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Hit the shallows for bass
Joe Bruce, dressed for the weather and stealth, with a nice largemouth caught in the shallows. (Bill May photo)

The weather has been miserable, but the bass seem to be doing fine. Reports I'm getting from fishermen throughout our area who brave the cold, rain and wind tell of good numbers of bass and pickerel, mostly in the one to 2 ½-pound range by pounding the shallows, especially near cover.

This is a spring pattern that's often typical for this time of year. I do find it a bit surprising we're seeing it with these unfavorable weather conditions. Anyway, this situation may last for a few weeks, so here's how to take advantage of it.

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Where. Reports from the Eastern Shore ponds and rivers as well as from local reservoirs all have been remarkably similar in recommending the following pattern: Fish water 3-feet deep or less, preferably near cover, especially wood; fish may be on points or coves or islands.

Stealth. The clearer and shallower the water, the greater the need for stealth. Wear drab or camo-colored clothing, avoid loud talk or radios, turn off all electronics as you near the fishing area including electric motors and depth finders. Obviously a gas motor should be turned off well before approaching a fishing area. Let your boat drift into casting range with wind, tide, oars or paddles or momentum from an electric motor.

Casts. Stealth applies with casts, too. Just as you don't want to go crashing into the fishing area with a boat, the same is true with lures. So make short casts and work your way into the shallows. If, for example, you're fishing a point make the first cast perhaps 10-15 feet off the point then make the next cast a few feet further in and continue this until you throw your lure all the way into the bank. Do the same thing with a cove, casting along edges of the cove before casting directly into the back.

The idea is to not cast over fish and spook those that may be lurking out off the shore from what appears to be the perfect target. This is especially true when fly fishing; the line in the air can spook any fish it goes over, and it will definitely spook any fish it drops over on the water. I've seen this happen with good casters who are poor fishermen.

When working along the bank with a boat, once you work your way into the bank, make a series of short casts so your lure will run nearly parallel to the bank throughout the retrieve. Casting in at a right angle is not nearly as efficient in covering the shallows.

Use lures that will drop gently into the water. An unweighted, 4-inch Rapala is an old school lure of this type that still produces a lot of bass and pickerel. Texas-rigged plastics are another subtle choice, rigged either unweighted or using just enough weight to keep the lure below the surface. The prime lures are plastic flukes, tubes and stick-type lures like Senkos, but grubs, worms, wacky-rigged worms, lizards and crayfish imitations all can work. These are especially good lures when fishing such fish-holding cover as fallen trees, lily pads and weedy areas.

Unweighted or lightly-weighted plastics can be skip cast under overhanging brush, a prime cover, or cast right up onto the bank and slid into the water for a noiseless presentation.

Spinnerbaits offer the advantage of covering large swaths of water and are mostly snagless. Use smaller models, ¼ to 1/8-ounce or an offset spinner or a 1/8-ounce jighead and 2-inch grub, and feather the casts for minimal impact so as not to flush fish. An inline spinner, such as a #2 Mepps is good in open water.

Surface lures, other than Rapala, can land too heavily, but slowly fished small surface lures like the Pop-R and Tiny Torpedo can work.

Fly fishing, using the casting techniques described above can be very effective, using unweighted streamers, such and Bendback or Bullethead Darter patterns or quiet bass bugs like deer hair frogs.

Bank fishing. Some shallows are accessible by bank fishermen, too. The same stealth rules of natural clothing, quietness of approach (fish can detect vibrations of walking along the bank) and working lures nearly parallel to the shallows apply. Sometimes gaining access to promising areas can involve fighting through brush. Do this as quietly as possible and give the area a few minutes rest before you begin casting. Float tubes are an option in ponds, again with stealth considerations.

Good polarized glasses often allow you to spot fish in the shallows and are safety protection for the eyes. Sometimes it helps to stand in the boat and scan an area, if you can do this quietly and inauspiciously. No matter how cautions you will sometimes spook these shallow water fish. Rather than trying to cast to them, a better tactic is to move off and come back later.

This is a great time of year when even the most casual fisherman can have success. You need to get out there.

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