Photos by David Brown
They're just about ready to go. Big female bass are waiting for the right combination of water temperature, sunlight and moon phase to usher them shoreward for the spring reproduction ritual. But first comes the staging period known as prespawn. This can be a time of great opportunity or great frustration – all depending on your game plan. We asked Delta pro Zack Thompson for some tips on prespawn success and he offered these thoughts on locations and tactics:
In the prespawn, Thompson mainly looks for areas off the main river channels. Dead end
sloughs and flooded islands top his list of likely big-bass areas.
"I look for areas that will still have decent depth, 2- to 4-feet even on the low tide. These flats can be along the tule berm islands or along the levee walls. The key is small flats with hard bottom and protection from the force of the main current.”
Once he locates areas of likely spawning activity, Thompson will pull out and target the prespawn fish just on the outside of these areas. The areas adjacent to the flats along the grass lines or rock levee walls are optimal. Intrinsic to dialing in the highest opportunity, he said, is looking for something that stands out from surrounding habitat.
"The delta is a fishery full of subtle changes," Thompson said. "I look for the areas where contours
converge or vegetation quickly changes. It can all look so similar until the subtleties can be found."
Thompson typically employs a trio of baits when targeting prespawners. First up is the ultra-limber swimbait Little Creeper Trash Fish swimbait, which he said is highly effective for staging females. Thompson rigs his Trash Fish on a 6/0, keel weighted swimbait hook that slides smoothly through any grass or tules along the breaks adjacent to the spawning flats. He throws the swimbait on
17- to 20-pound fluorocarbon with a 7-foot-6 medium-heavy rod and slow rolls it anywhere there is a
depth change and vegetation edges.
"The bites can range from a slow loading up of the rod to a bone-jarring take," Thompson said. "The
Delta is synonymous with aquatic vegetation; so choosing a bait that will work for you in heavy grass is a must and the Trash Fish is a proven producer."
Thompson will alternate the swimbait with a lipless crankbait. He likes rattle baits in the open, flooded islands where expansive open water and large grass beds attract lots of fish. In these areas, he notes, covering lots of water is imperative.
"The fish will spawn wherever there is a hard bottom and the water will not get any less than 2- to 4-feet on a low tide; so it is more cast and cast until you can get a bass to commit," he said.
Thompson's third prespawn bait – one he calls a real Delta killer – is a wacky-rigged Senko. He fishes the 6-inch bait on 40-pound braid and rigs it on a CHT tackle Double Wacky Hook, which has an o-ring for holding the bait on and two points similar to a frog hook.
"I will fish the Senko in the grass, along the levee walls and anywhere I have caught reaction fish and want to saturate the area," he said. "The most important tactic with the Senko is to let it fall on a slack line and watch the line to detect strikes. You will get more bites when it falls freely."
WHEN IT'S RIGHT
Although Thompson said that no tide stage is universally better than another; daily ebb and flow in undeniably important during prespawn. "The thing anglers need to keep in mind is that, as they prospect during prespawn, take note of what the tide is doing when you find active fish and if you want to have similar success in that area again the tidal period will be a factor. Always try to re-fish areas when the tide is similar."
Of the various prespawn weather conditions, Thompson said that a warming trend can't be beat, although that usually means some wind. Cold fronts don't necessarily shut down the Delta bite; because here, a good population of northern strain crosses with Florida bass, so the fish are able to adjust to wind and dirtier water.
"The biggest tip I can give when a spring cold front rolls through is to move out a bit and don't be afraid to fish aggressively," Thompson said. "Too often I hear guys slow down and miss out on big bags that come in on cold front days. Those who are willing to fish aggressively with baits like the Trash Fish can find big success. Just remember to pay attention to the tide cycle and when you got bit where and plan
your days around those same windows of opportunity. "
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