Spring Freshwater Fishing – Tactics and Strategies

Spring is officially upon us and the weather is finally starting to warm up in the northern parts of the country, which can only mean one thing: spring fishing! Spring is arguably the best time of year to fish for many freshwater species. In this week’s post, we will breakdown the some of the most prized freshwater fish to target this spring. 

Smallmouth Bass

Where to find them: Since the water is still relatively cold from the winter, you can look for smallmouth bass to be in shallow water, where it’s the warmest, particularly if there is an area with a dropoff into deeper water. Smallmouth will start spawning when the water temperature reaches 60 degrees Fahrenheit and this is when they will be the most active. The mornings are still a little chilly in the springtime and colder water means the fish are less active, so don’t feel like you need to be on the water at the crack of dawn.

How to catch them: Lures that vibrate will especially antagonize smallmouth to bite this time of year. A silver spoon or crankbait will work well. If you know exactly where a lot of smallmouth are present, a jig will also work but it must be presented directly in front of the fish because smallmouth will rarely leave their den due to the cooler weather.

Largemouth Bass

Where to find them: Spring is a great time of year to catch largemouth bass, particularly because it’s when they leave their winter areas and head to shallow water for the spring spawn. The cold weather leaves the largemouth bass sluggish and languid; whereas, warmer water increases energy and metabolism. Look for largemouth in shallower waters during these months, especially around vegetation, or wherever you think the water is warming the fastest during the day.

How to catch them:  Largemouth bass won’t be tempted to chase fast moving lures in the spring. Plastic worms and minnows will work better than spinning baits and hard plastics.


Where to find them:  You will almost exclusively find walleye in rivers. Look for them in shallow pockets where the current is slow.

How to catch them: Soft plastic minnows work great and you want to choose a color that will pop. Slowly and steadily reel the lure back in after you cast.

Northern Pike

Where to find them: Pike spawn much earlier than other game fish and can still be active when the water is cooler. Many times, you can spot pike in shallow water even when part of the lake is still frozen. The best place to look for pike during the spring is shallow bays, creeks or inlets. Keep in mind that pikes prefer cooler temperature, so if it’s a warm spring day they might tend to seek deeper water.

How to catch them: Jerkbaits are the go-to method of catching spring pike. Be very patient when reeling your lure in and don’t be afraid to pause for longer than 30 seconds.


Where to find them: You will find trout in rivers and streams in the spring but the water temperature and weather conditions can make it very challenging to catch them. Trout are still sluggish and the cold water doesn’t help so it can be difficult to entice trout into striking. Rivers can often run high because of the melting snow but the best spot to find trout is where the river is at its normal height.

How to catch them: Live bait often works for trout in spring months. If you must use a lure, use a fly, soft plastic worm or small spinner.

If you are looking for more freshwater fishing tips, check out our freshwater fishing section on Discover Boating!