There comes a point each spring, as the water temperature rises and as fish metabolism rises with it, when fish must feed in order to keep up with their bodies’ demand for energy.
We are on the cusp of that time right now.
When this event takes place, the wiles of wind, weather, light level, boat traffic and more all take a distant backseat to feeding. Fish feed at times and under conditions during the spring warmup which normally make fishing difficult at other times of year.
This event typically starts around mid-March and usually lasts until at least mid-May. A slow, steady spring warmup helps to extend this event to about Memorial Day. A rapid warmup will bring this phenomenon to a close sooner.
The warm, gray, windy weather we experienced from March 15-19 kickstarted this event. Prior to that week, the water was still atypically chilly thanks to the winter storm event dropping our two local reservoirs’ surface temperatures into the low 40s.
During that week we saw an unbroken span of time during which the air temperature was well above the water temperature. The strong winds that week caused mixing of surface water with deeper layers of water, and suddenly, spring fishing was underway.
On Monday, I fished under cloudy, gray skies with winds from the east-southeast at around 14 mph with a crew of five from The Salas Team Realtors — Luis and Michael Salas, Dex Manguerra, Michael Green and Mallory Benham.
They landed 121 fish from out of 30- to 40-feet of water using my own ¾-ounce Hazy Eye Slabs in combination with Garmin Live Scope.
Fast forward to Wednesday. Despite mild winds from the northwest around 8-9, and bright, sunny skies, Harker Heights resident Rob Keeney and I went out and put another 119 fish in the boat using the exact same lures and tactics.
Wednesday night saw thunderstorm and tornado watches and warnings posted for Central Texas, including for Bell County. Brief, heavy rains fell in the early morning hours as a mild cold front pushed through from west to east.
At sunrise on Thursday, as distant lightning from the passing storms was still visible far out to the east and as the last raindrop from this storm fell, I was out yet again on Belton Lake with a crew of three from Kerrville. Despite the turbulent weather passing just an hour or so before, the fish just kept on feeding.
This time, the already high fish activity level was boosted by the frontal weather. The fishing that morning was nothing short of incredible. With a 7:25 a.m. launch time, this party of three landed their 100th fish by 8:50 a.m., and went on to amass a catch of 200 fish by 12:15 p.m., including two freshwater drum, two largemouth bass and 196 white bass, all of which were released.
I witnessed the season’s first organized, sustained topwater action this week as schools of small white bass forced shad to the surface and preyed upon them there. This willingness to leave bottom, where they have resided since November, is a major indicator of their rapidly increasing metabolism.
As a result of all of these things taking place, I made some adjustments to my approach. First, I bumped up my lure size. For my vertical work, I went from a small 3/8-ounce slab to a larger ¾-ounce version.
For horizontal work, I bumped up from a smaller half-ounce bladebait to a larger profile, heavier ¾-ounce blade bait. I observed closely to see the size of the forage fish the gamefish are feeding on and made an intentional effort to match it.
I also found it necessary to increase retrieve speed. Slow retrieves just do not look like the faster-moving forage the gamefish are now keying on, and will get ignored as a result.
At least one other guide I spoke with this week, who normally relies on using live bait, told me his experience showed that the more frisky threadfin shad were out-catching the more sedentary gizzard shad over this past week.
With fish in a must-feed situation during this spring warmup, if you find you are not locating active, biting fish, by all means move and look for them elsewhere. Sitting and waiting and hoping for fish to come to you on Stillhouse’s 6,400 acres or Belton’s 13,000 acres is a losing proposition.
Yes, fishing will still get tough during the post-frontal, bright, calm, cold days after hard cold fronts pass, but by and large, if you can get out on the water during the first four hours from sunrise forward or the last three to four hours prior to sunset, you can expect to be rewarded for your efforts.
Rising metabolism trumps all else.