Finding Fish.  Smaller largemouth bass were making their moves into the reed beds remaining from last year as waters begin to warm and the spawn approaches. Simonson Photo

By Nick Simonson

Calculating when fish will be where is as much a part of the angling process as threading a plastic on a hook, switching up the blade color on a spinner, or firing up the boat motor.  For most of us, life limits the windows in which we can access our favorite waters, particularly during this busy time of year.  Add in a late spring, cooler lakes and shifting weather patterns and trying to intercept fish going in and out of their seasonal movements is an even greater challenge.  Even when the fish you’re looking for aren’t in your favorite spring haunts just yet, there’s much to be learned and enjoyed in the process.

While exploring the bent and matted reed edge of a familiar water for the largemouth bass that make their moves right about this time of year, I was happy to find a few healthy males already up in and around the structures staking out their spawning territories.  Flinging tubes both far into the brown cattails of last summer, and near along the edge adjacent to the shallow warming basin, my brother and I picked up a dozen as we made the turn toward home to finish out our weekend.  While the action was relatively fast for as cool as the water was, we were a few days ahead – all things being equal and all trends hopefully continuing – of the rest of the population and the larger fish making their seasonal shift to the shallows. Where in most seasons, the stretch would also be darkened by the presence of black crappies in every other opening bedecked in full ebony, ready for the spawn, the reeds were by and large empty, save for the scattering of the one-to-two-pound bucketmouths.  The late ice out and the struggle for any real spring had delayed their appearance.  In warm years, I had seen specks swarmed up in the shallows as early as the first weekend of May.  In cold ones like this one, sometimes they didn’t show until Memorial Day weekend for their stake-and-spawn session.

The one thing our limited windows and shifty seasonal conditions teach us as anglers is to adapt.  To look deeper, try for other species that are on the bite, or pick out another stretch of a lake that holds fish. Or perhaps it simply teaches us to enjoy the moment of a few scattered fish and maybe plan a return trip the following weekend.  At the very least, in the compilation of fishing journal pages and memories of previous seasonal movements, time spent trying to intercept bass, walleyes, crappies and other species, helps keep tabs on how all these factors come together for angling success in any given year and the years to come.

Be prepared this season to adjust to what’s coming, where fish are going and how the recent ramp-up into warmer conditions may suddenly hasten all those movements for the species you fish for.  It may mean changing baits, locations, and fishing for something different if the goal is catching fish. Start at a favorite spot and work back from there, exploring the options around those spaces that have traditionally held your quarry.  Then again, if you’re just happy to be out on the open water, soaking in some long-awaited sunshine and warm temperatures and feeling the load and whip of a long rod, instead of clutching a short handle over a hole in the ice, that opportunity is the easiest to pick off now that spring in some sort or another has finally arrived…in our outdoors.