No matter what you're doing, you're probably going to be doing it in shallow water as spring arrives and the fish move up around cover that's close to the bank. One of the things I count on is that on some of our lakes, bass are very easy to pattern. You catch one on a shallow stump half-way back in a creek, and you can count on finding them on those kinds of places all over the lake.
I know that fish pattern well at High Rock, Buggs Island, Falls and Jordan, and even on Wylie, where it seems like they go in and come back out in a week's time, you can pattern them while they're in there.
The thing I tell fishermen about April is that you need to cover an awful lot of water to find fish that have just spawned or are moving up and haven't spawned yet, and that you'll need to take your whole tackle box - but you can leave your deep-diving crankbaits at home.
The first thing I'm hoping when I get to a lake - especially when I'm fishing a tournament - is that the water is stained, because that evens things out a little. If the water's stained, it's tough to see bass on the beds and sight-fish - and I'm not good at that, anyway. It's aggravating to me to get up in the shallows and see 'em on the beds and not be able to catch 'em.
You can still catch spawning fish without seeing them up on the beds, just by pitching baits into places that look like areas where a fish would spawn. I've caught them on square-billed crankbaits, lipless crankbaits and little worms.
One of the places I had some success catching bedding fish over the years was Buggs Island. Most of the time in the spring, you have water up in the bushes and trees, and the water's usually stained. I used to take a little worm, rig it on a 1/16-ounce weight, and pitch it in around the trees and just swim it back out. It was just a little worm with a paddletail that had a little action, and if you got it in front of one and swam it past her, you could get your arm jerked off.
Years ago, Lew's used to make a little 4-foot glass rod that was perfect to throw a little worm back in there. They don't make it anymore, but you can use their 6-foot, soft-plastics rods and make short, accurate casts with a little worm back around bushes and trees, and just winding it back out, slowly. I'd use a Lew's Tournament Pro reel spooled with 14-pound Trilene. You could go down to 12-pound, but if you're fishing around brush or bushes like I would at Buggs Island, I'd want to stay a little heavier.
When you're searching for fish to establish a pattern, the first thing you want to find out is how far they've gone back in the creeks, then, how far they've gone back in the pockets. Are they on the corners of the pockets, have they gone half-way back in the pockets, or have they gone all the way?
Then, you're looking for what kind of cover they're on. Are they on trees or brush or stumps? Catch one or two and you can repeat that in other places. You can run from place to place and hopefully, keep catching them. Again, when I was fishing at Buggs Island years ago, I liked to use a little quarter-ounce spinnerbait as a search bait.
A couple of things to think about: if you get a little cold front in April, it's not going to run them all the way back to deep water, but it will back them off the bank a little. That's where a lipless crankbait or a little square-billed crankbait will come in handy. And the closer you get to the Virginia line, the farther north you go, the later they're going to spawn. It seems like they spawn early at Wylie, and they come and go so fast it's hard to tell. But at Lake Gaston and Buggs Island, the spawn usually takes place a couple of weeks later than places like Norman and Badin and Tillery.
So, open your tackle box and tie on a handful of different baits, put your trolling motor down and cover a lot of water, and pay attention to where you get your bites. That's they key to taking advantage of the spawn, especially if you can't see them.