The transitional period, which occurs when bass move from winter to prespawn patterns, offers an excellent opportunity to catch quality bass.
Unfortunately, it can be short-lived and usually develops before most anglers begin the season.
Timing of the transitional period depends upon where you live. In the Deep South, it could happen as early as January, whereas it occurs later as you move northward.
Water temperature is the key. When shallows first begin to warm and water temperatures rise, bass begin moving from winter locations into shallower feeding areas. However, that doesn’t mean water temperatures must soar into the high 50s or 60s, as some anglers believe.
On my home waters in the Carolinas, bass begin moving up when water temperatures approach 48 degrees. As the water nears 50 degrees, movement peaks. It isn’t uncommon to catch 8 to 10 fish weighing 5 pounds or more in one day.
Your boat’s sonar and water-temperature gauge can be the most important equipment you own. The sonar will help you locate the structure, while the temperature gauge will indicate the warmest water on the lake. Sometimes the difference may be only a degree or two, but that can be a big difference for fish activity.
The first place to look is near the ends of points. Bass use migration routes most of the time, and the ends of points are staging areas before they move shallow.
These points don’t have to be in deep water either. I don’t think bass go as deep as some people say they do during winter. When water temperatures are in the low 40s, for example, I find bass in 15 feet or less.
That’s why I begin my search for transitional fish on points in or near 15 to 20 feet of water. If there is a creek or ditch off the end of that point, that makes it even better.
Also, key on the shorter points. The long points that extend far into the lake will hold bass, but it takes longer to figure them out. Look for points with flats that are well defined and offer variation of depth.
As the fish get active, they move a little tighter and shallower on the point. Chances are they’ll be holding next to structure, such as a stump row, weed edge, rockpile or timber line.
You may catch them 10 feet deep on one point and then find them 6 feet deep on another. The reason is that a stump edge may break off at 10 feet on the first point, but then it breaks at 6 feet on the other one. So depth isn’t as critical as cover.
Also, keep in mind that these fish are moving constantly. I may fish the same points eight or nine times a day, keying on the most prominent structure on that point. I fish each one thoroughly because I know that at any given moment the fish could get active.
Crankbaits are among my first lure choices, especially those with a tight wiggle that can be fished slowly. Crankbaits allow me to vary the speed and cover a lot of water.
Remember, bass will suspend since the warmer water is found near the top. I’ve caught them in 12 feet of water by running lipless crankbaits a few feet below the surface. The fish aren’t slashing bait schools this time of year but are lying back and picking off individuals that stray from the school.
If bass are on bottom, you can catch them on a jig-and-pig. If the water is stained and bass move shallow, try rolling a spinnerbait around cover.
When you find a hotspot, remember it. Transitional bass may use those places year after year, providing quality fishing for many seasons to come.