March is Big Bass Month
Please note the publication date of this article. Statistics and seasonal information were accurate at the time of publication. Check links provided for the most current information.
By Larry D. Hodge
Published in Texas Fish and Game, March 2004
If you’ve been waiting for the best time to go fishing for a trophy largemouth bass, the wait is over. March is here. It’s lunker time.
The third month of the year is hands down the best time to catch a whopper bass. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologist Randy Myers of Tyler has the proof.
Myers has analyzed when, where and how the 346 fish entered into the Budweiser ShareLunker program were caught, and some clear trends emerged. (Anglers who catch a largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more can loan the fish to the Budweiser ShareLunker program, which uses offspring from the fish to stock public waters in Texas.) Myers’ research shows that March is the hottest month for big bass fishing, with 44 percent of ShareLunkers caught then, followed by February with 26 percent and April with 13 percent. That leaves just 17 percent for the other nine months of the year.
Why March? “What happens is the water starts to warm up, and fish are naturally seeking the warm water,” says Lake Fork guide Richard McCarty, who has donated three fish to the Budweiser ShareLunker program. “They have to get into warm water so the eggs they are carrying will mature enough to spawn, and as they migrate to the shallows, they get into a zone where we can catch them.” McCarty says the move starts soon after the first of the year, but the bigger fish come to the shallows later, with the peak coming in March.
One thing there can be no doubt about is where you have the best chance of catching a huge bass. Lake Fork accounted for 206 of the bass Myers studied. That’s 59.5 percent. McCarty expects that trend to continue. “Lake Fork is coming back pretty good,” he says. “The big fish are showing up again, and I think we will continue to churn out our five to eight ShareLunkers a year.”
Soft plastics are the lure most often gobbled by big fish, accounting for 45 percent of catches overall. Jigs came in second at 23 percent, followed by spinnerbaits at 12 percent and crankbaits and live bait at 9 percent each. Soft plastics caught 37 percent of the fish in January, 50 percent in March, and 72 percent in April. What is the secret of soft plastics?
McCarty believes anglers who rely on fast-moving baits when targeting big fish are their own worst enemy. “I think that a really big fish is less aggressive by nature, or more wary, or a combination of the two. When we fish a fast-moving lure, it makes more noise, we make more noise, and so does the boat. We alert that big fish and take ourselves out of the game. Big fish didn’t get that way without being elusive, and they know that the noise of a lure or a trolling motor equates to danger for them. A slow-moving bait does not make a lot of noise, and you don’t move a lot using it. Plus a slow-moving bait will penetrate that fish’s zone. You may not have to do anything different, just do it quieter. That’s probably why soft plastics work better on big bass.”
The influence of moon phase on fishing success is a hot topic around tackle shops, and Myers’ data on the subject will probably lead to arguments. While 22 percent of ShareLunkers were caught within two days either side of a full moon, 78 percent were not. Still, Myers’ data indicate a full moon may have some effect, as only 14 percent of ShareLunkers were caught within two days of a new moon.
But wait. Anglers fishing on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday caught 65 percent of the big fish. Saturday and Sunday alone accounted for 38 percent. The farther from a weekend the day, the fewer fish were caught. Assuming that more people go fishing on weekends than in the middle of the week, it appears that angler effort—the amount of time spent fishing—has more influence on catch rate than does moon phase. The old adage is true: You can’t catch fish unless you have a lure in the water.
There’s another possible reason why more fish were caught near a full moon than near a new moon. If people believe fishing is better during a full moon and go then rather than during a new moon, the likelihood is more fish will be caught during a full moon, thereby skewing the data and making it appear the full moon has some effect.
Richard McCarty is a fan of full moons, preferring to fish on the day the moon is full. “If I’m going to fish for big bass on Lake Fork, and only have two weeks a year to do it, I’m going to fish the full moons of February and March,” he says. “Anglers’ belief in the full moon may have something to do with the fact that more big fish are caught then, and when you have pretty days in March, there are more anglers on the water. But often when you have a full moon, you have some kind of weather system come through, and that may have something to do with it also. We don’t catch fish on pretty days. My customers joke that we have to punish our bodies to catch big fish on Lake Fork.”
McCarty offers this advice for someone hoping to catch a ShareLunker. “First, be here on the full moons of February and March. Second, I’m a fanatic about noise in the boat and in lure presentation. If you’re hanging up a lot, you’re making too much noise. You need to be really sneaky. And finally, every time you cast you need to mentally position the fish on the cover and figure out how to get the lure in there without spooking her.”
While very few ShareLunkers have been caught in the fall in the past, McCarty is working on a lure he hopes will change that. “I’ve spent all year working on a crankbait I think will catch them. In October, November and December they are hanging out under bridges eating crappie, and so far I have not figured out a way to catch those fish.” McCarty hopes to have his lure perfected by the fall of 2004, and he’s looking forward to the payoff. “You have no idea how badly I want to catch my fourth ShareLunker,” he says.
The crappie connection may turn out to be the key. Barry St. Clair of Athens, who holds the current Texas state record for largemouth bass, an 18.18-pound monster caught in January 1992 on Lake Fork, was fishing for crappie when he caught his fish.
The implications of Myers’ study seem clear: The best way to improve your chances of catching a really big bass is by fishing with soft plastic lures or jigs from January through April. And while you certainly improve your chances by fishing Fork, keep in mind that forty-seven public reservoirs and streams contributed the fish in Myers’ study.
Visit the Budweiser ShareLunker Program pages for up-to-date information on anglers, water bodies, and baits that have contributed bass to this program.
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