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Think Warm

It has been a typical Great Plains spring so far.  Sure, we have open water now, but the water is darned cold and the weather is schizophrenic.  Everyone is so eager to have open water to fish that folks cannot wait to hit the water after the ice is gone, but in my opinion this early spring period is one of the toughest times of year to catch fish.  The water is just too cold and the weather too up and down for there to be a consistently hot bite for most species.

I have shared one of my strategies for early spring is to start with cold-water species, trout, because they are still very active and a lot easier to catch in cold water.  In Nebraska we also have several cool-water species like northern pike, walleye and sauger that can be very catchable in cold water, but in early spring the behavior of those species is dictated by the need to reproduce and that makes them harder to catch.  Surprisingly, we have some excellent early spring, ice-out fishing for warm-water species like crappies, channel catfish and largemouth bass, but the fishing for those species in early spring can vary a lot from day to day depending on the weather.

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I am often asked where the best place to fish is in early spring.  The answer to that depends on the species being pursued, but with the cold water, anyplace that offers water that is just a couple of degrees F warmer can be a key spot.  So, my off-the-cuff, smart alec response when asked for the 1,451,633rd  time where to fish in early spring is to “Think Warm”.  I am sure there are many folks who figure there is a lot more to it than my short, two-word answer, and I suspect that many think I am being coy and not telling what I know.  But seriously, those two words, “Think Warm”, is some of the best fishing advice you can have for this time of year and should be your mindset for much of your spring fishing, from ice out and weeks, even months afterwards.

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Go fishing whenever you have time, spend as much time on the water as you can.  The only thing I know for sure when it comes to fishing is that you cannot catch anything sitting at home on the couch.  I will never discourage anyone from going fishing at anytime.  However, in early spring, if you can pick and choose your days, you can increase your odds of catching fish.  “Think Warm”.  Try to fish the nice days, days with warming south winds.  If we get a couple, three of those days in a row, that is a whole lot better!

Fish the afternoons.  “Think Warm”.  Fishing in early spring often picks up in the afternoons after the water has had a chance to warm for a few hours.

Fish locations where the water tends to warm faster.  I will give you a clue:  If are standing on the bank in a spot that feels like a nice warm place to lay down and take a nap on a sunny afternoon, a place out of the wind where the sun is shining down, FISH IT!  “Think Warm”.

FishExplorer.com is a website I check out from time to time.  Their primary focus is waters just to the west of Nebraska, and primarily trout, but there is some excellent stuff there.  Recently, I found this written by Dave Coulson, the chief editor, and it expands on my “Think Warm” advice.

Common wisdom is to find warmer water and you’ll find a stronger bite.  But short of running all over the lake with a thermometer how does one go about identifying areas likely to be warmer. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. North shores, especially if exposed.
  2. Shallow water, especially if it has a dark, muddy heat absorbing bottom.
  3. Off colored water will tend to absorb heat quicker.
  4. Small, shallow, protected ponds tend to warm faster than large ponds.
  5. Wind-blown shores will be warmer than the leeward side, as the winds push the warmer surface water that way.
  6. Watch for indicator species activity, such as feeding birds.  One often overlooked species is carp.  They almost always gravitate to the warmest water in early spring, active carp equates to conditions that attract other warm water fish.

There you go, that is more of what I mean when I say “Think Warm”.

When you get there, generally you should also “think slow”.  The water is still relatively cold, and slow, more vertical presentations, tend to work better under those conditions.  Again the best baits and lures will depend on exactly what you are fishing for and where you are fishing, but slower is usually better until the water begins to warm quite a bit.  A couple of quick tips, do not forget that Bobbers Ain’t Just for Kids, and keep ‘em In Suspense.

I have been in and out of the office the past couple of weeks and that will continue for a couple of more.  Much of my traveling has been work-related, but never fear, I have been on the water whenever I have had a chance.  Yep, it is early spring and there have been a couple, three trips where the skunk got me.  There have been fish caught on others, some trout and pre-spawn sauger and walleye so far, more to come!  Eventually I will show some pictures and tell some stories here on my blog, you know I will, but I thought it was more important to highlight some things that will help you catch some fish right now.  “Think Warm”, and always, always, GO FISH!

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About Daryl Bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

5 comments

  1. Nice pre spawn walleye very fat and healthy! Possible female?? Either way looks like a fast growing fish with the small head and shorter chunky body!!

    • Matt,

      That fish was absolutely a female! I will blog a little more about that trip later this week. Stay tuned!

      Daryl B.

  2. I’m 17 years old and if I wanted to be in the newspaper every week because I don’t turn every master angler in I always turn it back

  3. Frank Staskiewicz, Jr.

    Spot on, as usual, Daryl.

    As I “think warm” at my sand pit lakes when I’m targeting early spring largemouth bass, I tend to focus my efforts on the north shore, and more specifically, the northwest corner of the pit. I’ve found the water there to be as much as five degrees warmer than the rest of the lake, because it gets more direct sunlight for the longest portion of the day.

    Just a couple degrees can make mean the difference between no bites and some bites early in spring. And I don’t hesitate to fish shallow either. I’ve caught big bass as shallow as two feet of water in March. The other key for me is to retrieve lures painfully slow, because the bass just aren’t ready to chase yet.

    • Frank,

      That NW corner thing is so true. That is the shoreline that catches the most warmth from the sun in early spring. On some small waters there may not be much else besides a corner, but that is all it takes!

      Later,

      Daryl B.

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