Spring Bass Fishing Tips from MLF Pro Mark Daniels Jr.
For the past 10 years, pro angler Mark Daniels Jr. has made a full-time career as a bass fisherman. Throughout those years, Daniels Jr has throttled his way through the professional bass fishing world.
In 2013, he won the National Championship in The Bass Federation. In 2014, Daniels qualified to fish the FLW tour, where he spent three years bass fishing until he moved to the B.A.S.S. Elite Series in 2017. After two years of fishing the Elite Series, he moved to Major League Fishing, where he continues to fish today.
As a full-time angler, Daniels Jr spends much of the year on bodies of water trying to catch trophy bass. With many hours of bass fishing recorded each year, it was no surprise that when I sat down with Mark to talk fishing, he had difficulty deciding and narrowing down his favorite time of year to fish. “Spring bass fishing is many anglers’ favorite time of year to fish, ” he explained. After tossing up the spring season for his number one or two spot, he settled on it as a definite number one, and it was for a good reason. Daniels Jr. described how, during the spring, all species of bass, whether largemouth, smallmouth, or spotted bass, will be larger and heavier than any other time of the year.
Although every angler loves to catch a giant fish, the higher rate of success is not the only reason fishermen love the spring of the year. As Daniels Jr. explained, many people have cabin fever after being stuck inside throughout the winter. He mentioned that many hunters, myself included, have spent the few months before spring chasing deer, turkeys, waterfowl, or their desired pursuit. They are now coming out of winter, ready for a change, and wanting to be active outdoors. “The air temp is starting to warm, the water temp is beginning to warm, and everyone is ready to get outdoors, and fishing is often the answer,” stated MDJ. He said, “Fish are bigger, they are moving to shallow water, the weather is getting warmer, everything during this time of year lines up to go fishing.”
When is Spring?
When the word spring is mentioned, many picture green grass growing, leaves sprouting on the trees, and the warm sunny days of March and April. However, when talking to Major League Fishing Pro Mark Daniels Jr, who lives in the southeast, about his most effective tactics for spring bass fishing, he admits that if you ask ten different anglers when their spring begins, you will probably get ten different answers. For Daniels Jr., his spring fishing begins in late January, much earlier than expected. “Spring bass fishing for me starts in late January, all through February, all through March, and then tapering away when getting into April, depending on where you’re located” He added that when his mind begins to switch from winter to spring is his mental kick-off to using spring bass fishing tactics. It is vital to note that the timing is distinctive in different areas of the country. Daniels Jr. says his spring tactics begin tapering off in April, yet it may be just getting ready to begin for someone in the Midwest or farther north. Nonetheless, his favorite and most effective tactics can be used anywhere.
Using A Rat L Trap or Trappin’
“My number one technique for springtime bass is trapping or using a rattle style lure such as the original Bill Lewis Rat L Trap.” Once again, like the fish themselves, warmer temperatures make the bait, such as crawfish, begin to come out of their winter burrows. MDJ explained that the crawfish timing is perfect for pre-spawn female bass. “Crawfish have calcium from their shells that helps harden the eggs from fish; female bass need crawfish.” With an essential diet for pre-spawning bass, Daniels Jr says he likes a Rat L Trap, to fish through the grass, over rocks, and cover where many female bass are laying near their beds. “I can cast a trap further, cover a large amount of water, and fish it in multiple water columns; that’s why it is my number one spring lure.”
When bass fishing a Rat L Trap style bait, MDJ says he likes a graphite composite rod, such as the Favorite Fishing 7’ 2” Sick Stick rod. “Anytime I use treble hook baits, I want a rod with some give to it.” He then added that the last thing you want a fish to do is to pull out a hook. Using too stiff of a rod will result in losing more fish than you catch.
Suspending Jerk Bait
When bass fishing in the spring, Daniels Jr says he is looking for water in the forty to fifty-degree temperature range. Even though he admits that fifty-degree water is still relatively cold. When bass are in colder waters, they seem lethargic, so he prefers a suspending jerk bait. “The jerk bait is not moving terribly fast, which allows slow-moving fish to react to the bait,” says Daniels Jr., explaining that since the bait is suspended, it is down where the fish stay. It is almost as if it aggravates the bass that a shad or other bait has the nerve to sit in front of their face and think they will not eat them.
When fishing a suspending jerk bait, Daniels Jr. says he prefers fishing in rocky areas or paralleling bluff walls, where fish often lay suspended. In recent years, thanks to modern sonar technology, MDJ likes to find and fish around brush. “When fishing around brush, I can watch fish that are near brush on a sonar and learn their cadence of how they react to the bait.”
I then asked about the proper rod choice for a jerk bait, MDJ prefers using a 6’ 8” medium-action full graphite rod. “When it comes to a jerk bait, and you want your bait to have a lot of action, you will want a shorter rod without slapping the side of your boat or slapping the water.”
“A square-bill crankbait is one of those baits that I enjoy throwing because you essentially can throw it anywhere,” says MDJ. He refers to the square bill as the 4X4 or the ATV-style crankbait because of its ability to throw it through whatever is needed to get to the fish. “Whether it is grass, brush, stumps, rocks, or dock poles, a square bill crankbait will deflect off of objects, allowing it to land exactly where you need.”
In the springtime, bass utilize all types of covers as they move up and down throughout the water column. Having a lure that can be cast through the cover without getting snagged allows the bass to provide a reaction bite, meaning more fish will be caught.
When MDJ is fishing through trees, laydowns, brush, or other thick covers, he quickly covers a large area of water. “When fishing cover, you never know where the big fish are going to be laying,” says Daniels Jr. To cover a big area, he elects to use a similar rod as when fishing the Rat L Trap, which is a 7’ 2” graphite composite rod. This rod allows him to cover a large area until he finds a reaction and the fish.
Old School Jig
Another bait that Daniels Jr says many anglers have had luck using during the springtime is what he refers to as an old-school jig. Using a jig such as a football-style jig provides fish with a similar look to the crawfish that many fish are feeding on during this time. “There is hardly any bait that looks like a crawfish other than a football jig,” explains MDJ. Additionally, many anglers prefer different-styled soft plastic trailers attached to their jig to help add realism and movement.
When fishing an old-school jig, you will be doing a more target-oriented style of fishing. Like, the square bill, yet with a much slower presentation. MDJ says he uses his signature series rod from Favorite Fishing, the MDJ Hex Casting Rod, in a 7’ 8” heavy action rod with nothing less than a 20lb fluorocarbon line. With the heavy action rod, he can pick apart the pieces in the heart of the cover, where breaking a line is possible, until he finds the big fish. Using a heavier rod and heavy line allows him to reel in giant bass.
As mentioned, covering a large area of water is often required during the spring when trying to find big bass. Daniels Jr ends his top 5 list with a chatter bait because he states he can imitate all three of the primary baits, including shad, bluegill, and crawfish, depending on what color scheme of chatter bait he chooses.
The chatter bait is a lure that MDJ says he has in the boat throughout the year. However, he says it is mandatory for anglers to have one tied on in spring. “Many tournaments have been won because of the chatter bait and its ability to move through the grass and mimic the baitfish better than any other lures,” says Daniels Jr.
MDJ uses a 7’ 2” medium/heavy action rod, a 17lb fluorocarbon line, and a 6:8:1 gear ratio reel when fishing the chatter bait.
Mark Daniels Jr. says the moment the temperatures rise after being bottomed out at their coldest point during the winter, anglers need to be ready. He also explains the need to pay attention to mother nature. “When the days start getting a minute to two minutes longer each day, that is nature’s way of saying spring is coming, and the fish know that too.” When the signs show a change is near, Daniels Jr says to take these five tactics and put them to work, and your live wells will begin to fill quickly.