So, you’re itching to get out fishing, but even though your boat may be ready, the only open water you’ll find is moving. If you’re a river rat, you’re off and running. If not, you may want to assess the opportunities that are out there and plan accordingly.
Even though the weather may seem like it wants to be summer, remember any boat runs and the morning temps should still have you wearing your Boreas Floating Ice Suit (or equivalent) to keep the chill off. There's no sense in being cold...
The main thing to consider during this period is that the fish are still in a dormant phase from the winter and thus are still moving slowly. As temps rise they emerge from deeper water to the warmer shallows, and begin to feed once the water edges above 50 degrees. Don’t expect too many bites until it hits 55 degrees though. But then, it can be lights out…
If you’re in northern climes, you’re no doubt still looking at late ice on most lakes, so the rivers offer you some of the only fishing you’ll find. Many species may not chase at all, but the ones that will are hungry, and it’s gratifying to catch even ONE fish, as we learned on one such trip on Pool 2 of the Mississippi for our series Why We Fish.
In streams the spawning migration may begin in colder temps. You’ll want to find the slower breaks and seams, and check out eddies behind structure. Early spring water tends to be cold and dirty from the snow and ice runoff, and higher water offers ‘new banks’ up shallow that fish like walleyes may explore. Those may offer some of the only cleaner water in early spring, not to mention faster warming zones.
Look for confluences where rivers meet or where floodwater dumps into the main channel. Trout will stack at the mouth of a floodwater confluence, because that flow will bring worms and baitfish right to them. Those breaks may offer up some fish that are ready to strike.
Fishing in April can also be more about the boating than the fishing. You put everything through its paces and make certain all your electronics survived in storage. It’s about being in the brisk morning run and enjoying it for a change. Plus, you can also focus on things like finding that missing container of nightcrawlers that wintered in the rod locker. They didn’t make it.
Weeks before spawning begins the fish will slowly move up from deeper water, with the males typically leading the way. They’re beginning their search for food as their metabolism returns from winter levels. That hunger draws them from the deeper holes where they hold out in the winter.
Bass in particular will move into deeper water near their spawning grounds, and may venture into them during warm days. Look for hard, rocky bottoms and you should find potential bedding activity. Eventually they’ll be fertilizing eggs and then guarding fry, and will be spending virtually all their time on those beds.
Walleyes will travel great distances to spawn, and have a strong homing instinct that returns them to the same spot every year. Keep THAT in mind next time you mark a pod of ‘eyes in the early spring. They’ll be back…
Focus on areas of slower current near confluences of smaller creeks, or eddies behind small wingdams to find them in rivers. They will actually venture into fairly skinny water and shallow runs to find elusive forage this time of year.
For panfish, think flooded timber and riprap in the transition areas from the deeper water. Typically the muddier the water, the shallower you’ll find them. Don’t be afraid of the coffee colored water, though. There are plenty of fish holding if you can draw them out.
These fish are hungry, as they have weathered the winter and baitfish are few and far between. Invertebrates and other forage haven’t developed yet, so the fish may not strike with ferocity, but they are likely to hit a moving bait this time of year. Once the water tops 55, they begin a feeding binge that is unequaled any other time of the year.
Think chartreuse or other pop colors that will stand out in this often stained water. Your retrieval should be slower compared to summer jigging. Take your time and enjoy not having a short ice rod in your hand;)
You may also want to try an attractant to break through the stained water. Want to know more about them? Of course, we have a blog for that.
The most challenging part is finding the active fish, but once you do, they’ll eat. Focus on steep dropoffs that transition to shallow areas where the fish will spawn as the water warms.
During the spawning season fish will be much easier to find, as they follow their instincts and are in desperate need of food, which is in short supply. They will school up in the shallows and hit most anything you throw. These are literally the golden days of fishing, so get out there and wet a line earlier rather than later in the season. You’ll be glad you did, and be ready once that epic spring bite hits.
The main thing about early spring fishing is that feeling of renewal as we hit open water again, even if the bite isn’t optimal. It’s just good to be out there, and solving the pattern is what it’s all about. We found that out on this episode of Why We Fish.
As we say, it’s all about making memories, having fun and enjoying the water. Tight lines! -WR