Most people who know bass fishing understand that I feel most comfortable when I’ve got a crankbait tied on. So when bass go really shallow in the spring, that makes things tough on me, but anyone who likes fishing crankbaits can still catch plenty of fish.
I don’t like to sight-fish for spawning bass, so I usually rule that out as one of my main strategies. What I’m looking for are fish that are moving in to a pocket to spawn but aren’t quite there yet. They might be shallow, but they’re still feeding, they’re about as big as they’re ever going to get, and you can catch them.
This month, I’m going to start on secondary points and fish all the way back into spawning pockets. I’ll throw to little stumps I see, but you’re going to catch plenty of fish where you don’t see any kind of cover. One thing I do like to see is a shell bottom. I think they’ll hold fish.
Typically, if I’m fishing anywhere in the Carolinas in April, I’m going to have one of three baits tied on; I’ve caught plenty of bass on all three, even when bass have made a big move to the shallows.
The first bait I have tied on is a Berkley Digger 3.5. If you cast this bait out and retrieve it with your rod tip up, it will dive about 2 feet deep. If you retrieve it with your rod tip down, you might get it down 4 or 5 feet.
The Digger has a hard action, which is important, but size is the key. If you can find fish that have moved shallow, but they’re not locked on the bed yet, you can throw it around pockets, and fish will bite it because it’s just the right size.
I’ll fish it on a 6-foot-8, Lew’s David Fritts Perfect Crankbait Rod with a BB1 reel with a 5-to-1 retrieve ratio. That gets you 21 inches per turn of the reel. I like to fish it on 8-pound test in 100-Percent Trilene Fluorocarbon. I like Big Money color, which is blue/chartreuse/white.
The slow retrieve ratio is important because you don’t want to be retrieving this bait anything but slow. Fish aren’t going to charge a bait very hard at this point, so your retrieve needs to be fairly slow.
The lipless option
My second-favorite spring crankbait is a lipless crankbait, a Berkley War Pig. It comes in 1/4-, 1/2- and 3/4-ounce sizes; I’ll stick with the smaller one, the 1/4-ounce. You might experiment with colors, but chartreuse is a really good color in April.
One thing you need to do is find out whether you need to wind the bait fast or barely crawl it across the bottom. Sometimes fish won’t charge a bait fast. The other thing you might try is yo-yo’ing the bait. When you’re fishing this shallow, you’re not trying to jerk it 3 feet off the bottom. You just want to barely raise the rod tip and get the bait to move up, then let your back down so the bait sinks a little.
I’ll fish this bait on my cranking rod in 6-foot-8 or 7-foot medium-heavy action. I’ll use the same reel, but what I’m spooling on the reel will be different, depending on how heavy the cover you’re fishing is. Most of the time fish will be on little pieces of cover in April, but a lot of times, they’ll just be on the bank, between beds. I don’t want any stretch, so I’ll fish it on 10-pound, low-stretch Sensation mono.
Jerk on this
The third hard bait I really like to fish in April is a Cutter 90 jerkbait, which is a smaller jerkbait, again, a perfect size for April fish.
You’re not fishing it the way you’d normally fish a jerkbait, cranking it down several feet and twitching it along. I like to fish it the way you’d fish an old No. 13 Rapala. The bait will suspend if you get it down, but it will float, too. You can let it sit on top and just barely twitch it, or you can wind it very slowly.
This time, I’ll be fishing a graphite rod, like a Lew’s TT1, medium-action, either 6-foot-6 or 7-foot. I want a little quicker retrieve to get the bait back when I’m done with one cast and ready for another, so I’ll go with a BB1 with a 6.4-to-1 retrieve ratio. And I want to spool on 8-pound Sensation mono.