Follow Stefan's high-percentage approach to finding, catching fish on the move in the spring - Major League Fishing

Follow Stefan’s high-percentage approach to finding, catching fish on the move in the spring

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Bass Pro Tour pro Matt Stefan's first goal in the spring: locate key areas where fish are moving in pre- and postspawn. Angler: Matthew Stefan.
April 3, 2024 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

If you’ve ever talked to Bass Pro Tour rookie Matt Stefan or watched his popular YouTube channel, you’ve likely realized that the Wisconsin-based pro is extremely thoughtful and intelligent. He’s also a calculated angler, possibly from his previous career at the Chicago Board of Trade.

Stefan takes a strategic approach to finding bass – especially during the spring months, when bass are on the move – and focuses his time on high-percentage areas where he can find fish both coming to the bank and going.

A time of movement

Bass instinctively move to shallow water to spawn every spring — that’s no secret. However, finding fish as they move along that spawning route is one of the biggest challenges for bass anglers this time year.

Stefan’s first goal is to identify places to intercept fish along their migration route.

“Springtime is when the fish are in a transition phase; some are moving toward the shoreline to spawn and some are moving away because they’ve already spawned,” Stefan said. “Those travel routes are high-percentage areas to fish as bass move from deeper water on the main lake to their spawning grounds – that’s usually either in the backs of pockets or shallow flats. On reservoirs, it could be creek channels.”

According to Stefan, finding the route is simple enough, but the key is pinpointing the areas within these routes that will encourage fish to pause along the way.

“A creek channel itself could be miles long, so you’ll want to find the high-percentage areas along them,” Stefan said. “It might be a channel swing with a steeper bank, isolated boulders, or timber. Just something where the fish may stop, either coming in or on the way out.”

Natural lakes are a different story, but Stefan looks for similar locations.

“A lot of times, I’ll look for steep-breaking contours outside spawning flats,” he said. “There might be places where deep water butts right up to a flat or a shallower, sloping break that drops into deeper water. I’ll also look for isolated weeds or rocks, because fish will move there first before moving to the flats.”

Putting in the work

Much of the time that Stefan puts into finding these areas is spent behind the wheel, idling and looking at the side scan on his Lowrance units. It’s tedious work to locate high-percentage areas, but Stefan says it’s well worth it.

“Identifying these places sounds easy, but it’s not super easy,” he said. “I do a lot of side-scanning to find new areas, because when you do find them, they’re generally good year after year. The best way to recognize that you’ve found a good area is when you’re catching both pre- and postspawn fish. The great thing about these areas is that they should replenish all spring. You can even fish them for an hour, leave, come back and have fresh fish there. Or you can just stay put and let the fish travel to you.”

Another process that Stefan adheres to, especially if he’s familiar with a body of water, is to “work backward.”

“The key is knowing where fish spawn and where they spend time in the summer and winter; then you know the travel route and just have to look between those areas,” he said. “If you already have that information, you can look for those irregularities in between to locate places that will hold fish. They may hold there for an hour, or it could be a few days. It just depends on the conditions.”

Stefan will also adjust his lure selection based on water temperatures. He’ll fish higher in the water column for prespawn bass and closer to the bottom if most fish are postspawn.

“In the prespawn with cooler temps, the fish seek warmer water and will often be in the upper part of the water column,” Stefan said. “That’s what was happening at Stage One on Toledo Bend, and when I’d use a Core Tackle TUSH (The Ultimate Swimbait Hook) with a Berkley Power Swimmer or throw jerkbaits like a Berkley Stunna more.

“After fish are done spawning and more lethargic, I’ll primarily be dragging baits like a shaky head or jig, or mixing in a crankbait like a Berkley Dime 6 or 10 more often. That’s something many people don’t discuss, but it’s very relevant for this situation.”