Don’t take that “warmwater” classification too literally for many of the region’s fish species.
Tournament bass anglers start their season in March, and they’re not coming in with empty livewells.
Tournament angler Nick Young, who fishes bass year-round, has learned a thing or two about pursuing warmwater fish before the trees bud. For instance:
• Watch the water temperature. Bass are starting to transition from winter to spring and into a period known as prespawn when days get longer and water temperatures rise into the 43- 46-degree range.
• The magic water temp that lures big fish out of the depths is 45 degrees. “Spring is the most wide-open bite of the season, and lots of people miss it because they wait until May,” Young said.
• Bigger fish become active sooner than smaller ones and they’re not as wary. “They come up pretty dumb and ignorant and ready to feed,” Young said.
• Bass will be schooled in a few spots, usually near the bottom, and they won’t be in the mood to chase anything.
• Fish at a snail’s pace. Make your retrieves slow and be ready for bites so subtle you barely know anything is there until you set the hook.
• If you miss a strike, don’t reel in and recast. Just let your lure sink and try again.
• Look for confined areas such as ponds, small rivers or sloughs. Finding fish in large, open bodies of water can be challenging. It’s easier to find them in smaller waters.
• Look for slow current that will carry food to wintering bass. That current also keeps bass a little more active. A mild current near the inlet of a pond can hold fish.
• Look for shallow ledges or shelves near deeper water where bass might move on to feed on warmer days.
• Fish plastics in crawdad patterns. Crawdads are a staple for bass in winter.
• As the water starts to warm, shift to fishing more minnow and baitfish lures.
• A sunny afternoon will bump the water temperature up a little, and as little as 1 degree warmer can get the fish feeding.
• Hooking a fish in a school can trigger others to feed.
• Perch stay active year-round, which is why they’re popular with ice anglers. Perch spawn when the water temperatures reach mid-40s to mid-50s. They’re in large schools before spawning.
• When water temperatures reach the high 40s, crappie start moving into the shallows and feeding before spawning. They will spawn when temperatures reach the high 50s to low 60s.
• Most crappie move toward shore and shallow coves during prespawn.
Females then lay their eggs and move to slightly deeper water while males stay in the shallows and guard the nest.
Some of the best fishing of the season is March and April, when the fish school up in the flats and shallows to spawn.
These panfish like warmer water, and it might take 60-degree temperatures to get them active. But they also can be found in small ponds, which warm quickly after a few warm, sunny days.
• There’s an old saw about Idaho bluegills biting when the syringas bloom.
Use a fish finder. When you know fish are there, you can concentrate on how to catch them. Fish are often in schools in spring, leaving a lot of water with no fish.