Mar 11, 2001
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Sat, Mar. 23, 2002    

Fish and fishermen ask: What happened to spring?

By BRENT FRAZEE, The Kansas City Star

STOCKTON, Mo. - It didn't feel like the first day of spring -- to either the fishermen or the fish.

A cold wind was sweeping across Stockton Lake, chilling the few brave souls who were out. And the water temperature was hovering in the low 40s, cold enough to make the fish shiver.

But Les Jarman, a longtime guide on the Ozarks reservoir, knew there was a way to get the bass and walleyes to hit.

"These suspending stickbaits are the way to go at this time of the year," Jarman said as he launched a cast to a rocky bank. "When you pull that bait down, twitch it and then pause it, it looks just like a sluggish baitfish.

"You want something that's moving slow right now. That's why this is one of the first baits they'll hit."

Moments later, Jarman proved his point. After he cast a suspending Rogue to a rocky bank, he twitched it several times and then let it sit.

He started to count to 10 -- but never got that far. By the time he reached six, he felt something strike.

He set the hook and felt the heavy tug of a walleye. Seconds later, he had an 18-inch fish flopping around on the bottom of the boat.

"These fish will almost always hit on the pause," he said. "It's like they're following it, then they see it stop and they can't resist.

"You don't want to work it real fast. You just have to force yourself to slow down.

"If you can do that, you can usually get some hits."

Jarman did Wednesday. Fishing in less-than-ideal conditions, he worked rocky main-lake banks in the Little Sac arm and caught both walleyes and largemouth bass.

No, the fish weren't as plentiful as he hoped -- and not as big, either. But such is life at this time of the year.

You never know what the weather will be like or how the fish will be biting. But as unpredictable as things can be, there's one big lure that always keeps Jarman coming back: the chance of catching a big fish.

"The chances of catching a big bass or walleye are better now than any other time of the year," Jarman said. "When the water just starts to warm up, the big fish will start moving up and they'll feed.

"They won't be real active. You might have to put it right in front of them. But they'll hit."

Jarman has the proof. He caught a 10-pound, 4-ounce walleye on a suspending stickbait five years ago. And he landed a 9-pound, 6-ounce largemouth several years back on the same bait.

He reeled in four bass weighing more than eight pounds last year and caught walleyes up to 71/2 pounds.

With the water temperature yo-yoing up and down this March, he has yet to find the trophy fish. But he knows it will only be a matter of time.

"When the water temperature gets up around 48 degrees and stays there, that's when it gets good," he said.

Jarman often finds the big bass and walleyes in the same place. He looks for rock or pea-gravel banks where the river or creek channel swings in along shore. Those are some of the first places the fish visit when the water starts to warm, he said.

"They like those 45-degree-angle banks that aren't real far from deep water," he said.

The walleyes will spawn along those banks. The bass use them as pre-spawn haunts, feeding and staging there.

As is often the case at this time of the year, water temperature is the key. When it starts climbing toward the 50-degree mark, the walleyes and bass often are concentrated in the shallows.

But that's not the only reason Jarman looks forward to spring at Stockton Lake, a 24,900-acre reservoir 135 miles southeast of Kansas City. Warm weather also sends waves of white bass scurrying up tributaries such as the Little and Big Sac rivers to spawn.

Jarman already has enjoyed good fishing for them, guiding customers to catches of 20 or more on several occasions in the last week. But he knows that things will only get better.

The next warm spell should send the walleyes to the rocky banks to spawn, the bass to the shallows, and the white bass into the rivers and creeks in force.

"Some people don't realize it, but a few degrees in water temperature can make a big difference in the fishing," he said. "Once it starts pushing 50 (degrees), we'll usually be catching them."
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