It’s possible to predict where the water will be warming and where it will be dropping in temperature by keeping track of wind history. Wind creates currents. 


Really warm, calm days in spring can drive water temperatures up quick. Some of the biggest bass available can engage in a feeding frenzy.


Great Lakes smallmouth fisheries are world famous. Erie produced a 9.5-pound specimen way back in 1993. In 2016, Michigan’s Indian River—which connects Lake Huron with Lake Michigan—coughed up a state record just one ounce under 10 pounds. Contestants weighed a dozen or more 7-pound small-mouths in the Sturgeon Bay Open over the past decade. I watched several 7-pound smallies boated at the mouth of the Niagara River a few years back, and every B.A.S.S. Elite pro knows the St Lawrence River produces monsters and lots of them. Even Lake Superior has bays that produce scads of 6-pound bass.

These vast bodies warm slowly. On the open-waters of the Great Lakes, pre-spawn occurs from late April through late May, when water temperatures range from 40°F to 58°F. During this exciting period, smallmouths crowd into shallow water, cruising and feeding voraciously near spawning sites in harbors and bays, around islands, and eventually on main-lake shorelines. But only some of these areas will see any use by bass at all some days. Because pre-spawn location is largely determined by a single factor.





Golfers play the wind. A good center fielder plants himself downwind of the spot where the ball appears to be headed. Field-goal kickers aim to the right of the goal posts in a right-to-left wind.

Long jumpers, high jumpers, sprinters and long-distance runners spread their profile in a following wind and become more compact in a head wind. Any athlete performing outdoors knows what to do in the wind.

For Great Lakes smallmouth anglers, wind plays an even bigger role. Those who don’t play the wind learn to embrace the skunk. It’s not just a matter of playing the wind when casting, the way a javelin or discus thrower does. Wind drives patterns. For smallmouth fishermen, wind determines where the goal posts are, and where the finish line is—especially in spring.






Some of the hottest smallmouth bites of the year take place early in the season on big water. Champlain, Lake Michigan, Erie and a hundred or so other big waters beckon in May. When smallmouths leave their winter haunts, it’s best to be there on the shallow shoals waiting for them to arrive. Where they show up active and in the biggest numbers is determined by wind and the currents it alters or creates.


Windy Rituals

Smallmouths winter at the base of main-lake points, on isolated rock humps, on shelves or on rocky basin flats in 20 to 48 feet of water. The spots smallmouths use in winter may look like dozens of similar spots and it may be impossible even for scientists to determine the difference. All we can infer is that smallmouths are ritualistic fish. They return to the same wintering spots year after year.


Nick Chiodo up on Rainy Lake—a Great Lakes region hot spot for big bass—tossing a Rapala Husky Jerk. Suspending Jerks are among the most effective search baits for early smallmouth bass.


When they rise from these wintering holes is determined to some extent by day length triggering some internal clockwork we don’t yet completely understand. But we do largely understand the influence of temperature. Water temperature appears to be the most influential factor in controlling activity levels in spring. For instance, something magic happens as the water first broaches 40°F. The first smallmouths show up in the shallows. If it drops again, for several days, to 38°F or so, smallmouths seem to disappear.

Sometimes an extremely hot bite can occur in water temperatures of 41°F to 43°F, but it rarely happens if the water has recently been warmer than that. If the water warms to 47°F for any length of time and drops back down to 43°F, the bite dies and smallmouths can be visually tracked in clear water dropping back into deeper habitats. They can also be watched while refusing lures or even livebaits when this happens.

Smallmouths do head for shallower habitats in spring, but only if the water is warming. In keeping with their ritualistic nature, they make for the same shoals year after year, usually appearing on the same flats where they eventually spawn, or somewhere within a few city blocks. Remember, this is big water. A few city blocks means nothing to a bass that just swam 1 to 5 miles to get there. And evidence seems to support the theory that smallmouths in big water do not follow structure to these flats. They rise up out of wintering habitat and create a chalk line directly to the shallows they wish to inhabit, swimming 5 to 10 feet under the surface.

Really big waters have hundreds of spots where bass show up early in spring. Most smallmouth anglers know the spots that turn on first will be the spots that warm up first. Which spots warm up first is determined, to some extent, by structure and the lay of the land. Shallower bays with dark bottoms and the most exposure to the southern half of the sky will warm first. That is, unless the wind is constantly blowing out of that bay—from shore toward open water.







On big waters, wind determines where the hot bites will be almost every day in spring. Early on, smallmouths are very sensitive to almost imperceptible changes in temperature. A drop from 75°F to 71°F in summer has far less effect on behavior and activity levels among smallmouths than a drop of 44°F to 42°F in spring. A wind blowing into a flat, from open water toward land, sometimes warms the water. It depends on the temperature of the air, how much sunlight is reaching the water, how hard the wind is blowing, whether or not it’s raining, how powerful the wind-driven currents are that were established over the previous few days or weeks, and whether those currents hit or miss the spot.

Big water can be intimidating for the simple reason that potential hot spots, though many, can be so far removed from one another. But it’s possible to make educated guesses about how good or bad a potential spot might be without having to travel there. And, once the boat has arrived on a spot, it’s possible to predict whether the bite is about to get red hot or begin to cool off. The wind, and its recent history, makes educated guesses and predictions about the bite much easier. Your best equipment? A wet finger held overhead.


Wind Strategies



On big water in the spring, the best plan is to wait until morning. Don’t create a complex game plan the day before or, God forbid, a week prior to fishing. Watch the wind patterns in the days before going out, yes. But decide where to launch and fish after stepping outside in the morning and sticking a wet finger in the air.

Sun light warms surface waters. During spring, where the wind is blowing in, the water will warm along shore if the sun is shining because surface waters from way out in the lake are blown in and keep barraging the bank. But, on dark, cold, rainy, windy days, the shoals won’t necessarily warm up when the wind is blowing in.
On those kinds of days, the key is finding protected water that is stable in terms of temperature. It may not actually matter what the temperature is, if it’s over 41°F and bass have already started moving shallow in the days and weeks prior. The key is to avoid areas where the temperature is dropping.





It’s possible to predict where the water will be warming and where it will be dropping in temperature by keeping track of wind history. Wind creates currents. If the wind has been out of the west for three days or longer, the shoals facing west will most likely be the warmest. If the wind has been out of the east, the opposite should be true—unless the weather has been dark and cold. In the case of islands, currents eventually sweep some of that warm water around one end of the island or the other and the back side, where the wind is blowing offshore, may actually become as warm as the water on the windward side, due to eddies in the current.

But what about those oblique angles, where the wind is blowing parallel to shore? For many who fish Lake Michigan, a north or south wind can put them hundreds of miles and $15 in tolls from any area where the wind is blowing directly into shore. In that case, look for collection points. Wind-driven currents can become corralled or sucked into bays by convec-tion. For instance, a south wind (which tends to be the warmest in spring unless it’s coming off a large stretch of cold water) may blow up a shoreline on the west side of a lake and strike a major point facing east. Eddies will form where wind-driven currents strike the point and distribute some of the warmer water into the bay. In a south wind, check the north shore of a bay in areas where the lay of the land has the wind blowing slightly onshore.

Convection is a process whereby heat is transferred by liquid motion between areas of differing densities. Cold water is more dense than warm water. When it is absolutely calm for several days (which is rare on any big waters, especially in spring), convection currents can form and the warmest water can actually circle around a bay to be eventually drawn right out. On calm days, however, the shoals may continue to warm as more sunlight penetrates the shallows due to lack of wave action.





Most big waters have systemic currents. That is, a current is generally moving through it in the same overall direction most of the time. Lake Huron, for instance, always has a main current ambling south toward the St. Clair River, which is the “main drain,” so to speak. Where the water runs in and where it runs out creates a current that will eventually reassert itself, but big winds blowing in other directions can move these currents around a bit. Wind is, most often, the most important factor in creating or altering currents on a day-to-day basis in spring, from a smallmouth angler’s perspective, because most of the fishing is shallow.

If the wind blows steady from one direction for 3 or more days on big water, it creates a current that continues for hours or even a day after the wind switches direction. The water should continue to warm during the first hour or so on the shorelines where the wind was blowing in even after the wind changes, depending on the strength of the new blow. But things are about to change for the worst.


Rapala Husky Jerks tend to require a couple Storm SuspenDots to achieve neutral buoyancy. Since a pause of 20 seconds or longer comprises the best cold-water presentation for smallmouths, always carry a strip of SuspenDots in the jerkbait box.


Wind affects how much light penetrates the water to hit the sand and rocks—which hold heat. On a sunny day, calm areas with clear water can warm quickly. But, when waves beat against the shore, it clouds the water some, and the suspended particles can also hold the heat of the sun and warm the water—adding to the influx of warmer water being blown into the area. Wind is practically a constant on big water. Use it to your advantage.


Creating Patterns

On big lakes during summer, the wind creates patterns by pushing and concentrating clouds of plankton, which are followed progressively by baitfish, walleyes, smallmouths and other predators. During early spring, baitfish and bass are both looking for the warmest water they can find. The wind creates or destroys patterns in spring by pushing warm water into an area or sucking it out. If the water is warming on a spot, baitfish will find it and begin to collect. The opposite occurs when the water is cooling. Make no mistake: In water temperatures of 40°F to about 56°F, smallmouth movements are foraging movements loosely connected to spawning areas.




On any big waters it becomes crucial to gather as many key spots as possible all over the lake. It does little good in spring to find spots only on the west side, or only on any particular side of the lake. Whether through personal experience, word-of-mouth, or other forms of research, it’s crucial to know where bass will arrive early every year at all points on big bodies of water. Key spots will be the same, year after year.

Next, look at prevailing wind patterns. If the wind has been blowing steadily from one general direction for days, make note of it. Patterns should be well established where the water has been warming for days. But on the day the boat is finally launched, don’t make for the ramp until noting the wind direction. And, before leaving home or the hotel or whatever base camp, gather as much wind and weather information as possible. Or monitor it from the boat. Marine radios have a weather band, which is generally accessed by hit-ting the “wx” button. Depending on which state you’re in, the National Weather Service (NWS) will broadcast somewhere between stations 1 through 7 on that band. Or you can access the NWS on the internet. The NWS generally does the best job of prognosticating wind direction over the course of the day.

Once a general area has been chosen, plot out a milk run to all the spots that can be reached throughout the day where the wind is blowing in or where eddies form. Once on a spot, keep an eye on the temperature gauge. If the water is warming by 1/10th of a degree or more per hour, stick around. If the boat is on a known spot that produces early every year, bass will show up if they aren’t there already. If the water temperature is cooling by 1/10th of a degree or more per hour, reassess the wind direction and make for a new spot.

When the water is 41°F or better and warming slightly, chances are good the bite is happening or will soon get going. When the water is 55°F or less and dropping, the bite will soon die if it hasn’t already. From 55°F and up, this potential carries progressively less significance. During summer, a temperature drop of a few degrees has less impact on smallmouth behavior than during spring. And in fall, drops in water temperature can actually turn smallmouths on.


Wind And Presentation

This strategy is going to take you to wind-ward shores with more waves. But that’s al-right. Predictions can also be made regarding which presentation patterns to pursue based on wind and temperature. Actually, the pattern rarely changes, but the best way to apply it does. For instance, smallmouths, wherever they swim, will take a suspend-ing jerk bait in spring. Rapala Husky Jerks, Smithwick Suspending Rogues, Lucky Craft Pointers and similar baits are extremely pro-ductive in cold water, and tend to become increasingly effective as wind and waves build. But the right way to work a suspend-ing bait in 43°F isn’t necessarily the right way to work it in 50°F water. As a general rule, smallmouths respond better to longer pauses on the cold end of the spectrum.


When bass concentrate in small areas early during pre-spawn, the float-n’-fly is deadly. Suspend a marabou or synthetic-hair jig under a fixed float like this A-Just-A-Bubble.


This requires some fine tuning. The bait has to suspend perfectly, neither sink-ing nor rising. If it rises, add some wireto the shank of the middle treble, or add Storm SuspenDots as needed. If it sinks slowly, mark it and put it back in the box to use under other conditions. If it sinks like a rock, send it back to the manufacturer. Once tuned, pull the bait down to its running depth and let it sit for a minute or more in cold water, then pull it very slowly 2 to 4 feet and pause it again. Suspending baits tend to work better when worked progressively faster as the water warms. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Quick, erratic retrieves work in very cold water, but that tends to be rare. Try slow first.

The same kind of logic can be applied to any and all presentations in spring. When swimming or retrieving soft-plastic grubs and worms at a steady pace, start with a 1/16-ounce jig in waters reading 50°F or less. The lighter jig forces you to slow way down in order to keep the lure working horizontally at the right depth. In fact, a 1/16-ounce head allows you to work worms and grubs so slowly they almost seem to suspend in place on 6-pound monofilament line. (Fluorocarbon sinks, and braid cuts through water quicker. Both force you to speed up.) Hair jigs, football heads, Carolina rigs and other bottom-oriented presentations should follow the same progression. Start very slow in the coldest water and make the retrieve progressively more aggressive as the water warms.

The usual answer to heavy wind is to use heavier jigs and rigs, to keep the wind from bowing the line and reducing feel. Resist doing that if at all possible. Since early spring presentations often must be slow, subtle and strictly controlled, better to slip back-and-forth across an area with a tailwind. Use the wind to your advantage and cast with it directly behind you. Casting at angles to the wind will bow the line. Even with suspending baits, a bow can reduce feel to nothing, and bites can be very subtle in cold water.

Keep the wind behind you to allow for longer casts to cover more water, but also to keep the use of the trolling motor to a minimum. The sound generated by trolling motors seems to become more of a spook factor every year in heavily fished waters. In strong winds, use a drift sock to slow the progress of the boat. Early-season smallmouths tend to come up on the shoals in pods. Fan cast with the wind to find them then, if necessary, anchor the boat to thoroughly work the area without spooking or drifting over other pods of fish.

The key to early-spring smallmouth fishing on big water is having a wind-based strategy. It’s always tempting to blast right back to the spot that produced 50 fish last year, or even yesterday. But, if the wind is blowing in the opposite direction today, best to fight temptation. The hot bite will always be where the water is warming.





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