Bass fishing in the pre-spawn is different for me than other seasons. I can’t put my finger on it. There’s something interesting, more action at closer range, site fishing, sticking them in 3-4 ft of water. Sound familiar?
Things like hunting bass down on their migratory routes, establishing water temperature, fishing shallow, fishing deep, fishing gravel bottom, grassy humps, drop-offs, and wood.
There is no manual on it, just narrowing it down, homing in on a strange, uneven pattern of behavior. This is what lead me to bring my father and son to Calero reservoir in San Jose, CA. on a morning in March.
Always Be Prepared
It all began at the boat launch. Everything was inflated, packed, strung, tied, and strapped. One final glance at my phone’s weather app would give a sense of security – cloudy skies expected to break.
A cold front would roll in the following day with rain and lowering pressure, giving us the advantage ( finally) over these inactive fish.
Winter mornings were at last behind us – those long, cold days dancing a delicate Zman TRD Craw or drop shot beyond drop-offs and ledges.
I would have a chance to breathe again, stretch long and hard, cast and retrieve straight and not remind myself to slow my roll every second.
With my fins on, I duck walked to my float tube and did some awkward dance to hold my rod, plop down, and kick-off, stirring silt and clam shells beneath.
What followed was a deep breath, waiting for something to go wrong – perhaps a subtle hiss of air escaping. As unnecessary as it is, I do it every time.
I exhaled. Nothing. Onward, then!
My son was beside me. He had a maiden voyage of his own – an inflatable Challenger kayak, lime green, his favorite color. Trailing was my dad paddling his Necky kayak.
Bungeed to his bow was our lunch, extra tackle, and light action rod for pan-fish.
My boy glided and held balance nicely. We made circles and allowed him time to get comfortable with his paddles and seating. I like to think that he felt above the earth that day. I did.
Let the Pre-Spawn Begin
I began long casting a Strike King red-eyed lipless crank, red color. Awesome action. The ultimate search bait.
The wind pulled us all to the tulips where I began a sidearm roll cast, running my crank alongside. Anyone hungry here? No Action.
I slowed my roll and alternated from a straight retrieve to pause and tried finding rocks and stumps to deflect off. A few small snags followed nothing major, all indicated by the thick, green mass impaled on the back treble upon each retrieve.
Ordinarily, I would fan-cast about the area, but had an effectual intuition pulling me toward the shallows. Once there, I could see where the reservoir ended, flat, glistening mud. Throngs of exposed clam shells were everywhere. Egrets fished close by. Other large birds, herron and geese, all waded, some stood, shinning in the strains of broken sunlight.
Pre-Spawn Can Be Intimate
Noticing the depth at which the birds stood, I began to feel the bottom, as my fins dragged along, creating clouds of mushrooming silt and mud. I thought this wasn’t bad, as pre-spawn can go down in the water as shallow as this.
I don’t use electronics. Therefore, I turned and positioned myself toward open water, as I knew my lure would pass a solid 5-6 ft drop-off.
By positioning here, and still standing, I could also cast laterally with a side-arm-roll and run my lure on an angle, and work across the drop-off line.
Bass On The Crank
The clouds had burned off by this point, giving way to blue skies. Naturally, I had forgotten a thermometer, so I reached over and brushed the surface and felt a slight temperature increase.
We continued along the drop-off line – my son paddling circles; my dad not far behind.
After a moment of pause while mid-retrieve, I felt it. My rod tip loaded up and a furry of head shakes followed. Fish on! I yelled.
She breached and I saw her, a healthy female with a swollen belly, giant head, and mouth, ready to carry on her genetic legacy.
I brought her along the left side of my float. She stayed anchored to the bottom and had little room for evasive measures. She surfaced and allowed me to lip her gently and snap her picture.
I laid her across my mesh tray and looked at her fading colors – the most beautiful thing I’d seen.
After a few photos with this freshwater queen, my boy took her and tried passing water over her body and gills. She shook her head around and began a slow tail wag and took off in a dramatic fashion into a cloud of mud.
Bass On The Jig
Our day went on. We beached our crafts at a gravel shore squeezed between two banks of tulips, and had our lunch.
I continued with the lipless crank and achieved the desired effect of deflecting off rocks and kicking around sand, a perfect little racket maker.
Like an erratic craw, this lure fires up the pre-spawners ( I’m still digging the chili red color).
We paddled along the shore until we were across from the boat launch as the wind began sweeping down. Each kick of my fins against the wind was a burning workout. These weren’t safe conditions to be paddling in. What’s more, we had a ways to go.
My son paddled vigorously and tired quickly. The wind had turned him entirely backward.
My dad managed to right him, and we all rested at the south dock once we arrived. Tired, but still invigorated. I took this time to tie on a Hard Hat Diesel jig. Who doesn’t like flipping docks, right?
Large, husky men, old-timers, lined the shore throwing moving baits, swim baits, and bladed jigs. They all got a kick out of my son’s athletic charisma on his kayak.
I spoke with one man who was casting at the end of the dock.
“I’ve been here for hours, man! Nothing yet. It’s weird, you’d think they be up shallow by now.”
I agreed with a smirk and chose my distance, waded back, flipped under the left overhang, and let my jig hit bottom.
After a short while, I felt that thump, thump, thump, as my line began to travel away. I set my hook hard and received shock therapy, that feeling of every synapse in my brain firing in ecstasy.
Later, I would be told: “Dude that hook-set looked sick!” by the same gentleman.
Up came a smaller largemouth. Faces all around were in disbelief at the sight of this, as each man had been fishing for hours with not so much as a bite.
“Dude!” one guy yelled.
“Ha! Yeah! I replied.
I felt the familiar sense of accomplishment as always; two fish on a notoriously difficult bay area lake – it’s a reason to gloat, but this feeling was surpassed by another entirely.
These were the days we felt like men, like kings. And the world had nothing on us ( my son and my father) because everything we had was right there on that lake and in that moment, in the boat next to each of us, beating in a parallel cadence; this is why every pre-spawn is awesome.