It is that time of year again: The ice is gone, and anglers are looking for some good open water fishing. Some think because the water temperature is still in the 30s, fish can’t be caught. But put together the right pattern in the right weather conditions, and fish can be caught.
While many of the fish are still holding on or near their wintering area, a few are starting to venture out to shallower areas, or wherever the water may be warming slightly when the sun comes out. They may be searching for food or even scouting out future spawning areas. In fact, several of the crappie that I caught in shallow water on a green shad Natural Forage Baits Swim Bait were large females of 14 to 16 inches. Even a 21-inch bass was caught in the same general area.
The best locations are generally in smaller bodies of water, along north shores and northwest corners, especially if the sun is shining and the wind is blowing into them. Plus, look for riprap and sand bottoms in these same locations, as they will heat quicker, and the rocky areas will provide more food.
If there are weed beds still hanging around some deeper locations, these can also be productive.
Lures and retrieves can vary, but I have about five lures that I alternate with a couple of retrieves for catching bass and big crappie and one or two lures for crappie and bluegill.
The first five are Natural Forage Baits Swim Bait and Lil' Killer; Road Runners (mainly Casey’s Head with a choice of shad type body); Rat-L-Trap; and Blitz Blade. The two panfish size lures are Natural Forage Baits T-Shad and Berkley 2” Power Minnow with B-Fish-N H20 Precision jig heads, both of which are sometimes assisted with a Crappie Nibble.
Retrieves for the first set of five lures are a straight swim, lift and drop (fishing off of the bottom), rip-and-pause (uses side sweeps of the rod at about 3 feet per sweep), and finger jigging for the Lil Killer/H20 jig head rig.
With the panfish lures, I’ll use them with finger jigging, darting action, or under a float, which is drifted with the wind and wave action.
All of the mentioned lures and retrieves are not species specific. They can catch anything. For example, I’ve caught bass, crappie, bluegill, catfish and carp on the T-Shad, while catching big crappie and bluegill on the NFB Swim Bait.
Two years ago Dr. Jim Nordquist and I started catching fish this way in February, but this year things are starting a little later. In fact, Jim was using a small finesse jig with trailer to catch some of his when we were fishing along a northern area of a lake in water of 3 to 8 feet.
This year I’ve started to catch some big crappie and bass in shallower water around weed clumps, but as soon as things cool off or a front comes through, look for a new ball game. Then you may have to cast out a float with one of the smaller lures, and drift it along over brush piles or along drop off areas, which could be a riprap shore along a dam.
The main thing to remember is to be ready to change lures and patterns from day to day, and some days even hour to hour.
This time of the year is not normally known as a time for new fishing tackle to be introduced. That's usually saved for July during the ICAST show, but Plano was too excited about their newest product to let this one sit. They felt that anglers should have it now, so they introduced the new line of Rustrictor Stowaway Boxes at the Bassmasters’ Classic.
These are just like the normal 3600 and 3700 series of Stowaways, except they are treated with a rust preventative Armor that will keep your lures from having rusty hooks and corrosion five times longer than other boxes. These are great for crankbaits, blades and terminal tackle — anything that has metal that can be treated.
I took one of the deep 3600s and turned it into a spinnerbait box since I only use just a few types and colors.
The one I really like is the 3700 Terminal Tackle model, which I set up for all of my Daiichi and Xpoint hooks, and worm weights. The entire box is made of the Armor material, so if you have lures stored in a tight boat storage compartment, these boxes can also treat them with the same Armor that is molded into the box. This acts much like the Gun Protect modules that you can place in a gun cabinet or ammo box.
They don’t look different in design, but they do have sort of a milky-bluish appearance, and the latches are a bright red.
From what I’ve been told by Plano, these new Rustrictor boxes will cost about $1 more than the normal Stowaway, and are available at Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Croegaert’s Great Outdoors in Rock Island will also likely carry a few.