Lakecaster Online Archives - Feb, 2004

Tommy Martin and Pre Spawn Bass

By Jim Alpin
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Today is Tuesday and as a rule we are closed at the Gary Yamamoto Store here at Toledo Bend, but I had some paper work to do, or I would have been out on the lake. I was hard at it and I heard a knock on the door and when I looked up, to my very pleasant surprise, stood Tommy Martin. When I let him in he said that he needed some more Senko's because he had a guide trip in the morning. Being the hard working fellow I am and an opportunist, this sure looked like a good opportunity to me. In the course of fish talk the conversation soon turned to pre spawn bass fishing. This is an excerpt from that conversation. I hope that you find this as enjoyable and enlightening as I did.

Tommy is quite a busy man these days with the BASS tour, a lovely wife Sheila and two growing boys. The oldest of which, Blake, will be attending Sam Houston State here in East Texas this coming year on a football scholarship. With all of that, his biggest time consumer is his cows and getting them fed and off to the market. I wonder where he finds the time? Tommy moved to Toledo Bend about 25 years ago (1965) from Texas City, Texas. As a young man he spent most of his younger years salt-water fishing. Tommy is a man, lets just say, over 50 that looks and works like a man in his 30's. One of the interesting things about Tommy is his willingness to work with the youth in the local area. A lot of his time is spent with the local high school students both fishing and their football program.

Now - about the pre-spawn bass. Pre-spawn is the time when the fish are in transition from the cold winter and moving up to shallow water to get ready to start their spawn. These fish are hungry, moody, and restless. They are on the move looking for their spawning beds, their metabolism is changing. For the fisherman the question is "Where are they?". Is there enough water in the buck brush, where are the warmest spots on the lake and how is this weather front going to affect the fish? Tommy had some great insights in the matter.

Jim: "If I can, I would like to start at the beginning. Let me ask you, here on Toledo Bend, what time of year does pre-spawn start? Or if you will, what is it that has the biggest impact on the start of pre-spawn?

Tommy: "I believe it is just the timing, the bass are going to get rid of those eggs no matter what. Here on Toledo Bend the Blacks (bass) will start their move up as early as mid January and the spawn will run through the end of March and even as late as mid Aprill. Bass will go to pre-spawn even if the water is 35 to 40 degrees"

Jim: "That's great to know, but where are they going when they start their pre spawn?"

Tommy: "As a rule they are looking for two things. Three to five foot flats that are close to deep water."

Jim: "Ok Tommy, but there is a lot of water on this 100 mile long lake that is 3 to 5 feet deep. What does it take to make for a good staging location?"

Tommy: "There are two things that I consider when looking for staging areas. First is the 3 to 5 foot flats that are closest to my winter fishing holes. The second is spawning locations that I know about from years before."

Jim: "So what you are telling me is that if I can find spawning locations all I need to do is back out and find those flats that are 3 to 5 foot and close to deep water."

Tommy: "That is a great place to start. The spawn will be all over the lake, from the dam to the very upper end, but keep in mind you will find the warmer waters on the northern banks. The bass will find these flats with the 3 to 5 foot depths close to deeper water with buck brush and roam. When you find them like this you can have a field day with them."

Jim: "Ok, but what if things are not perfect, let's say there is just not 5 foot of water in the buck brush. The shoreline just doesn't have any cover. Then what?"

Tommy: "Toledo Bend is not a natural lake, in reality it is a flooded canyon that they put a dam in the lower end of. What this means is that the lake has a lot of flats out in the middle of the lake and when the lake is low these high spots can be great spawning locations. Also the fish have been known to spawn in the tops of the trees in 50 foot of water. Yes water level and conditions ca be a major factor as to where you find your staging fish."

Jim: "Let's talk about equipment you use this time of year. The baits, type of rods, reel speed, line, etc..."

Tommy: "I try to keep it as simple as I can. I use fast moving baits - spinner baits, crank baits and (rattle) traps for the most part. Spinner baits I use a 3/8 or maybe a ½ ounce chartreuse and white skirt with a #3 Colorado blade and a #4 ½ willow leaf. Crank baits I look for baits that have a tight wobble to them and th (rattle) traps I use both a ½ and 3/4 ounce each. For me the key is that I want to be able to just tick the tops of the grass and that is what determines the size of baits I use. As for the reels I use a 6:1 ratio for most everything, but if I am going to slow role a spinner bait I may go to a slower 5.3:1 ratio. It makes it easier for me to keep it down on the bottom. As for the line and rods I consider the situation, water clarity, depth and of course cover plays a big factor in what is needed for the situation."

Jim: "Is there anything special you do to your boat to go after pre-spawn fish? (Depth finders - trolling motor - making the boat as quiet as possible)"

Tommy: "No, not really. I check the boat out to make sure it is in good working order and safety issues. However, I think you need to keep the boat as quiet as you can anytime you fish shallow. Take all your gear out that you need before you get up o your flats or near your buck brush. Keep the deck lids closed, and don't move around any more than you have to. Check the depth of your trolling motor to make sure it is not down too deep. Oh, and don't forget about your temperature gauge. I keep two of them in my boat throughout the spring. They are that important to me."

Jim: "Let me ask you about the types of bait that the fish are looking for and does it play a major part in your decision making process?"
Tommy: "I know I am going to work with a fast moving bait at least until I figure out where they are at, and then I make the necessary changes. Bit, or at least not the type of bait is not something I worry about too much. I just need to know that the bait fish are in the location. I am fishing and let the fish tell me what it is that they are looking for."

Jim: "What about the weather? I know it makes it tough on the fisherman sometimes, but how does it affect these fish?"

Tommy: "This can be the one exception that slows me down. If a cold front moves in, and it will more times than not, I have to slow down. This is when I will go to a slow rolling spinner bait or a Carolina rig. It is also worth mentioning that dirty water makes pre spawn fish more difficult to catch. In that case sometimes I will try using spinner baits and fish the edge of the mud line. In other words, what I am looking for is the clearest water I can find."

Jim: "I know that sometimes when a writer does an interview there is something that should have been asked or put into the article. What is it we need to add to this article? Do you have any added thoughts?"

Tommy: "Yes there is one more thing I would like to mention here before we quit this. All of the styles of fishing we talked about, there is one that we did not mention and that was the Carolina rig. It is a very important tool for this time of year. Using it out on the flats and the secondary points can produce some good fish for you. I like to throw a French Frye, lizard or maybe a 4" Senko on it."

I would like to take a moment to thank Tommy and his family for giving me the opportuity of a life time. Tommy is quite a gentleman and a true scholar. What a joy it was to just sit down and talk fishing with him. I love to hear his stories.

Keep a Good Eye on a Tight Line! - Jim Alphin, GYCB / Pro Staff Toledo Bend, TX