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Welcome To the Party

So far it has been what I would consider to be a “typical” early spring in Nebraska–schizophrenic weather with frequent cold fronts and even lots of snow this March!  Looking ahead at the forecast for the next few days, it looks like things might finally warm up.  I suspect that most will view that as very good news!


Let me explain my nonchalant attitude. . . . Most of you know I fish every month of the year.  I love to ice-fish and push that as late as it is safe.  If we had safe ice all the way up to the first of April every year it would be just fine with me!  Now, before you quit reading, this is NOT going to be another blog post where I cry about ice-fishing being over for the year.  What I want to say is by spending time on the water as much as possible, by fishing ice right up until the end, and then starting to fish open water soon after that, I can tell you that the seasons and fish behavior are a steady progression throughout the year.  Most species of Nebraska fish transition from winter, cold-water behavior, under the ice and then in open water, right into early spring, pre-spawn behavior.  It is absolutely true that weather conditions have a dramatic impact on fish behavior, especially day to day, but on a seasonal basis the weather patterns might not have as much impact as you would expect.

The contrast between last March, early spring, and this March has convinced me that the seasonal movements of fish, transitions, still progress about on schedule, regardless of weather patterns.  If you remember, March 2012 was about as warm and mild as any early spring I can remember.  I imagine you can recall with me those days a year ago when we were enjoying the first open water fishing trips of the year in shirtsleeves!  This spring, so far, the month of March has been the complete opposite–cold, windy and snowy.  The spring of 2013 has been far from the encouraging warm-up that gives everyone spring fishing fever.

My son Daniel, with a big hybrid sunfish he caught on one of those beautiful, warm March days we had a year ago.

Having spent time on the ice as late into the early spring as is safe, I can tell you that fish activity really starts to pick up on late ice.  After all, that is why I want to be ice-fishing as late as possible!  Fish are already starting to “think spring” before the ice thaws; they become more active and feed more.  I love to take advantage of that fishing through a hole in the ice because the water is still cold and the fish still are not at peak feeding activity.  Vertical presentations that put a bait in front of fish and keep it there are often best in cold water, and I can accomplish that a lot easier through a hole in the ice.  In addition, the ice cover actually stabilizes conditions underneath the ice and results in more consistent, predictable fishing patterns.  Once the ice is gone, we always get some big blows and cold weather, maybe even significant snowfall, and with that the water mixes and may actually cool from what it was underneath the ice.  If you fish in early spring, you know that weather changes, especially cold fronts and spring snow storms make the fishing tough, some of the toughest of the year in my opinion.

I have blogged before about some fishing strategies for early spring.  One thing I try to do, especially at first, is target cold-water species, trout, because they are very active in the cold water of early spring.  Cool-water species like northern pike, walleye and sauger are also relatively active in the cold-water of early spring although their behaviors soon shift to spawning making them tougher to catch.

Another strategy I will tell you to keep in mind for spring, especially early spring, is to think warm.  For example, look for areas where the water may warm a few degrees; protected bays and coves, especially those protected from cold northwest winds, and other areas where the water may warm a few degrees can be key spots for catching fish in early spring.  You can also “think warm” by targeting sunny afternoons when the water has had a chance to warm a few degrees, and weather trends with stable, warming temperatures usually produce the best fishing in early spring.

We have had very little warming weather in the past month, but in spite of that I have caught fish and have heard some reports of great fishing.  That is why I am thinking the cold weather of this spring has been less of an influence on seasonal fish movements than one might expect.  For example, early spring is one of the peak periods to catch big bass.  Typically, I would tell you that when we get a warming trend of a couple, three days in March that you should plan to hit your best big bass water.  We have not had hardly any warming trends this past month that would be ideal for catching some big bass, but I have already heard reports of some monster bass being caught this March, even during snowstorms!  In spite of the weather those fish are starting to get active with the longer days, and they need to feed!

An early spring laremouth from a couple of years ago.

Last week I fished a pond one afternoon.  Again I would not have considered the fishing conditions to be ideal for early spring, especially for catching warm-water bluegills and crappies.  The sun was shining that afternoon, but air temperatures were barely above freezing and the wind was stiff out of the north.  In spite of that I had no trouble catching some nice bluegills and one big crappie, and I caught them not in protected areas out of the wind, but right on the wind-blown shoreline where those fish were holding along some of last year’s cattail growth.  Again, it is time, even if it does not feel like spring, the fish are feeling it.

The areas and habitats that hold fish in the early spring are likely already holding fish this spring in spite of the cold weather we have had.  A person might catch fish on the baits and lures, presentations, that typically work in the spring, but if those do not work, do not give up.  The fish might be there and all you might need to do is slow down a bit, like with ice-fishing think of slower, more vertical presentations and perhaps fish a little bit deeper water (deeper water provides more stability during weather changes).  If you want some more presentation hints, go back and review these blog posts, http://magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/2013/02/bobbers-kids/ , http://magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/2012/05/suspense/ .

When we get a few warm days in the spring everyone gets the spring fishing fever.  My son and I joke that when we get those nice days in the spring everyone thinks they are Kevin VanDam or the cast from Wicked Tuna ( http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/wicked-tuna/ ) and head for the water.  While some “hard cores” are out there all the time, month after month, following the seasons and corresponding fish behavior, folks who fish only a handful of days each year are sure to hit the water when we get some nice spring weather.  It looks like those days are just ahead of us. . . . Welcome to the party!

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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