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It's not exact - spring fishing

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Dave Durham with a nice O.H. largemouth, caught Jan. 31

It is pretty hard to predict, that day in the spring -- early spring -- when the fish are going to get hungry.

I have had some outstanding days in early February and even a few good days in a row in March. In fact, one of the best days I can recall was March 3, many years ago. We had five bass - largemouth and smallmouth - that would probably have weighed 25-pounds. In total, we probably caught 15-20 fish. You just never know when.

What you look at is water temperature. When you start finding water approaching the 50's, you should start finding bass.

Usually, they will be shallow, often, in less than two feet of water. Almost always, they will be on some type of cover and near deeper water. Keep an eye out for shad schools in water like this. Shad+cover near deep water=bass.

Just think about it. Look at from a fish's view. The shallow water, water near the bank will be a degree or more warmer than the water, say six-eight feet deep.

But that deeper water provides escape and cover. Along those same lines, a rocky bank will warm faster than a mud bank.

Rock retains the heat while mud absorbs it -- I guess. That is where you are likely to find largemouth bass, on shallow rocky/mud banks with cover, near deeper water. Often, that is where you also find the shad.

Smallmouth are a different story. Rocks and especially gravel just go with smallmouth. They like to ease along, turning over rocks, looking for their brand of table fare.

I like a mixed gravel/chunk rock bank and shallow to a smallie is five feet, two or more feet deeper that a largemouth. When that water hits anything above 55-degrees, the brown fish are thinking pre-spawn. Fish for them accordingly.

Both can be found on sloping banks, especially banks that slope and then drop off a few feet.

Look for structure on the bank such as logs or stickups and pay special attention to transition zones where the bank changes composition. No matter what or where you are fishing, fish slowly. A slow retrieve always beats fast when the water is cold.

But what lure do I use? That is the stumper. Almost always, I am going to start with something I can fish slowly and variably.

A spinner bait is a good first choice and I will always have a suspending jerkbait on a rod for slightly deeper water.

And always, there will be a jig or GitZit or some type of light-line jig-type lure tied on for smallmouth. A real good choice to backup your spinner bait around here, is the lipless crank bait fished slowly, just off the bottom.

You can fish the spinner bait fast or slow, deep or shallow depending on what the fish want. The jig or GitZit is not only great for flipping docks, it is superb on gravel and chunk rock banks and my choice for brown fish. The shallow ShadRap or a lipless crank bait such as the RattleTrap, are ideal lures on Old Chickory this time of year. They can be worked slowly in shallow water and a tad faster as it deepens. I also like the Scatter Shad this time of year.

If I am going after bass, I take four, maybe five bass rods. If I am crappie fishing, I'll replace two bass rods with crappie rods.

After a couple fish, if you are lucky enough to catch a couple, most of the time, you have a pattern to work with in terms of depth, bank and bottom type and what they want to hit.

On a bad day, you may not catch any fish but hey, you got out of the house for a couple hours on a warm(er) afternoon.

On a good day, you found a pattern and caught a box full. And sometimes you get a bonus in the form of a walleye or sauger.

Some days are like January 31, 10 days ago was. Cabin fever got Judge Durham and I and despite hurricane force winds, we went. It was near 70 degrees.

We found warm water...if you call 43-degrees warm. Then, we found cover. Then, we found shad in shallow water next to deep water on a mud/rock bank. Then, then, Dave caught a fish...just one. She weighed 5.18# and was in less than two feet of water. He had two more on briefly, over the next 90-minutes and that was it.

It really is that simple. Just not that predictable.

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John L. Sloan, Old Hickory Lake, Outdoors
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