When Spring Has Sprung
By Ben Leal
Spring in Iowa, and for that matter anywhere in the country, is a pretty active time for our fishy friends that reside in area lakes. Warming water temps are a signal for walleye, crappie, and bass that it’s time to start moving to shallow spring haunts. Walleye are the first to make that transition to shallow water for the spawn. And I do mean shallow! Walleye can be found in a foot of water at times, especially at night. Crappies are not far behind, they will also start their transition from their deep wintering holes to shallow cover. Bass will soon follow as water temps continue to warm giving them the signal that it’s time to move in and start digging out beds for the spawn.
As each of these species moves into shallow areas of lakes to spawn, they offer anglers some opportunities to catch quality fish as well and quantity. And at times the amount of fish that can concentrate in a specific area can be staggering. So what happens when the spawn is over and water temps continue to climb. We’re going to explore this transition time and offer tips and tricks to keep chasing after your favorite quarry.
Before we dig a bit into some summer fishing strategies I wanted to touch on the importance of selective harvest, especially during the spawn. Walleye, as we’ve noted, are the first to make that move to shallow water. They will be aggressive feeders as they prepare for and ultimately spawn. This time of year can be one where a trophy or personal best may not be far off. Females are usually the larger of the fish being caught and in my most recent experience can top 28 inches. These are the fish you want to C.P.R. (Catch, Photo & Release). As the walleye spawn gives way to crappie and bass following it’s important to remember that these larger females are an important factor to the future of the fishery. Fish are a renewable resource and great for the table…being selective in your harvest will help keep our fisheries viable far into the future.
Water temps in the summer will warm up into the mid to upper 70’s or, in some places, even warmer. Walleye prefer cooler water and will start moving to deep parts of the lake in search of cool places to hang out. It’s also safe to say that some of the baitfish and forage that they feed on will do the same, though they may not be as deep as the walleye.
Walleyes are basically lazy fish. They don’t like to chase bait very far and are always looking for an easy meal, so find out what the main forage species is in a given lake and then find them. There are times when the forage fish are suspended in the lake and the walleyes are normally not far away. A crankbait that will get down into the 15-20-foot range is one favorite for midsummer walleyes. If the forage and walleyes are deeper, go to a bottom-bouncer or drop-shot rig. Live bait offerings such as crawlers, leeches, and minnows all work
Midsummer walleyes are normally going to be deeper. If you locate fish in the 30- to 40-foot range, add lead to your crankbaits using a drop-sinker on a three-way swivel at least 8 to 10 feet ahead of the lure. If the water is turbid, you want the crankbait down there bumping bottom. I think the vibration – the sound of the lure, as well as the disturbance it makes digging along the bottom – attract walleyes. If the water is clear, a lure running close to the bottom will work, and if you find fish suspended, try to run the lure at the same depth.
Jigging vertically for these deeper fish will produce as well. Look for weed beds where forage fish will be hiding from predators. Jig and minnow will do a pretty good job, especially when you’re fishing on a clear calm day. Walleye will hold tight to structure and will stay deep.
Crappies are by far one of the most sought-after gamefish here in Iowa in the spring. While walleye are not far behind or even top crappie as the prime target for spring fishing, weather can be a factor in keeping anglers on or off the lake. Walleye spawn during some of the coolest days and nights of Iowa springs, while crappie wait for warmer climes to make that transition. Crappie hold tight to cover and are shallow during the spawn, however, like walleye, they’ll make the move to deep water as the water temps begin to climb.
When lake temperatures start climbing to 75-80 degrees, crappies will most often be hanging around deep creek and river channels. Look for them to be suspending near, or holding tight to stumps, brushpiles, and flooded standing timber adjacent to channels in 20 to 30 feet of water. Mark channel drops with buoys, then probe for crappies. A bow-mounted sonar with the transducer attached to the trolling motor will help you stay on target. Lower a sinker straight down into bottom cover and s-l-o-w-l-y reel it up, repeating as you progress along the channel. Crappies often suspend in a tower formation, and this presentation will catch fish up from 30 feet to 10 feet deep.
While many anglers are looking for crappie in deeper portions of the lake, our friends in the South, (Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi) have developed a pattern for catching summer crappie in 10-15 feet of water. One of the newly discovered secrets is the fact that crappie use trees on drop-offs and sloping banks to move up and down in the water column. The trunks of laydown trees usually remain on shore or in shallow water adjacent to a sloping bank. The branches of the laydown are often shading a deep channel drop off.
This is one scenario that makes the perfect storm for catching summer crappie. The laydown in the warm water and sunlight will grow a covering of algae and this will attract baitfish to the laydown. Crappie will use these as a buffet to feed on the baitfish that are feeding on the algae. Use small tub jigs and twister tails when fishing along the edge of the branches. Allow the jig to fall on slack line and then retrieve the bait with a slow to moderate rate swimming the jig down the side of the trunk of the laydown back to open water over the top of the trees. The crappies seem to be more concerned with eating than they are with staying in the deep water, which makes the summer angler a happy angler.
In early summer, look for deep areas that have humps, ridges, points, creek beds, old roadbeds, flooded timber, or a grassline at 10 to 20-foot depths. Look for the same type of structure at 20 to 30-foot depths in later summer. Summer giants can be caught on a variety of lures, but the most effective are jig and craw, Texas or Carolina rigged worms 10 to 14 inches in length, and deep-diving crankbaits. Weather can affect the color choices you use as well as the variance of the lakes you are fishing. One thing is certain during summer; color can make a big difference. If you know the area you are fishing is holding fish, but the bite is slow, experiment with different colors.
Reservoirs with a marked current flow can be tremendous bass venues in summer. While slack-water impoundments and natural lakes often stagnate in hot weather due to oxygen depletion, the current keeps river-run reservoirs cool and highly-oxygenated. Bass tend to remain shallower in these bodies of water as a result.
During this summer period bass move into shallow water near shore during the early morning, late evening, and night-time to feed. Temperature and light conditions are least stressful during these hours. Largemouth are sight feeders, and they forage more in low light and darkness than many anglers believe. Shaded water areas can be real bass hotspots in summer.
Largemouth bass forages most actively during twilight, dusk, and darkness during summer. Thus, major bass fishing efforts should coincide with these times. The best fishing strategy starts in shallow waters by fishing structures that are located near deep water which also contains structure. Bass that are loafing and resting in deep water during the day will move into the nearest shallow water structure that has food available during these periods of low-light intensity. Rip-rap along the dam, pockets, and edges of aquatic vegetation beds, and other shoreline structure, all located in close proximity to deep water, will hold bass that are actively feeding and apt to take a bait or lure.
While spring fishing in Iowa can be the hottest action of the year, it goes without saying that when the going get’s hot…the summer angling can heat up as well! Tight Lines All!