Fish slow and steady during spring transition
If you find yourself fishing public waters around the Chicago/suburban areas early this spring, keep in mind an old mantra: "Slow and steady wins the race."
During the transition from pre spawn to full spawn, it pays to be pragmatic with your approach. Particularly in local waters, where anglers are already flocking in droves to public waterways after the long winter, fish are feeling the pressure. Combine that pressure with the slower metabolism fish naturally experience in early spring and the bite can get tough.
While lure choice is always a primary focus, it is important to understand location and approach are far bigger proponents of success right now. Fish are beginning to move to their spring spawning grounds, so be on the lookout for transitional areas where deep water shifts to shallow. Fish will use these areas as highways of sorts to access the best locations to spawn.
Once transitioning targets are located, be mindful of the pace you are fishing at. Now is not the time for quick retrieves. For that reason, avoid fishing with higher gear ratio reels. Instead, choose a lower gear ratio reel (5:1:1 being a particular favorite) and a sensitive rod and be prepared to fish slowly. Don't be afraid to work through a spot thoroughly and focus on the deeper portions of the water column.
The true beauty of prioritizing location and approach is it takes a lot of the pressure off the angler when it comes to choosing lures. While there are some presentations that would be a tough sell during the transition, there is a lot more leeway when you put in the time to set yourself up in an advantageous situation and fish the right way.
During this time when fish can be found at different points of the water column depending on conditions, it is important to have a variety of baits ready to go. When you are fishing in deeper waters, lipless crankbaits, jigs and blade baits are all great options. As fish move into the shallows, plastic creature baits and crayfish imitations work very well, as do shallow diving crankbaits, jerkbaits and swimbaits.
Beyond the X's and O's of springtime fishing, there are some other things to consider before you arrange your next local outing. Once the spawn begins, it is important to be ethical in your targeting of spawning fish. Oftentimes during the spawn, it's easy to spot fish sitting on their beds in shallow water. If you choose to target these fish, it is advisable to make sure they are released safely and allowed to return to their beds. This will help improve and maintain the health of our fisheries in the long term.
Additionally, be sure to have your 2021 license when fishing on any public waterway in Illinois. All 2020 licenses expired March 31, so if you have not gotten your new license be sure to purchase a new one at your local tackle retailer or on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website. Fishing without a valid license can lead to fines and potential seizure of fishing gear.