Reeling in Spring Success
As spring finally overtakes winter’s seeming endless grasp, and once barren limbs now sway heavy with viridescent plums, it can only mean one thing…
It’s fishing time in Tennessee. Early spring fishing in our little slice of heaven is the envy of the rest of the world, but they just don’t know it.
In late April, and early May, many of the most prized trophy fish have moved to shallow shore lines and structures. This means the monster large and small mouth bass, as well as, the mythical musky, are all in reach.
Tackling these trophies in the spring often might implore tactics that on first use seem counter intuitive. Any angler that has spent more than five minutes in a tackle shop has been privy to the old adage, “big fish want big baits,” but sometimes sizing down can yield amazing results. At this time post-spawn muskies and bass are in recovery mode, and might be hesitant to waste calories or risk injury on targeting larger prey. These fish will likely focus on small, more manageable meals. So while all of the other eager anglers reach for the largest lure in the box, start your season off small to avoid the disappointment.
Downsized lures, like a classic rattle trap, can be an explosive spring presentation. With their tight wiggle, mimicking the erratic scurry of an injured bait fish, they undoubtedly trigger the need to feed in an apex predator. When a fishing holes depth is better measured in inches, rather than feet, the rattle trap is sure to shine. The key to tapping into this lures effectiveness is finding the right location. Sand flats, shallow bays, and shoreline lay downs all seem to fit the bill.
In the early morning and late evening hours, the trophy class large mouth will frequent the shallows. These skinny waters provide them with a thermal oasis as the deepest parts of our lakes have yet to warm. When bass are present over flats, the increased temperature can have dramatic effect on their metabolism. This will definitely increase and expand the fish’s feeding window. Rattle traps that may seem more suited to pan fish are proven highly effective when targeting bass in these scenarios. I focus on landing each cast as close to the shoreline or cover as possible. Also, by varying the speed of each retrieve, one can find the right speed to trigger a strike. Past efforts have revealed that a medium-paced retrieve is generally the most productive. That being stated, I would never hesitate to turn up the heat as the fast velocity might trigger violent reactionary strikes.
As spring days progress and the sun cuts through the water, the fish will often move just beyond the shores edge into only slightly deeper water. Throughout the day, this change in the relation of the sun forces a change in boat positioning. A good strategy is positioning your boat further from structure and casting deeper during the high sun, remembering to reposition to the shallow if it becomes overcast. An under-utilized bass tactic is casting rattle traps lateral to the shoreline. During high sun or flat conditions, tracing the shoreline contours with your lure can turn a slow day into gold.
If you’re up to the challenge, spring is a great time to target Tennessee muskies with this down-sized presentation. These toothy monsters will come in shallow to spawn; afterwards, lingering and actively feeding while trying to recuperate. As muskies transition out of the spawn, they target prey that requires the smallest energy expenditure. For them shad and small blue gill would definitely be on the spring menu. I often use Joe Bucher rattle traps that are similar in size to small shad, but any wire-through bass rattle trap can be used.
While most of the year muskies require elaborate retrieves, a simple straight retrieve is perfect for early season Tennessee muskies. This spring musky pattern doesn’t last long, but is highly active and productive. A couple of extra tips: when targeting muskies remember to use a wire leader, heavy braided line, and always practice “catch-photo-release”. Musky may look mean, but they are delicate creatures out of the water, so study and practice proper handling and release methods.
Regardless of what species you’re targeting, start your spring in East Tennessee thinking small: small lures, shallow water, and subtle action.
Musky Guide / Master Angler
Melton Hill Musky