UPCOMING EVENT: Costa FLW Series - 2019 - Santee Cooper

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Hahner’s Early Season Largemouth Approach

Hahner’s Early Season Largemouth Approach

Not long ago the majority of lakes across the northern range of bass country were covered in ice, leaving plenty of anglers chomping at the bit to get back out there on open water. Thankfully, winter has let go, and lakes are ready to welcome eager bass enthusiasts back on the water.

For FLW Tour rookie Cody Hahner, who hails from Wausau, Wis., growing up in the North has allowed him opportunities to learn how to efficiently dissect a lake early in the year to find productive locations for laregmouths.

 

Where to look

Unfortunately for many anglers in the North, some of the first outings of the year could be seven or more months removed from their last open-water trip. Getting back out on your favorite lake or checking out a new body of water can seem like a daunting task after such a long break, especially since the fish can make major moves daily. Hahner welcomes the challenge.

“Once the ice comes off the lakes you could have fish up shallow or out deep, and for a lot of anglers it seems tough to try and figure out where to find fish,” Hahner says. “I like to look for the most obvious cover in the lake, like docks or laydowns. I’ll drive around and just look with my eyes to find that cover. This time of year there isn’t much for emergent vegetation, so hard cover is really all the bass have to relate to. It doesn’t even have to be a big dock or big piece of wood, either; just something different is enough to hold several fish.

“It also helps a lot to find cover in close proximity to spawning areas. Even though the fish may not spawn for a few weeks, they are still going to be fairly close by.”

Hahner notes that anglers can often get caught up in focusing too much on winter patterns or where they caught fish late in the fall when they first hit the water in the spring. Those patterns might work if you happen to get out the day the ice is coming off, but it doesn’t take much of a spring warm-up to get the fish pushing shallow.

“Largemouths want to be shallow,” Hahner explains. “If the weather outside feels warm to you, then there is likely fish up shallow because it feels warm to them. I’ve seen fish on beds in 49-degree water, so don’t get too caught up in water temperature and what the bass should be doing.”

 

Stay mobile

Since targeting visible, obvious cover is the quickest way to find active fish, you have to be willing to keep moving until you make contact.

“It really doesn’t take too long to get bit, so if you’re not getting bit or seeing any activity you’ve got to keep moving until you find some fish,” Hahner says. “I think a lot of anglers spend too much time in dead water. If they aren’t biting, they probably aren’t there.”

Also, bass won’t be too far from the food. Keep watch for pods of bluegills or small perch, which can help lead you to schools of bass.

Once you do contact some fish, keep working through the area, whether it’s a small bay or stretch of bank with laydowns or docks. Hahner says you’ll eventually notice the bite start to taper off as you get outside the school. When that happens, turn around and work back through the good stretch. You could be surprised how many fish can pack into a small area this time of year.

“It can be pretty easy to pattern fish this time of year,” adds Hahner. “I like to think that a pattern leads you to a good fishing spot, so if you follow the bread crumbs of the pattern it’ll eventually lead you to the whole loaf where you can find the mother lode.”

 

The jig is king

There are plenty of baits that can work wonders for early season largies, but Hahner believes less is more.

“I really like to keep it simple. I want something I can flip to docks or wood and something I can cast and wind to cover water,” he says.

“I like a 1/2-ounce Super K Skipping Jig with a Big Bite Baits Swimming Craw to flip around. For casting, I like either a 1/4-ounce Super K swim jig when I’m in less than 4 feet of water or the 3/8-ounce model when I’m in 4 to 10 feet. I’ll match it with the same Swimming Craw or a small swimbait. And I also like to have a vibrating jig in case there is some grass standing or some lily pads starting to pop up that I can bounce the bait off of. But those are the three baits that I’ll always have tied on no matter where I fish.”

Hahner likes any colors that resemble a bluegill or perch. Though, if the water has some stain to it, he’ll mix in the old trusted black and blue.

 

Go exploring

While it’s easy to revisit old faithful spots or lakes for your first outings of the season, don’t swear off doing some exploring on new fisheries.

“Spring is absolutely the best time to get out and try a new lake you’ve never been to,” says Hahner. “The fish are moving one direction, and fast. Since you can hit the high-percentage places that look like they should hold fish, it doesn’t take long to find out what kind of size and number potential a lake has.”

Not all lakes are created equal, but up north there is no shortage of options. A little map study can help plan out a milk run of new lakes to try in a single day. Hahner says it isn’t uncommon for him to sample four or five different lakes in an outing.

“I usually try to focus on smaller lakes since they warm up quicker,” Hahner says. “Bigger lakes, say over 500 acres, can be good to try only if the ice has been off them for a while to allow the water to get in the 50s. I’ll look at Google Maps to pick out lakes with good weed cover and plenty of docks and laydowns. If they have a creek coming into them that’s even better. That usually helps decrease the chance of a winterkill, and that leads to better quality fish.

“The bite won’t be great on every lake at the same time. That’s why hitting the obvious cover can allow you to gauge the bite. If you haven’t gotten bit on a few really, really good-looking places don’t be afraid to put it on the trailer and try a new lake. The next lake may be a degree or two warmer, and that could have the light switch turned on. I’ve found some of my favorite lakes I fish now simply by sampling a variety of lakes in the spring.”

There’s nothing better than the first few trips of the season, especially when it means you have potential to catch numbers of fish along with quality. It can seem like a big task tracking down fish that are constantly on the move trying to feed up before the spawn, but take notes from the easy program Hahner employs. Who knows, you may even find your new favorite fishing hole because of it.

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