Mastering Pre-Spawn Bass Fishing: Tips, Techniques, and Secrets

Pre-spawn fishing is a real challenge for plenty of anglers, and the reasons are all too clear.

Cool water temperatures may have woken largemouth from their winter’s torpor, but they’re still far from lively until the water warms to near the magic 55-degree mark. Even the big bass, hungry as they bare, will be finicky, slow to strike, and downright choosy.

They’re also not schooled-up tight in deep holes where the inversion of the thermocline kept them warm during the coldest months.

So what’s the solution to these problems?

  1. First, you need to throw the right lures.
  2. Second, you need to use the right techniques.
  3. Third, you need to locate the bass and key-in on likely areas to search with quality electronics.

Let’s break these down in detail.

Related articles

Pre-spawn Lure Selection and Technique

When the bass are as sluggish and finicky as a toddler presented with brussel sprouts, you need to think about matching the hatch carefully and slowing way down. It’s also a good idea to experiment with sizing your lure selection up and down a bit, as size really does matter to cranky bass.

Pre-spawn lure selection is all about seduction; you need to entice a slow, torpid bass into a strike. That demands either finesse or erratic movement that stays put, keeping your lure in the strike zone for long enough to get the bass excited and ready to bite.

Which lures do I choose?

Jerkbaits

Jerkbaits are a fantastic choice for cool water and slow bass because they create the erratic rolling and darting that triggers reaction strikes, as well as mimicking dying baitfish with their head-down position and slow floating ascents or descents.

Add to these virtues that a hard pop of your rod tip on a slack line will turn the best of the bunch back on themselves, almost 180-degrees of re-orientation, and you’ve got a killer lure that really will change your luck.

For me, two jerkbaits really stand out: the Rapala X-Rap and the Strike King KVD Sinking Deep Jerkbait.

Strike King KVD Sinking Deep Jerkbait

The Strike King KVD Sinking Deep Jerkbait is an early spring hammer.

When the water temperatures are down-right cool for your climate, the bass won’t be shallow. Even after the thermocline flips, allowing cooler water to settle to the bottom and keeping warmer water near the surface, the bass will only just be beginning to transition shallow.

For these conditions, nothing beats a deep-diving jerkbait like the Strike King KVD.

It dives quickly to roughly 11 feet, and whether you use it as a search bait by running it slowly down the sides of a point or send it dancing with short pulses of your rod tip on a slack line, the Strike King KVD produces outstanding action.

This lure rolls, darts, twists, and turns like a champ, although I find it’s not quite as easy to get it chasing its tail as the Rapala X-Rap. 

But it works deeper than this alternative, and when the bass are holding in 15 to 20 feet of water, I’m reaching for this jerkbait every time.

Rapala X-Rap

Rapala X-Rap Jerkbait 10 Fishing lure (Silver , Size- 4)

The Rapala X-Rap has the action you need to target sleepy bass.

When the transition brings big females into 10 feet of water or less, the X-Rap is the way to go.

Why? The Rapala X-Rap is probably the undisputed king of action.

It’s best worked when the bass are on transitional structure like drop-offs, humps, and points.

It’s not a particularly deep diver, hitting a max of about six feet. But nothing wobbles or turns like the X-Rap when jerked on slack line, and with a few minutes of practice, you can have this jerkbait turning circles and chasing its tail in no time.

You can also work it with a twitch and pause technique that takes advantage of its erratic darting action and head-down position in the water. And because it’s neutrally buoyant, it stays where you want it in the water column as you play in the strike zone.

Jigs

As you certainly know by now, early spring means the bass are going to be deep, even as they begin their transition.

And for deep water and sluggish bass, it’s hard to beat a finesse jig like the War Eagle Heavy Finesse Jig.

War Eagle Heavy Finesse Jig

 

War Eagle Custom Lures WE12HFJ155 1/2 Heavy Finesse Jig Black Blue

Designed by Andy Morgan, these diminutive jigs are heavy enough to cast well and sink quickly. Available in ½- and ⅜ ounce sizes, and armed 3/0 Gamakatsu hook, they’re offered in deadly deep-water colors like blues and blacks.

I cast these jigs on the deep side of transition zones, let them settle to the bottom, and then pop them into the water column, slowly pick up line to keep it tight, and let them settle again. A vary the cadence and alter the height and length of those hops until I start getting hit - and it doesn’t take long!

Crankbaits

In warmer climates where the bass won’t be holding as deep, I love crankbaits for early spring, and when fished properly, they can be devastating even when the bass are slow to strike.

The secret to crankbait fishing is to run these little boogers into every stick, rock, stump, and blow down you can find in transition zones. They’re head-down orientation will keep the sharp trebles from snagging more often than not, and the erratic darts and deflections created by impacts trigger reaction strikes like nothing else can.

My top picks are no-brainers: Strike King’s KVD Silent Square and Strike King’s KVD Rattling Square.

Strike King’s KVD Silent Square

Strike King KVD Square Bill Silent Crankbait

Where crawfish are a naturally-occuring prey item - and that’s true over most of the South - big females will preferentially feed on them as they offer an incredible nutrient profile.

As a result I choose crankbaits in reds, oranges, and crawfish patterns. 

KVD worked with Strike King to design a squarebill with a tight wobble and a unique “hunting” action. Like a beagle sniffing down rabbits, it works back and forth as you crank it, and that big bill deflects beautifully on impact.

Strike King’s KVD Rattling Square

I switch to the KVD Rattling Square when the water is murky from runoff, stained red from clay, or blackened to the color of strong tea by the tannin in submerged leaves. That extra noise and vibration really does the trick when visibility is poor.

Senkos and Stick Baits

One of the most popular baits by far, Senkos are just as deadly in cool water, pre-spawn conditions as they are later in the year.

The trick is to rig them for finesse.

I vary between three options: wacky rigging, Ned rigging, and shaky heads.

5-inch “Watermelon Black Red Flake” Senko

Yamamoto Baits 5" Senko - Watermelon Black Red Flake

For me, a 5-inch “Watermelon Black Red Flake” Senko that’s been wacky rigged is the perfect weapon to solicit strikes from sluggish bass.

There’s just something about that fluttering fall as it settles to the bottom after each gentle lift of your rod tip that turns bass on and gets them biting.

3-inch Senko

3-inch Senko on a Ned rig

I also like to downsize to a 3-inch Senko on a Ned rig or shaky head. The trick here is to go slower than you think you should, offer gentle pops and slow drifts downward, and to use the smallest, lightest weights you can cast effectively.

More finesse, slower movement, and smaller Senkos can outfish larger, brasher options in early spring - guaranteed.

Texas- or Carolina-Rigged Craws

When sluggish female bass are looking for a nutritious meal to help them develop their eggs and regain weight lost to the winter, nothing is better than crawfish.

And anywhere crawfish are a natural prey item, a soft plastic craw rigged either Carolina or Texas style depending on the bottom is a deadly option.

Strike King Rage Tail Craw

 

Strike King (RGCRW-51) Rage Craw 4 Fishing Lure, 51 - California Craw, 4', 2 Realistic Pinchers

My personal favorite is the 4-inch Strike King Rage Tail Craw.

The trick is to pick the right colors - realistic hues of green, red, orange, or black work best - and top work your craw slowly. 

I don’t mean kind of slowly; I mean crawl.

I like to lift my craw off the bottom, pick my reel a crank or two to keep my line tight, and let it flutter back down. If you do this, leave it alone for a few seconds to give sleepy bass a chance to really key in on your lure. Then repeat as necessary.

I also like to drag my craws with a side-sweeping action, letting them bump along the bottom, crawl through live weed beds, and generally act like a real crawfish.

Again, the key here is to move inches at a time, not feet.

And if the Texas or Carolina rig aren’t your thing, try Ned-rigging a Rage Tail. You’ll be amazed by how well this trailer works with a light head!

Finding Pre-Spawn Bass

The first hard truth of the pre-spawn is that the larger females will have moved from their winter holes first, leaving these cold-weather havens and dispersing more broadly across the lake or pond.

They may not even be truly transitioning, depending on the weather and water temperature, and they’ll be slowly waking up from their cold-induced torpor.

Likely spots are relatively deep earlier, to true transitional zones as the water gets into the low 50s.

And you’ll want to scout the usual spots: humps, points, drop offs, and other structure that is intermediary between truly deep water (for your location) and where bass will spawn when that time comes.

lake-topography

If you don’t have fishing electronics, search baits like the Strike King KVD Silent Square can be very helpful, especially if you run these across the grade of structure, hunting for bass.

lake-topography

But by far the best way to locate pre-spawn largemouth is with good fishing electronics used properly.

What do I mean?

fishfinder-scope

With side-scanning and down-imaging fish finders making their way into the hands of anglers more and more each year, understanding how 2D sonar, SI, and DI work together is critically important.

Fish finders aren’t “set it and forget it” electronics, and you need to use your fishfinder’s full capabilities.

When you start your search in likely areas, especially in deeper water, standard sonar settings are probably best. Once you start seeing fish, switch to DI and really take a close look.

If the lakes you fish bottom out at 50 feet or so, skip the standard 2D sonar and run SI past likely spots, check DI as well, and move into a good position to start your casts.

I guarantee you’ll find more fish, more quickly.

Final Thoughts

If you choose the right lures, adopt the right techniques for cooler water, and use your fishing electronics properly, the pre-spawn can give you a great head start on an amazing season of bass fishing.

As always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have, so please leave your comments and questions below.

About The Author
John Baltes
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.