Tournament anglers have a special challenge. They have to fish according to a tournament schedule regardless of the conditions they encounter on the lake. If weekend anglers see a bluebird sky, or torrential rain, or extreme cold, they can choose to stay home and watch someone else catch fish on TV. Not so for the tournament guys. Very few tournaments are cancelled due to weather conditions. When the time comes for a tournament, they have to go out and produce. That can be tough.
We talked to a veteran tournament angler and asked him to walk us through how he would approach Lake Sinclair in March under a variety of weather conditions. Kim Carver of Milledgeville has been fishing tournaments much of his 49 years. In fact, he won his first major event in 1974 and has been competing in various tournament trails ever since. In 1998, Kim won the BFL All-American, and for a three-year stretch he won an amazing three consecutive BFL Regionals. Kim is currently active on the BASS trail and the BFL Circuit, and he still finds the time to fish many of the local events. Kim lives near Lake Sinclair and fishes it regularly.
In this article, Kim will explore three different weather conditions that you are likely to experience in March: cold bluebird days, heavy wind, and warm spells. Each condition has its own challenges — and opportunities to catch bass. Kim will address techniques he would use to catch bass under these conditions.
WHAT IF: Bluebird Days
Often after a cold front has blown through, the barometer is high and the skies are blue and cloudless. In March, these bright days are often quite cold, and two and three days after the front they can be very calm with little wind. According to Kim, these can be the toughest conditions for boating a good batch of bass.
“On these calm, clear days after the arrival of a front, the fish tend to move in tight to the available cover,” says Kim. “Deeper fish will suspend in the tops of standing timber or around the tops of rockpiles or brushpiles. Those in shallow water will be holding tight to the numerous docks on the lake.”
Kim tells us that in either case, the fish will be very close to the cover and extremely skittish and bait-shy.
Kim spends most of his time flipping a jig under these weather conditions. His bait of choice is usually a 1/2-oz. rubber-skirted jig in a black/blue color combination. He finishes off the bait with a black or blue Zoom Super Chunk to give it more bulk and slow the fall of the bait.
“Whether I’m fishing a dock or a brushpile, I always start at the outside of the structure and work toward the middle,” says Kim. “Most of the fish will be in toward the center of the cover, but there may be a few, more aggressive fish, at the outsides. If you fish the outside first, you can catch those fish without disturbing the ones in tight to the cover.”
Kim presents his bait very slowly and deliberately under these conditions. He recommends that you let the bait sink to the bottom and work it slowly through the cover. During post-cold-front, bluebird conditions, bass won’t chase a bait very far or move much to get to it. You must work the cover thoroughly and carefully. Kim often spends as much as 15 minutes on a single dock or brushpile, hitting every part of the cover several times before moving on to the next location.
“Remember that the fish will be extremely bait-wary under these conditions, so you may have to pass the bait right in front of them several times to get them to bite. Persistence pays off when flipping a jig on clear cold days,” says Kim.
In extremely clear water, Kim will sometimes switch to a more natural color for his jig, like green-pumpkin, but he will stay with the blue-and-black combination under most conditions.
If the weather has been cold for several days, Kim will fish the same areas he works with a jig, but he’ll use a small crankbait. Any lure that runs six- to eight-feet deep will be effective, but again, the most important factor is to fish the bait slowly. With the crankbait, Kim is looking for suspended fish that he might miss while pulling the jig along the bottom. Bright colors like chartreuse work well in dingy water while a natural shad color works best in extremely clear water.
Whether you fish the jig or the crankbait, Kim says the key is to present the bait tight to the cover and work the area very slowly and thoroughly. Be patient, and you can be rewarded with some excellent prespawn females this time of year.
WHAT IF: High Wind
If you wake up on a March morning and hear the wind howling through the trees, don’t roll over, pull up the covers, and go back to sleep. If you do, you may be missing some of the best fishing action of the season. Kim said fishing in a brisk wind, while sometimes uncomfortable and demanding from a casting point of view, is one of the more productive fishing conditions you’ll find in March.
“High wind stirs up the water and increases the activity on the lake right through the food chain,” Kim said. “The surface current caused by the wind stirs up plankton, causing baitfish to feed. The active baitfish turn on the bass, which are wanting to feed aggressively this time of year in preparation for the spawn.”
The key is to get right out into the wind. Fish those points and banks that are directly exposed to the main force of the wind for best results. If the weather is cold, stay close to the main lake on secondary points but if it is warm, work your way back into the coves. The fish are getting ready for the spawn so they will move into shallow water in warmer weather.
“These windy conditions require just the opposite approach to that of bluebird days,” Kim said. “Choose a fast-action bait and keep it moving. The fish are turned on by the increased baitfish activity and will be feeding aggressively.”
Kim’s baits of choice for windy conditions are spinnerbaits and crankbaits. His favorite crankbaits include a No. 5 Shad Rap, a Zoom Sweet Pea, and a Model ‘A’ Bomber. In clear water he uses a natural-shad color, while in dingy conditions bright colors like chartreuse and firetiger produce best. Generally, the water will be cloudy in the windy conditions due to the wave action along the shoreline and the surface current caused by the wind, so the bright colors will be most often the best.
In the spinnerbait department, Kim recommends a 1/2-oz. model in white or chartreuse with a tandem blade. He usually will have a No. 5 gold willowleaf blade in back with a silver No. 3 Colorado blade in the front. Kim typically doesn’t put a trailer on his spinner baits, but he will occasionally add a trailer hook if he is getting short strikes.
Kim targets stumps, blowdowns, rocks — anything that will break the current and attract feeding bass that are in ambush mode. He keeps his boat and his bait on the move.
“The fish will be moving and feeding aggressively, so stay on the trolling motor and make lots of casts,” Kim said. “Make the casts as long as you can, and get the bait down quickly. If you hit a rock or stump, pause the retrieve momentarily and let the crankbait suspend. That sharp change of motion will often trigger a strike.”
When working a cove, Kim will generally start about halfway in and work toward the back. If he gets several strikes in an area, he’ll slow the boat down a bit and work the area a little more thoroughly. Windy days on Sinclair in March can produce some impressive strings of fat largemouths. Put on your windbreaker, and get out there after them.
WHAT IF: Warm Spells
Several warm days in a row will cause surface temperatures to rise and will pull some bass up into the shallows. This is a prime springtime situation.
“The water temperature on Sinclair tends to be warmer than most lakes due to the influence of the power plant on Beaverdam Creek,” Kim said. “As a result, some fish may spawn in late March if there has been a period of warm weather.”
This is especially true if there is a full moon late in the month accompanied by a string of warm days.
Under warming-spell conditions, Kim will typically head for the seawalls along the banks.
“In warm weather in March, I will typically cast a Texas-rigged lizard into the shallows next to the seawalls and bulkheads,” says Kim. “Warm weather will drive the fat females onto the flats looking for a place to spawn and the lizard always produces well for me.”
The seawalls that produce the best, according to Kim, are those that have deep water nearby. Generally, the water at the seawalls will be in the two- to four-foot range depending on the lake level. If the power-generation activity causes the lake level to drop drastically or if weather conditions change drastically, the fish will want to move out quickly into deeper water. So, wide flats are not as attractive, since the fish will have to move too far to reach the deep water on a sudden lake-level change or a cold snap. Make use of a good topographical map to find locations where creek channels are close to the shoreline creating short flat areas between the bank and the channel. Then use your electronics to find the edges of the creek channel as it comes near the bank.
“Keep your boat positioned over the channel and make your casts into the seawall,” says Kim.
Kim casts the lizard right up next to the seawall and works it slowly back to the boat along the bottom. Again multiple casts to an area are recommended because it may take a while to coax the fish into striking.
Kim’s bait of choice is a Zoom lizard in green pumpkinseed. He Texas rigs the bait with a 3/16-oz. bullet weight. In extremely cloudy water conditions he will go to a darker color like junebug for better visibility in the dingy water. Kim moves the bait back to the boat with a pull-and-crank retrieve, pulling the bait along the bottom by raising the rod tip then cranking up the slack while lowering the rod. Strikes can be subtle, so it is important to watch the line carefully for any jump or sideways movement. If you see anything unusual in the movement of the line, make a quick hook set.
When planning your March fishing trips, Kim recommends that you pay close attention to the moon phases. His experience shows that fish activity increases around the approach of both the full and new moons. If you keep that in mind, along with the techniques described for the conditions discussed in this article, you are likely to improve your fishing success a great deal on Sinclair. The techniques Kim describes are not limited to Lake Sinclair, however. He uses them on all of the lakes he fishes this time of year. If you follow his advice on your lake of choice, it should improve your catch rates during March.