Lake Anna has done it again.
Locals had predicted the lake's largemouth record of 10 pounds would fall this spring, and even before February was out the record was beaten by an ounce. In March a 10-pound, 10-ounce bass set a new mark. Numerous nine-pounders have been registered, and bass guide Bill Mathias says the lake stands a good chance of hitting 12 pounds before spring's spawning.
But Anna isn't the only place with a bass boom these days. Water temperatures around here are rapidly approaching 62*, the magic mark that will induce the fish to spawn. And that means one thing to anglers; The pre-spawn feeding frenzy is on.
Contrary to the belief of many novices, this period immediately before the spawn offers better prospects than May does, when the bass will actually be fanning out beds and laying eggs in the annual spring rites.
The reasons are simple: When spawning begins, the bass has one sole aim in life -- to create a new crop of young bass to ensure the survival of the species. Feeding is not a priority when this task is being attended to.
True, you can sometimes goad spawning bass to strike by using your lure to simulate an intruder sneaking in to steal the precious eggs before they hatch, or to gulp down a few of the vulnerable young; but this type of fishing usually sounds better (and easier) than it actually turns out to be.
The pre-spawn period, which we're in the heart of right now thanks to a cold, slow spring, is another matter entirely. Warming waters have increased the fish's metabolism to a peak of activity. With the effort of spawning ahead, the bass directs its energies at one goal: Food, to regain the weight lost over the semi-dormant winter months.
And, much to the delight of inveterate shore-pluggers, the best place for the bass to consume large quantities of food and pack on weight is in the shallows near the perimeters of lakes and ponds. A bit of sunshine heats these shallows up seveal degrees warmer than the main body of most lakes.
Baitfish are drawn there by heightened insect activity, and the bass follow.
Since the shallows are where they need to go for spawning anyway, there's a dual purpose to this shoreward migtation. But shallows in lakes such as Anna, Gaston and Kerr in Virginia, or Deep Creek, Liberty and Triadelphia in Maryland can mean hundreds of miles of shoreline. Not all of them will hold bass during the next few weeks.
The first step in choosing a productive stretch is to check the wind. Though comfort may urge you toward the leeward side of the lake, bass experts say you should do just the opposite. Spring breezes push insects and plankton to the windward side, which attracts baitfish, which attract bass, The wind also blows the surface water that's been warmed by the sun in that direction, so the warmest part of the lake will be the windward shore. So grab your parka and head for that side of the lake.
Then, says Mathias, "Look to the points on the main lake. If the bass aren't there, go back into the creeks and coves. Small points inside the coves and feeder creeks on lakes can be especially fertile during these early weeks of the bass season."
Productive depths can range anywhere from two to eight feet, which means that this is the one time of year when anglers without fancy bass rigs and electronic depth-finders stand just about as good a chance as the guy in the $6,000 metal-flake fishing machine.
Proper lures help, though, whether you're fishing from a canoe or an 18-foot runabout. Spinnerbaits are favorite spring bass baits, and most versatile lures. Buzzing them back so that the blades just break the top of the water is a choice April tactic.Skimming the lures in just beneath the surface also draws blistering often score when nothing else will.
One local angler who concentrates on the lakes near Manassas says that if you watch the line closely as the lure first drops into the water, you'll find that better than half your strikes come before you even begin the retrieve. Fluorescent-colored lines help for fishing "on the drop," so you can watch for the slightest twitch of mono.
Crankbaits account for their share of spring bass, but in most cases the shallow runners are preferable to the deep divers, since they hang bottomless in the thin water where April bass hang out. Crayfish, shad, perch, baby bass and bluegill natural-finish models are especially good color combinations for spring largemouths.
Soft plastic lures also do well in April, but most skilled fishermen prefer lizard to worm imitations at this time. Bass seem to harbor a hatred for the real salamanders that inhabit local waters. Strikes often come in thumping contrast to the light, barely perceptible nibblings of summer worm fishing.
Mathias likes a six-inch bluish-brown Mister Twister lizard that closely approximates a native brown salamander found in Lake Anna. Glenn Peacock, who probes the fertile tidewater rivers of Maryland, favors brown and black Fliptail lizards in six- and four-inch versions. For fishing the excellent bass waters in the D.C. sector of the Potomac, Pete Cissel chooses four-inch black Fliptails. "For a few weeks every spring it seems like the bass won't hit much else," says Cissel, "but you can almost always make good catches on this lure around shoreline cover."
Bass won't be impossible to catch three weeks from now, when they go onto the spawning beds, but theyRe eager to feed right now; so why wait for the tough fishing that comes with the breeding season?