In Michigan the “outdoor calendar” has some pretty significant dates etched in stone. Archery deer season opens on the first day of October, firearm deer
season on November 15, trout season opens on the last Saturday in April and bass season opens on the Saturday
preceding Memorial Day…
What a lot of Michigan anglers haven’t discovered is the last Saturday in April also marks the opening day of Michigan’s Catch and Release Bass Season. For a few years the DNR conducted catch and release research on a handful of Michigan lakes to determine if opening up an early season statewide would be detrimental to bass populations. Research proved without any doubt that catches and immediate release fishing poses no significant impact on bass populations.
Based on this research a special catch and release season in the Lower Peninsula opens on the last Saturday in April and a similar season in the Upper Peninsula opens on May 15. Collectively these new fishing opportunities provide Michigan anglers a bonanza of bass fishing options including almost unlimited waters that hold both smallmouth and largemouth bass.
The beauty of the Catch and Release Bass Season is most of the fish are going to be found in shallow water early in the spring. Prior to the spawn both smallmouth and largemouth cruise the shallows looking for an easy meal. That meal could be a host of minnow species, young of the year panfish, crayfish and even fresh out of hibernation frogs.
Bass aren’t picky when it comes to food types in the early spring. These fish are seeking out two simple things, water a little warmer than the main lake and something to fill their belly before spawning season kicks in. Often the best fishing takes place in water barely deep enough to cover their backs! All it takes to lure bass in this close to shore is a little cover. Emerging weed beds, dead and standing bulrush and/or cattail, submerged wood and rocks are all great contact points.
RUN AND GUN
In most lakes anglers are going to find a tremendous amount of shallow water ideal for bass fishing. Covering as much of this habitat as possible in search of active fish is the key to success. I typically set my bow mounted electric motor on continuous and slip quietly down the shoreline. As targets of interest come into range, I cast to them. Once my lure passes the desired target and slips into a little deeper water, I reel it up quickly in preparation for the next cast. About 99% of the bites come tight to shore or in direct proximity to cover.
When the season opens on the last Saturday in April, I find that the north, west and east shorelines have warmed a little faster than the rest of the lake. This is because the angle of the sun in the spring time focuses more sonar energy on these parts of the lake.
Gradually as the lake water warms, other regions of the lake including the south shorelines will also begin to attract fish. It’s also important to note that the best fishing gets going in the southern part of the state and progresses slowly north through the Lower Peninsula and into the Upper Peninsula. The beauty of this situation is that anglers can continue to target pre-spawn fish by simply targeting more northerly and cooler parts of the state.
Great fishing starts right when the season opens the last Saturday in April and continues all through May, giving anglers a solid two months of fishing time to target pre-spawn bass.
Pre-spawn bass will bite a variety of presentations, but generally speaking jerkbaits, swimming jigs and un-weighted soft plastics are the top choices. Jerkbaits including the Bomber Long A, Rapala Husky Jerk, Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue and others are classic cold water bass lures. To trigger strikes in cold water anglers must often pause the bait for several seconds before twitching the bait a few more times.
Swimming jigs are another popular spring bass option. The best swimming jigs are weedless version with a living rubber body and a pointed nose that slips through cover easily. Any swimming jig fishes best when tipped with a soft plastic trailer like a crawfish body to add action and also to slow down the sinking rate.
A slow and steady retrieve is often the most productive way to fish a swimming jig. Sizes 1/4 and 3/8 ounce are the most popular and every major manufacturer of bass jigs offers a swimming jig suitable for the task.
Other soft plastic options that work well on pre-spawn bass are jerk shads, tubes, flukes and do nothing worms. All of these plastics work best when fished weightless so they sink very slowly. Again, every major manufacturer of soft plastics produces baits suitable for pre-spawn bass fishing applications.
Jerkbaits and swimming jigs can be fished nicely on medium action baitcasting gear loaded with eight to 10 pound test fluorocarbon line. In the case of weightless plastics, a medium light or light action spinning set up loaded with six to eight pound test fluorocarbon line is ideal.
The same rods many anglers favor for fishing drop shot rigs later in the season make great rods for pitching soft plastics to pre-spawn bass. These rods tend to be a little longer and also they have a very light action tip. This is virtually the perfect set up for casting and working unweighted plastics.
SUMMING IT UP
Michigan’s Catch and Release Bass Season is growing in popularity, but the majority of anglers still have not discovered how active bass can be in cold water. Prior to the spawn it’s a safe bet that bass will be in shallow water and hunting actively. Some of the best fishing takes place on sunny days and during the middle of the day after the sun has warmed the surface water a few degrees.
To tap into this bonanza of fishing action all an angler needs to do is think shallow, fish slow and target visible cover. Those who stick to these basics will no doubt be rewarded with lots and lots of leaping bass action.