Gauging by the calendar, spring is still a few weeks out. Weather in Alabama during this time of the year is fickle at best. Warm days can have you believing spring has sprung, but in a heartbeat snow, ice and freezing temperatures can arrive overnight. In some parts of the Cotton State, bass may already be spawning, but for a majority of the remaining sections, bass may just be starting to think about spawning. Largemouth bass prefer water temperatures in the 68- to 72-degree Fahrenheit range to spawn. However, they will begin to move up close to their yearly bedding sites as the shallows start to warm. During this time, bass can be predictable and will hold close around spawning flats waiting for the water to hit that magical temperature. Bass anglers fishing the prespawn will want to narrow their lure choices to a select few of the best prespawn bass lures. Picking the best early spring bass lures will optimize their chances at a limit of big bass. While almost any lure choice can catch a bass, the best bass baits for spring are more productive during this changing cycle.
The Old Standby
Probably the top late winter to early spring bass lures is a spinnerbait. At first glance, the metal and wire contraption doesn’t look very bass friendly but add water and a few turns of the reel handle and the lure transforms into a bass catching machine.
“I’ll try different depths of water to key in on the fish,” mentions B.A.S.S. Elite angler Jordan Lee of Grant, AL. “You’ll have different fish and different depths, so I try to find a depth where the fish are holding.”
Lee considers a 3/8-ounce double willow-leaf style spinnerbait his best prespawn bass lure in this situation. All white is a good choice when the water is clear. If the water has some stain, he may opt for a white and chartreuse combination. Also, he may trim back the skirt and add a trailer hook to the main lure hook.
“When you get a couple of strikes or catch a few fish, slow down and fish the area thoroughly.”
Fishing lures with tandem willow-leaf blades, an angler can run it at various speeds to determine what the bass prefer. Some days, bass like a slower retrieve with the blades barely spinning. The next day, a medium retrieve will draw the strikes.
One characteristic that makes spinnerbaits one of the best prespawn bass lures is their ability to allow anglers to fish a large amount of water. “A spinnerbait allows you to cover plenty of water until you locate the fish,” Lee commented. “When you get a couple of strikes or catch a few fish, slow down and fish the area thoroughly.”
Any visible cover is a good starting location with a spinnerbait. Stumps, rocks, pier pilings, and stickups are prime spots. Anglers should cast the lure past the object and begin the retrieve. Continue to make several casts and retrieves varying the speed.
On windy days, 1/2- to 3/4-ounce model lures will cast better. Anglers can target wind-blown points in four to eight feet of water. Cast a spinnerbait as far as possible into the wind. The wind will push baitfish up on the point and the bass will follow. Having the best bass baits for spring is important but it also helps to know how to work them.
Football Jig Season
One of Lee’s best prespawn bass lures is a football-head style jig. He tips the jig with a soft-plastic trailer. A crawfish or creature style bait works great. The football shaped head allows the lure to bump through brush, cover, and rocks.
For cold water, Lee prefers to use a 3/4-ounce jig and retrieve it very slowly. The heavier jig allows him to maintain contact with the lake bottom during the retrieve. He will trim back the rubber skirt on the jig. A smaller trailer will allow the jig to fall faster through the water column.
“If I’m fishing water less than 12 feet deep, I will go to a 1/2-ounce jig weight,” Lee advises. “You have to change the lure speed and style of presentation to match the mood of the bass, it’s not just about having the best bass baits for spring”
Lee mentions that spotted bass will hit the jig with a solid or robust thump. Largemouth bass, on the other hand, will strike with a softer bump, more like a tick. Anglers will need to focus on learning the difference between a strike and bumping a rock.
Crawfish are a favorite food for any bass, so a lure that gives this appearance is certainly one of the best bass baits for spring. To simulate crawfish, Lee will opt for a crawfish-colored lure. Orange and brown with some green pumpkin and chartreuse mixed in is a good color combination. With the soft-plastic trailer, dip the claw tips in chartreuse or orange dye.
A top area for prespawn bass that many anglers may overlook is riprap. The large rocks along roadways and bridge abutments are prime spots for crawfish and bass. Many anglers overlook these riprap areas or fish them too fast. Lee capitalized on riprap along a roadway when fishing the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville , armed with the best prespawn bass lures and plenty of knowhow.
“Often, the bass will tell you how and where to fish,” he comments. “I knew since the sun was higher the bass moved to the edge of the grass.”
Using a heavy flipping stick, Lee will pitch his jig along the riprap. He methodically picks apart small patches of grass along the shoreline. Usually, if he catches one fish there is another close by.
Bass anglers will want their jigs to stay in contact with the bottom. Using a slow retrieve, bump and hit every rock possible. The jig bumping the rocks and dragging across the bottom will simulate the sounds of a crawfish clicking along. The added sound is sure to get the attention of any nearby bass.
Jerkbaits garnered some attention as one of the best bass baits for spring in the past few Classics. A jerkbait is a long, slender lure with a short to medium plastic diving lip. Common sizes are four to five inches long. Most weigh 3/8- to 1/2-ounces.
Most anglers prefer a suspending jerkbait. The lure will hold the depth when the retrieve is paused. Shad colors are the most popular for catching prespawn bass, although bluegill and crawfish patterns also perform well.
“The bass are trying to move up to spawn,” comments B.A.S.S. Elite angler Mark Davis of Mount Ida, AR. “But, every couple of days a cold front comes through and they back off from the spawning areas.”
Davis mentions a jerkbait will get down to the bass where they are holding. Bass may not be willing to chase another lure, but if they see long, shad looking lures hovering in front of their faces, they can’t resist taking a strike at this best bass bait for spring.
One of the keys to fishing a jerkbait is knowing when to make the next twitch after a pause. On some days, the bass may be more aggressive and hit the bait the moment it stops. Then, on other days, they will study the bait after a few stops and starts before making a move.
The Strike King KVD model jerkbaits are a top early spring bass lure choice for anglers. They can be cast long distances and maintain the proper depth where the bass are hiding. The lures can be twitched fast or slow. Also, they can be fished with a steady retrieve for a different look.
A 7-foot medium-action rod with a bait-casting reel spooled with 14-pound-test mono is the rig Davis prefers to use with jerkbaits. The longer rod helps with casting into the wind and feeling the strike. Pairing the best prespawn bass lures with the proper equipment is also key to landing the early spring bass.
Lips And No Lips
Let’s look at two lures that are similar, but different. Lipless and lipped crankbaits can deliver a one-two punch and are definitely among the best prespawn bass lures.
When Davis is searching for bass in the prespawn, he will pick up a lipless crankbait. Lures like the Strike King Red Eye Shad and the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap are prime selections for catching bass before the spawn.
The lure can be fished at different depths by varying the retrieve. Lipless cranks allow an angler to cover plenty of water in search of hungry bass. Top colors that make the best of the best prespawn bass lures are chrome with a blue or black back or red crawfish.
“I like to cast the Red Eye Shad along ditches or channels in the back waters,” Davis reports. “Also, the fronts of small pockets are other good areas for staging bass.”
Davis advises many anglers fish the lipless crankbait too fast. This is especially true after catching a fish or getting a strike. Anglers should note the speed and depth of their lure and reproduce the same action on follow-up casts.
Once Davis has located a school of bass, he will change over to a Strike King Series 3 or Series 5 size crankbait. Each of these bits has a plastic lip or bill that controls the depth. Also, these lures can be fished slower and without snagging rocks or stumps.
Late winter to early spring weather can be fickle in the Cotton State. The rapidly changing conditions messes with the minds and attitudes of both bass and man. However, choosing one of the best prespawn bass lures can make for a great day outdoors before the spawn.
This article first appeared in the March 2017 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.