Find Dark Bottom Areas For Early Spring Largemouths

By on March 17, 2016
A pre-spawn female caught in a dark-bottomed backwater. (Credit: Jeff Elliott)

Spring, time to get the boats out of hibernation and get to bass fishing here in the North. The bass don’t mind cold water up here and the bite can be phenomenal just after ice out. However, many bass will seek out the warmest water they can get in. Finding that “warm” water can be very important even if it is just a couple degrees. A few sunny days and warmer-than-average temperatures can make shallow, black-bottomed areas the place to be in a hurry.

Mucky, organic, black-bottomed areas are going to absorb heat from the sun readily and warm up the fastest. The temperature difference between the main body of the lake and these areas can be drastic, especially if they are isolated from the main basin. I’ve seen the temperature difference as drastic as 10 degrees. That can make a big difference in bass activity.

Luckily these areas are some of the easiest early spring hotspots to find. Lily pad fields are a great indicator of where to start. They will have the right bottom components to heat up quickly and bluegills there for the same warm-water reasons. They are also hotspots for bass spawning activity and provide an area that works well for both staging and spawning. Largemouths are lazy and I think they are happy to make one move from wintering to the staging/spawning mode instead of several.

These areas become even bigger bass magnets if there is some depth nearby. Sometimes all that means is there are some deeper ditches in the area. Other times it may mean they have a dropoff on the outside or a basin of their own. Right on the edge of that deeper water is a great place to start, as given the option they will often wait until later in the day when the water warms to move shallow.

You can keep your bait selection pretty simple for these areas. Let’s assume we are hitting an area in the morning and going to work from the outside deeper water and move in with the fish as it warms. If the dropoff goes deeper than 8 feet, the primary weapons are going to be a suspending jerkbait and a jig. They can’t resist that jerkbait suspending over their heads and nothing imitates a bluegill/crawfish at the same time as well as a jig. Slowly working the jig from the top of the dropoff to the bottom results in some of the biggest females this time of year. If I’m dealing with shallower ditches instead of dropoffs, I’m going to thoroughly cover them with a lipless crankbait. Touching the tops of any grass down there is important and when you rip the bait free, that is when you’ll get most of your strikes.

A largemouth bass that bit a jig crawled through lily pad roots. (Credit: Jeff Elliott)

A largemouth bass that bit a jig crawled through lily pad roots. (Credit: Jeff Elliott)

As the sun starts shining and the bass start moving up and hunting in the lily pad roots, I’ll change up tactics. Lily pad roots can hang up lures pretty easy, so I want baits that come through cover well. For covering water, few do it better than a bladed jig or a swim jig. Thumping them along slowly in pad roots gets a lot of attention. It also allows you to quickly pinpoint those particular areas bass seem to be really holding in. I’ll also pitch a Nemesis Baits Upskirt jig to the lily pad roots. This enables me to give them a slower presentation and also be precise with what targets I’m fishing. One of the big reasons I reach for a jig in this situation instead of a Texas-rigged plastic, is that I feel the bulk of a jig keeps it above the muck bottom better. However, if I do get out Texas-rigged soft plastics, I’m sure not to peg them so my bait doesn’t follow my sinker into the mud.

You’ll catch quite a few fish just pitching to any lily pad stems you can see. But there are certain things they really set up on. Often times, gases underneath the bottom will cause root systems and chunks of bottom to float to the surface. This creates a cavern underneath and a nice warm ambush spot for bass to sit. If I see anything floating on the surface, even if it is just a couple roots, I can promise you I am throwing my jig at it.

I also want to target the depressions where these root systems came from. You’ll notice in these areas that there are always divots where root systems left the bottom and were then blown somewhere else. It might be just a couple feet deeper, but it makes all the difference. These divots may be small but don’t be surprised to catch multiple fish out of them. I’ve also done really well fishing around suspending/floating algae — the kind of stuff that, when your bait makes contact, it is going to be covered in green slime. Any wood cover will be a magnet for them also and the main thing you want to remember is to put your bait near something different in the area.

A lot of fish will concentrate in these areas, so you can beat on them pretty hard and still have great fishing. The fish are going to be constantly moving in and moving out, so it is important to mix it up between the roots and dropoffs/ditches all day.

Other things that can make these areas better are currents and wind. Any sort of inflow or outflow of water always adds another attraction for the fish and helps concentrate them in that area. Wind is also a huge benefit. Not only does it turn fish on and help to hide your presence, it stacks warm water and bugs that are hatching in the windblown areas. This is where the greatest numbers and most aggressive fish are going to be. Bug hatches are a little talked about thing in the spring, but if you find out where they are emerging, the bluegills and bass are going to know about it too.

One thing I’ve found is it is never too early to check up on these areas and, since they are easy to find, it doesn’t take long to find out if they are ready or not. Most natural lakes, rivers and quite a few northern reservoirs have this type of area. Give them a chance when you hit the water early this spring, you might be surprised at what you find.

Top image: A pre-spawn female caught in a dark-bottomed backwater. (Credit: Jeff Elliott)

About Jeff Elliott

Jeff Elliott is a 2014 Bassmaster Team championship qualifier. He has 75 tournament wins, including the 2012 Detroit Lions/Kevin VanDam Charity tournament. He is a seven-time points champion and a Bust'in Sticks TV show champion.

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