Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ways to Catch Early Spring Largemouth Bass in Ponds

I'm jumping the gun to post this piece, but who knows, maybe in two or three weeks ponds in North Jersey will ice out. They will before Lake Hopatcong and other lakes and reservoirs. Knee Deep Club has scheduled another ice derby for March 16th and all indications are that it will be. I remember just a couple of years ago when in March we had sustained temperatures in the 80's and lily pads on the surface.


          Spring is not officially here yet, but for the practical intents and purposes of largemouth bass fishing, it is with open water. The advantage of smaller, shallower waters is that they warm faster than area lakes. They cool off more at night also, but plan to fish late in the afternoon and possibly into dusk on a mild day and you may even enjoy topwater plug action. At the least, to get out and fish now will help set your life in motion for the rest of the year. We all remember how we anticipated spring’s arrival as kids. We felt that events got under way because we were oriented to activities outdoors like various sports and hang outs. That’s still in us as adults, and to step aside from the fast track even for an afternoon can make a difference.

          Topwater plugs, spinnerbaits, in-line spinners, and floater/diver plugs are especially effective bass catchers, and since I’ve mentioned surface action, I’ll first discuss a method that works on calm ponds with water as cold as 47 degrees F. The Rebel Minnow is not a topwater plug per se; it’s a floater/diver plug made of plastic that floats. The way it floats is what gives it a special quality.

          Unlike balsa wood plugs like Rapalas or other floater/divers with types of plastic and/or amount of it that float the plug evenly on the water, the 2 ½ inch Rebel Minnow will float at an angle. The rear is submerged. The plug sits almost at a 45 degree angle to the surface. Use no more than six pound test line on a light spinning outfit. Twitch the plug on the surface very slightly. The nose is pulled forward and the rear lifts then drops back.

         This is subtle lure action and what the cold water calls for. It won’t work if the temperature is 47 degrees and falling. It works late in the afternoon or evening after sun’s been on the water, warming it on a mild day. Bass will take the plug as if they aim at the rear as it drops. You may only see a dimple on the surface as silent as a trout sipping a dry fly.

           If water temperatures are moving through the 50’s, a whole range of small topwater plugs will likely be effective on a calm surface at dusk. You can experiment with retrieves, but slower blooping and popping and such is likely all that will work. If the pond has a northeast corner that has some shallows adjacent to deep water, that’s where you should try your best. With the sun in the southeast, that northeast corner warms most.

          Topwater plugs require the most patience. Spinnerbaits and in-line spinners allow you to cover a pond’s entire range of shallows by fan casting. These lures may be especially effective with sunlight present, which they reflect. But they will work when the sun goes down also. Typically, wind calms at this time. If it doesn’t, don’t bother with surface plug fishing, use a spinner or possibly a floater/diver retrieved, which I’ll discuss in a moment. If water temperatures are moving through the 50’s or higher, a spinnerbait buzzed near the surface, retrieved so that it leaves a wake, may attract bass especially when air is calm.

          Success is not guaranteed. But over years of finding peace of mind by casting lures, I’ve noticed what tends to work and what doesn’t.

          Floater/divers can be retrieved with truly frantic action. I loved these plugs as a teenager. Rebel Minnows work better when water temperature is in the lower 50’s than the more quickly responding balsa plugs that float high. You can impart crazy action to the Minnow by constantly jerking the rod tip. The plug stays a little deeper at slower retrieve than Rapalas and darts side to side, straight, and somewhat up and down. Bass seem to find this irritating and strike even without hunger, perhaps. On a warm afternoon when water temperatures have shot up suddenly, they seem to like to vent some of the excitement of spring fever they have by chasing down a darting plug.

          These are basics enough to follow and have some success on the pond off Route 206 at Bedminster, Heddon Park in Dover, Sunrise Lake in Washington Township, Mount Hope Pond in Rockaway Township, or any other. But never forget to open your perceptions as wide as possible to take in the natural world. The more aware of it you are, the better the game.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Peek at the Round Valley Ice Fishing Scene

I phoned Landolfi over the weekend, hoping we would get out on Hopatcong, but plans fell through. I'm not in shape yet with my bad back to go alone or to rely on my son to do all the work. Today and last week, I stopped and checked out the Round Valley scene. I've heard of some browns as large as 20 inches being caught, and people have been fishing lakers in deep water. Today I spoke to someone coming off the ice who had caught a 21-incher. On the other side of the dike near the launch ramp, the swimming pond has been good for pickerel, nice fish over two pounds being caught.

Much of the reservoir ice is about a foot thick. It's not visible in the photograph, but some of the water out there remains open. I wondered today how long it will be before I can return to my short stints fishing open water trout. Could be sometime well into March, but in any event, most likely before I begin bass fishing.

Incidentally, the Knee Deep Club is planning another ice fishing derby, set for Sunday, March 16th. You don't have to be a member to participate, but there is a small entry fee of $25.00 for non-members. The ice is about 18 inches thick on the lake and isn't going away anytime soon. Lots of fish are being caught.

 Fishing for browns and rainbows in close.
Fishing for pickerel and bass in the 30 acre swimming pond.