Spring Fishing!

Crappie and bass anglers often consider fishing to be at its best in early morning, but spring fishing can be more successful in the late afternoon and early evening. Early in the season, water usually takes three days after a cold front before it warms significantly enough to increase crappie and bass activity.

Because water warmer than 40oF is more buoyant than cooler water, spring warming creates a shallow, warmer layer of water late in the day on the downwind side of a lake. Other factors being the same, the north side will warm more quickly than the south side of the lake.  Although air will cool quickly after sunset, water retains its heat for quite some time. Because of the warmer water and better predatory efficiency of crappie and bass during low light conditions, these fish feed more aggressively in the late afternoon and early evening during the spring.

Early season crappie fishing begins when daffodil leaves push their way out of the soil, usually in February. These early season crappie can be caught in shallow water, especially around woody debris and in vegetation over a hard bottom near deeper water. Often some of the year"s best catches occur at this time. For anglers unable to fish during the day, night fishing can be excellent as fish move into a lake's tributaries.

Duane Raver, USFWS, White Crappie drawing
This white crappie drawing is by Duane Raver, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The preferred spawning areas for crappie are hard bottom areas with vegetation or on waterlogged wood. Males of both white and black crappie will darken as spawning approaches, and they begin nest building. If the catch consists mostly of dark males, the females may be nearby in deeper water. Casts with jigs or minnows exploring nearby deeper water may catch larger females.

April crappie from Guntersville LakeCrappie anglers typically use minnows or small jigs. Minnows used for crappie fishing are 1- or 2-inch fathead minnows, also known as tuffies. Minnows are commonly fished with a size 4 gold wide-gap "crappie" hook and a small split-shot weight between the hook and a float. A lively minnow should be hooked just behind the lips from the bottom through the top lip or in the back, avoiding the spine. Place the weight a hand length from the hook, and set the float so the minnow will be above the crappie. Fishing line should be heavy enough to pull a crappie hook out of a snag without breaking the line, but fishing line should be light enough that the split shot keeps the fishing line tight. Twelve-pound test monofilament line may be ideal. Remember that unused live bait may not be released into the water being fished.

Both plastic and marabou jigs catch crappie, but the small jigs have an advantage. Small jigs stay in the crappie's strike zone longer than large jigs. Although many colors are used, anglers often use yellow and white, sometimes with a brightly painted head. Black jigs seem to be more effective during crappie spawning season. Because lighter line helps anglers feel the action of the jig, eight-pound test is the maximum suggested. A four- to six-pound line may yield higher catches at the cost of a few more jigs.

Largemouth bass are the most popular fish in Alabama. Largemouth bass prefer slightly warmer water than crappie for spawning. Unlike crappie, bass are more difficult to catch on their spawning beds. Except for specialized sight fishing for bass on beds, the best bass fishing is just prior to and two weeks after spawning.

Duane Raver, USFWS, largemouth bass drawing
This largemouth bass drawing is by Duane Raver, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bass prefer to make nests in shallow water in pea-sized gravel near deeper water. Sand or hard clay may be used when bass do not have access to small gravel. Male bass often build nests near structures such as submerged wood or weed beds. Bass stay near these quality spawning sites throughout the spring.

Larger bass are generally caught early in the fishing season. For smaller waters, anglers often catch the largest bass in late February and March. Alabama tournament data from bass clubs fishing reservoirs show anglers catch more large bass in March and April.

Large bass are more vulnerable and at their maximum size during the spring. During this time, larger baits are often used to target these wary trophy fish. Spinner baits and jig-and-pig baits are excellent early season lures. The type of spinner baits known as buzz baits are effective on large and small bass, creating some topwater excitement this time of year. Lipless crankbaits and jerk baits can produce excellent catches in pre-spawn periods, as can plastic salamanders with the hook buried into the plastic.

Statewide bass club tournament data shows anglers in reservoirs enjoy their best catches in May after most spawning is finished. During this time of year, most any bass lure will work.

Bluegill or bream prefer warmer water than crappie and largemouth bass. Spawning beds concentrate bluegill, thus creating the best fishing of the year. Bluegill spawn monthly from May through October, often during the full moon. Bluegills spawn in shallow gravel or sandy areas that have cover, such as weeds or submerged wood. Areas with access to deeper water may contain larger bluegill. Being sight feeders, bluegills feed readily during midday hours, an advantage for anglers who prefer not to get up during pre-dawn hours.

Duane Raver, USFWS, bluegill drawing
This bluegill drawing is by Duane Raver, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Spring is the best season for fishing in Alabama. Anglers have an excellent opportunity to catch crappie, largemouth bass, and bluegill as water temperatures warm. The best chances of success come to anglers who know when, where and how to target these fish.

If you are looking for a possible fishing destination, Alabama State Public Fishing Lakes provide outstanding, accessible spring fishing. Not only do these lakes contain bass, redear sunfish and bluegill (some have crappie), the smaller state lakes warm up before the larger reservoirs. All 23 State Public Fishing Lakes have plenty of bank access and offer rental boats.

Ken Weathers, fishing prodigy
K. C. Weathers, 12 years old, caught this 8.6-pound largemouth bass from a Coffee County farm pond on February 24, 2007.