hop. I waited for a moment, and with the rising sun to my front-left, I could easily see my line shining as it cut to deeper water.
I reeled in the slack and dropped the hammer on him. The rod loaded up, but the bass darted toward me, taking all the tension off the line. I reeled at about 9,000 RPM trying to catch up with him. When I got tension back on him, he began to fight. He wasn’t coming any closer to this boat on his own.
The line ran sideways in the orange glow of sunrise with wispy ghosts flowing around it. He ran for deeper water, but there would be no safety there today. I cranked on him hard now, and the line began to rise, he was making a run for the top.
I pushed my rod tip down into the water in an attempt to keep him from breaching. The last thing I wanted was for him to shake the hook. My efforts were futile; he breached in a spectacular display of largemouth behavior. He launched himself two feet into the air as it tried to shake the hook.
What I saw in perfect orange glow of sunrise was a picture of nature in all its beauty. A big aggressive predator launched from the depths, shattering the peaceful calm existing in this otherwise silent cove. When he breached, he came out sideways, and quickly went upside down, thrashing violently through his entire flight. Backlit by the sunrise, the water it threw off its glistening white and green body looked like diamonds shattering into millions of orange and white crystals falling back into the lake.
I was almost stunned when he re-entered the water. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen.
It was surely only in the air for a moment, but from my point of view, it seemed like he was in the air for an eternity. It reminded me of the scene from ET where he and the kid flew the bike in front of the moon, except it was a bass going in front of the rising sun. My morning had gone from a very slow, quiet search, to a full on drag race.
Now he’s back in the water; he played his first set of cards, but it didn’t work out. His next move is to go deep and fight. Sideways he went, trying to pull the rod from me the whole time. I had good tension, the drag wasn’t slipping, I was confident I’d land this fish.
After 30 seconds or so I had him along the side of the boat, and calm enough to get a hand on him. I plucked him from the water with my semi-frozen hands, unhooked him, and admired him for the predator he was– He hunts, kills, and eats!. He was a stout, dark-green assassin, and he was now in my boat.
As I looked at him and wondered at the hard charging, acrobatic fight he had put up, a thought hit me. Only one thing could make a breaching thrashing largemouth any more spectacular if he bugled like an elk while he did it. I can only imagine hearing the elk bugle starting out, getting louder and louder, and then peaking right when the bass bursts through the surface, flies through the air and spits the hook out. It would be unbelievable.
This one fish condensed everything I could ever want from a bass into one fight. It was one of those fights capturing the essence of what a largemouth bass is, they hit hard, they run, they breach with stunning acrobatics, they fight some more, and they do it all with some of nature’s most beautiful backdrops. If it was the only bass I caught the entire trip, I could find a way to be happy with it.
Spring Bass Fishing Highs and Lows Bass Two
This was my last full day. With a high-pressure system wearing on me and the fish both, I decided a change of venue was in order. I abandoned the beautiful ledges and coves of the past two days and decided to look for thicker cover where a bass might try to hide. I needed to find some weeds.
I found a smaller creek feeding into the main lake and decided to try it out. After half an hour of finding no fish in the shallows, I pulled back a little deeper hoping to find signs of aquatic life. Using my sonar, I pushed deeper into the creek, which was a few hundred yards wide. I found a pocket near the rear with a deep bowl dropping to 15 feet right next to a huge 3 feet deep flat. It looked like a nice transition area on the map, and a sonar run was in order. When I got there I started seeing something “cloudy” on my Side Imaging. I thought to myself, “Hmm that looks like it might be weeds.”
I turned the boat to investigate and what I saw gave me a very good feeling about this place. As I turned toward the area I wanted to investigate, my Side Imaging showed a ditch running from the bank toward the deep water. In this ditch were a few fish.
Next, my Down Imaging began showing long orange lines stretching up from the bottom. Coontail was growing all over in this deep water pocket. It was just the type of cover a bass would bury himself in on a blue sky day.
My sonar had just shown me a lot of clues. This spot held enough promise; I vowed to fish it thoroughly. I broke out the “Lizard of Oz”, rigged on a spinning reel, and began my investigation.
The centerpiece of this area was the tip of a dead tree sticking up about a foot above the water. I’d use this as a reference point, driving circles around it with the trolling motor and casting into the center of the weeds.
It took a few minutes with the Texas rigged lizard to get a feel for the bottom. There are times when the bait hits the grass, and talk yourself into thinking it’s a bite. Especially since the bites in this weather had been so light to begin with.
After casting around for fifteen minutes, I had a pretty good feel for where the underwater obstacles were. I was convinced dragging this lizard through the weeds long enough would I’d catch something.
Eventually, it happened. I was dragging the “Lizard of Oz” through the weeds when I felt a bump. It wasn’t a strong hit at all, but there was definitely something down there determined to beat up my lizard and nobody beats up my lizard.
I swept back hard to start the fight. When I set the hook I felt the drag slip a little bit. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I felt another hit, this one bigger. Then I saw the line coming up toward the top. I had to keep tension on this line; I could not let him shake this hook. I lowered my rod tip, pulled back, and cranked on the reel. The line was picking up speed like a rocket; it was going to breach.
To my absolute horror, the more I cranked, the more the drag slipped. If I swept the rod, the drag slipped, if I tried to crank on him, it slipped. It was like living a nightmare. This bass was heading to the surface like a Saturn 5 rocket, and I had no way to keep things under control. Then it happened.
When this bass came out of the water I thought it might be a dragon; it was huge. The only reason I don’t believe it was a dragon was the missing wings. Other than the wings, it was just the type of giant, green, scaly vision you get when thinking of a dragon.
I could not believe how big this bass was. The great beasts belly was toward me, flashing white with red gills and the giant unmistakable shape of a largemouth’s head. Its mouth was wide open as it flailed, quickly sending my wide gap hook on a return flight to my boat. Its mouth was so big it looked like a carnival game where I was supposed to throw a basketball at it. But in this case, there was plenty of room for the ball to go in.
CRASH!!!! The beast was gone. I stood alone on the deck of my boat, mouth agape, brain trying to figure out what went wrong. How had the drag been set so light on my reel? As the awe wore off I was left with the bitter reality, it was entirely my fault. My gear wasn’t squared away, and I had just cost myself what would likely have been the best bass of my season.
Determined to make up for my failure I cranked the drag down, checked it by pulling some line, and fired the lizard back into action. I fought the urge to work it quickly, knowing the great beast had hit me on a slow retrieve earlier. Would he hit the lizard again? Should I try a different lure as a follow-up? On the next cast BAM! Fish on. This one was smaller, and he was the unfortunate recipient of my overzealous drive to make up for my prior mistake. With the drag tightened down I horsed the bass out of the grass so fast he probably forgot where he was.
Small consolation prize, a 2 lb. bass. I released him quickly and got back to the hunt. I switched to a spinnerbait, no luck. Back to the lizard, nothing. I sliced the area to pieces with my casts, but the big one appeared to be gone. ‘Nonsense’ I thought, ‘It’s not gone, it’s probably still within 100 yards of this very spot.’
I cast like a man possessed, the light faded, and the handwriting began to appear on the wall. I was all alone, but I thought I could hear the fat lady singing. It was over. This lunker gave me one shot, and I had blown it. I fished until it was pitch dark, and vowed to be back before the sun.
Although I made a lot of jokes about crying myself to sleep, or not sleeping at all, the reality was just the opposite. I’d sleep well because now I knew, without a doubt in the world, where at least one big bass lived. I’d get a good night’s sleep, hit the water early, and be ready to fight. I told my nephew, “I hope that fish sleeps well tonight, because when the sun comes up, I’m going to punch it right in the mouth.”
I get an “A+” for trash talk, but the bass won again in the morning. I fished hard for three hours in the area but caught only a single bass for my efforts.
As much as the first bass in the story represents everything great about a bass, the one that got away represents all the potential bass fishing holds; and all that could be. The hope of a great bass to come is one of the things that keeps us coming back; it’s what makes the struggles worth it. We fish in the heat, in the cold, the wind, the rain, sometimes we even fish longer than we should near lightning. Why? Why would anyone get up early and stay out late, casting hundreds of times with no results? We grind ourselves down with lack of sleep and exposure to the elements. We feel the stress of failure when things aren’t going right, but still we keep coming back. Why? It’s partly because of the first bass in the story, and partly because of the second. The joy of accomplishment, along with the emotional roller coaster of missing the big one combined keeps us hooked.
I missed the big one this weekend, I failed, it was all my fault. I was beaten up, tired and frustrated at times, but I can’t wait to get back out there and try it again. This is what bass fishing is all about.