Lake Murray bass were late getting into a winter pattern this year, and according to veteran tournament angler Captain Doug Lown it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that fish started setting up the way they typically do in the winter. However, anglers would have been unwise to expect that to last very long because as warm as it has now gotten things are changing fast. It’s transition time on Lake Murray, and fish will soon be moving from the pre-spawn into the spawning period.
Looking at the ten-day forecast there is little reason to expect that it will get cold again, and even though the water is more stained than usual Doug doesn’t expect that to hold fish back from spawning. For the last few weeks fish have been so full they look like they are about to pop. Doug expects bass to bed in the next 1-2 weeks, and the key will be when water temperatures hold 55-58 degrees overnight. There is great variance in temperatures over the course of the day right now, and so reading morning temperatures is the most effective way to monitor how far off the spawn is.
The bigger females will move up shallow first, and on Lake Murray that means they will first set up around some form of wood. This may be docks, laydowns, or some time of shallow brush, and when fish can be seen setting up under docks that is a sure sign they are close to going onto the beds. Doug says that if there is bait in the vicinity then spinnerbaits or Alabama rigs are a good way to catch these pre-spawn fish, and if there is not then jigs or Texas rigs may be the best options. With the color in the water this year Doug expects jigs to play a major role.
As always on Lake Murray baitfish (including blueback herring) are a major factor, and Doug says that a lot of fish will stay on bait well into the spawning phase. The last few years it has not been unusual to see some fish wait to move up shallow until the herring spawned, and seeing pre-spawn bass eating spawning herring has been commonplace at times. A lot of bass will be staging with the bait and so monitoring its movement can be key. Partly as a result of SCE&G pulling water bait hasn’t really moved into the backs this season, but with warmer temperatures Doug looks for bait to start moving back into ditches and pockets.
One question that is worth considering each day you fish during this period is whether fish are orienting to points or pockets. Doug says that if he starts catching fish off points on a particular day then he expects that most of the bass will be set up on points that day, whereas if he catches a fish in a pocket it seems he might as well skip the points that day.