Early Spring Smallmouth (SW PA and West Virginia): First Bass of the Year
Trolling through the Internet and checking out fishing tactics and techniques, most of what’s out there focuses lake fishing, boat fishing or big water fishing in general. For folks like me, who do 80% of their fishing in creeks, a lot of this stuff just doesn’t apply. Talk about shallow and deep water for example, is a matter of perspective. In the creeks we fish around here, if there’s a hole that’s 5 foot deep, that’s about as deep as it gets. Most of the time were running lures in 2 to 3 feet of water. This time a year it’s a little deeper. Shallow water doesn’t mean small fish though, I pulled a 43” Muskie out of about 2.5 feet of water and it followed my lure from a hole that was maybe 3.5 feet deep. I’ve seen people do better than that too. So anyway, that’s where we’re fishing - in creeks. These creeks I’m specifically talking about are on the border of Pennsylvania and West Virginia near the Mason Dixon line in about a 30 mile radius.
First thing to consider, this time of year is notoriously slow. Time wise the first day of Spring hit, but here we are in late March and there’s still sporadic snow mixed with 60 degree days in between. The water temperatures are inching up to that 45 degree mark where bass start to come alive. I call this the pre-spawn - I’m not much for science so if you go getting technical on me that’s fine, you stay in the lab and argue about terminology and I’ll be in the creek fishing during “pre spawn,” because that’s what the “Appalachian Apostle” calls it and I have a nasty habit of referring to myself in the third person.
What You Need:
on tour at Walmart - they are like 15-20 bucks. I took the crap line that was on it off and replaced it with some 10 lb Berkley Trilene monofilament in that transparent green color. That’s closest to the water color by me. I also use a lot classic Mitchell Spinning reals too - they are made a lot better than comparable priced stuff these days. We'll talk bait-casters another day.
Waders - I sometimes bank fish but even when I do I wear waders. It makes it easier to not worry about getting wet, especially when it’s cold. I don’t use insulated waders and this time of year it can get cold standing in the water for any period of time. I use rubber style hip boots that clip to my belt. I don’t personally like chest waders for my style of fishing. First they don’t leave me room for my pistol and second, when it comes summer and you want to take your shirt off you get a weird tan and look like Hillbilly Jim from the WWE back in the day. Oh yeah, and put your phone in a plastic bag, I'm on my third iPhone from fishing casualties.
Lures - The most successful lure I have in my arsenal is the Rebel Wee Craw in chartreuse. It’s basically firetiger style in other lures in terms of coloring. I carry a bunch of these. I have other colors but these seem to work best for me. I’m not sure if it’s just a great lure for the area or if I just use it better than I do my other lures but it gets me the best results. Even in the other colors with the same lure I’m not as consistent. I also use a lot of Rapala cranks too - usually yellow, black/silver minnow looking one or firetiger. This time of year I don’t
Side Arm - Ok this isn’t necessary but I’m a big 2nd Amendment guy and I generally never leave the house without my pistol and my buck knife. Hell, we have a song about my Buck knife. When the weather is crappy like this, I carry my Glock 19 with a Blackhawk click plastic holster. You can’t really hurt that weapon. When it gets nicer I prefer by big framed single action Ruger Blackhawk .357. These don’t help you catch fish necessarily but they keep the Deliverance people away that may be aiming to make you squeal like a pig.
RedMan Chew - I’m a very habit oriented creature, I believe Redman Chew helps me catch more fish - Golden Blend is the best for this.
Getting the Bass
Finding the bass is the hardest part. This can take a lot of casts and patience. It also takes slower retrieves and more action on the lures. When it gets warm and bass are more active, you can run stuff right across these areas and they’ll chase them. This time of year the strike range is more limited. You have to literally run the lures right passed them. I’m a number guy so I use the “7” technique. I cast and retrieve 7 times across the area I think they are. Each time I put the lure damn near in the exact same spot. If you can’t do this go in the yard and practice until you can; otherwise, it’s like shooting in the dark. If I don’t get anything, I target the same area from a different angle and do the same thing. If I still didn’t get a hit I do this one more time at a different angle. So basically I’ve covered the same spot with 21 or so casts. I learned this watching Bill Dance Outdoors back in the day.
Some people aren’t into this. Some people cast once or twice and move on. You can cover a lot of ground this way, but this time of year it won’t help you locate the fish efficiently. After that, I move along to another likely spot nearby. Another note, when the water is moving fast or the current comes into play, make sure you aren’t swimming the lure with the current, this is pretty useless as lures this small will lose all their action. Either take your angle directly across or pull it slightly upstream. For me, it was the third spot I hit from the last spot I caught a bass last year. So yeah, that means I was at least 42 casts in before I even could confirm where the bass were. This is about the only time I'm patient, put me in LA traffic and I lose my shit.
As I mentioned before, I used the slowest retrieve I could to make that Berkley minnow have action. Instead of just swimming it, I started each cast by jigging it a few times before I swam it. This means I threw it, let it hit the bottom, jigged it a few times and then swam it. In that third spot using this technique I foul hooked a 14” smallmouth. I got him in and thankfully my hook didn’t do too much damage. I got him back in the water right away and he was off to spread those good genes during the spawn. I want to take a second to push some good ju ju. If you aren’t going to eat it put it back. I aim to have every bass I catch back in the water in under a minute. This is enough time to get it off the hook, take a pretty picture and even get a measurement. If it’s a trophy, it’s even more important you get it back in the water. These days they can build you replica mounts based on pictures and measurements that look amazing. They are usually cheaper too than the old style skin ones and they look great. You have a fish for your wall and the fish is still swimming and breeding, which is a win win for everyone.
After I landed that bass, it was a victory because it was my first bass of the year but also it showed me where they were. Now I had to make a decision, did I foul hook it because the weren’t that into what I was throwing or was it because I pulled too soon. Since it was hard to tell, I began targeting that area with the same technique and in the next 20 minutes I landed 2 more - a 10” and a 12” smallmouth. Both are respectable for this area.
On a side note, a trick I like to do when I fish an area is to throw a second pole in with a worm. I’m a lure guy but worms are a good way to discover what type of fish are in an area and where they are. This day upstream about a 70 yards from that spot I hooked an at least 10lb carp like this. I got it up to my waders in the shallows but it got off the hook at the end. I really wasn’t rigged up for something like that. It still was exciting and marked the end to a solid few hours of fishing.
So that’s it, these are some of the tricks I’ve learned from old timers and through trial and error during my years on the water. I’m going to be trying to do regular blogs about my fishing techniques and such when I get a chance. When I’m on tour I get to fish a lot of spots across the country. I carry a rod broken down in my guitar case so I’m always ready to go. It’s always a challenge finding new water and then going about getting something out of the water. Stay tuned, if you have any questions hit me up. If you live around me and want to go out and fish with me, I’m usually down for that unless you are annoying, a complainer, a stalker or stupid; and then you’ll take away from my fishing Zen time. Being the self proclaimed most metal fisherman in the land, you never know who you may see me take fishing. Lots of times bands on tour through Pittsburgh or Morgantown I know hit me up and I take them out if I’m not on the road myself. You could end up seeing a guitar legend or something like that learning the ways of the Creek Ninja. Say howdy if you see me, unless you are one of those eco-yuppies in a kayak paddling through where I’m fishing, then I’ll probably throw rocks at you.
-Adam Joad (Appalachian Apostle and Self Proclaimed Creek Ninja)