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The Transition: Wishin’ You Were Fishin’

That time period between winter and spring, when you’ve got the itch to paddle and pitch: the transition. My kayak looks lonely when it’s just resting in the bed of my truck. Rods are respooled with line, reels are lubricated, and I’ve gone through my tackle boxed a half dozen times. For our geographic area Tennessee late January into February is the transition time. True spring (by the calendar) is March 20th, but if you wait for that to kayak and fish you’re missing the chance to catch a few BIG fish, your first batch of crappie or just test your skills to make sure they haven’t eroded over the colder months.

For the sake of clarity much of my justification and discussion of seasonal fishing is based on surface water temperatures. To be clear, we go when we can, 120 days last year was a true test of our kayaking skills, endurance and fishing abilities. Part of each journal entry is dedicated to water temps. In the early part of the year we’re looking for 50-degree surface temperatures that are stable. Good fishing has always seemed to have correlation to 50. Most gamefish are in pre-spawn mode or at least getting close. Pre-spawn means the feeding is ramped up in preparation for the subsurface mating ritual. For the three major bass species (largemouth, smallmouth and spotted) they start at different temperatures; smallmouth go first followed by their cousins the spotted Kentucky bass and last in line are the largemouth. All of these don’t look for love until close to 60 degrees but remember each fish, area, body of water and year can be different.

We’ve done a visual inspection of our Jackson Kayaks, as previously mentioned rods and reels have been given maintenance, paddles wiped off and tackle boxes are next.

I continuously make adjustments to the tackle I tote. Constants in the box are jigs (soft plastic trailers) minnow plugs and spinnerbaits. Sizes and colors may vary but these baits are year-round producers for bass. Crappie are willing to bite during any time of the year so a small panfish box is a constant companion. Switching gears to crappie or bluegill have often saved the day when the bass won’t bite. I keep an eye on surface water temperatures and advise others “a few days of warm weather doesn’t equate to warm water”. February fish are some of the most unpredictable of the year. A two or three day warming trend will send me to the Northwest part of the lake, this area gets the most exposure to the sun and can be several degrees warm than other places. The next piece of the puzzle is specific structure or bottom composition that will draw bait, bass and other gamefish. Bridge pilings, gravel, concrete launch ramps, boulder rock or sand will hold bait AND fish.

Carefully tied knots, fresh line, lubed reels and sharpened hooks are all important aspects of the first few trips of the year. As tough as fishing can be patterns can be recognized quickly at this time. With water levels in the lakes still at winter pool fish congregate in certain areas. If there is/are a food source or sources they will “camp out” and stay if all their needs are being met. Oxygen, cover, food and deep-water escape routes will hold bass and others throughout the seasons. We have a form we follow, ten casts with a bait and then switch until we find fish and the lure, plus presentation that they respond to. As a rule we go smaller baits / slow retrieve for transition fish. To be prepared for a change in the bite, feeding mode, moon phase and increased metabolism my first thought is to upsize my lure selection and slightly increase my retrieve speed for the more aggressive fish. Tough conditions try slower yet, then consider a location switch or possibly a tactical change. Keep the jig rod close by and commit to a game plan until it doesn’t produce. Remember this may be the days you’re fishing for a few bites but the BIG fish maybe the one you hook on your next cast.

It’s been my experience the first few months of the year that the afternoon bite is best. (At least it’s more comfortable) Although water is warming slowly you could be surprised by one little area that’s just a few degrees warmer. Be tuned in to the details of the “first fish” you can build on that and develop a pattern.

From a safety standpoint we try to remember no quick movements to the side, exercise caution when standing up (I’m standing the majority of the time) we stay within sight of each other and keep cell phones or walkie-talkies in a dry box. Dress for all day even if you only plan to be out for a few hours and reacclimate to your fishing, kayaking habits.

February and March can be great months with less boat pressure, fewer fishermen and the opportunity to catch lots of fish. Join us instead of wishin’ try transition fishin’ .