With Spring time upon us, as a bass fisherman you know what that means – its time for the spawn! Arguably the best fishing of the year, and the best time to catch your personal best, many anglers look forward to March, April and May.
With water temperatures warming up and fish getting more active, there are several ways to catch these fish. During this time of year water temperature is very important, it is very possible to find fish pre spawn in one part of the lake, and fish on beds in another part of that same lake. The further South you are in the United State the sooner the spawn will begin.
When I am fishing this time of year there are two strategies I keep in the back of my mind when breaking down the lake. Unless I have fished the lake recently and know the fish are on beds, I will keep a few rods rigged up for chasing pre-spawn bass just in case. Pre-spawn bass can be approached several ways. When I know the bass are not on beds yet, the first thing I do is look at my map and locate creek channels, ledges and drop-offs adjacent to shallow spawning flats. These bass will stage in this deeper water before conditions are right for them to make a bed. In addition to the nearby deep water, I also like to look for schools of bait. If you can find bait, near deep water and adjacent spawning flats, you have found the three things necessary for an ideal spot.
In addition to the deep water, you may sometimes find the bass up shallow, but not yet active on a bed. When I find fish in the backs of creeks I like to begin with a search bait. I love throwing a buzzbait, a spinnerbait such as a Savage Gear Ti-Flex Spinnerbait, and a topwater bait. All of these baits create a lot of movement and commotion in the water that will aggravate the fish and cause a reaction bite.
Long casts are key to success since fish are shallow and easily spooked. An Okuma Helios HS-CM-701MH is an ideal rod for this application. The length of the rod allows for long casts, while the fast taper allows you to work the movement of the baits exactly how you want them. You also want a high-speed reel to work that bait quickly and to take up line once you have worked the bait out of the strike zone. I prefer an Okuma Helios reel due to the smooth drag and super lightweight frame. One tip I also like to recommend is rather than fishing monofilament like most anglers use, I recommend 30# braid for this application. The low stretch, high sensitivity of the line is ideal for making very long casts and getting a solid hook set.
Now onto what we have all been dreaming of – sight fishing! There is nothing better to get your adrenaline pumping than slowly easing up to a bed, with your trolling motor on the lowest setting, and seeing a massive female largemouth guarding her nest. Once bass have built their nests they become very territorial. During the spawn you will always find bass in pairs, the male will always be the smaller bass, and it is his job to guard the nest. This can pose a problem when trying to catch the bigger female.
Before we discuss ways to catch the female rather than the male, I would like to touch on a couple baits I use when trying to get fish to bite while on a bed. With sight fishing, it is very important to be able to pitch a bait very accurately towards a bed. Due to this, I like to use a shorter 6’6” or 7’ rod. Something with a medium heavy to heavy action is best since getting a hard hitting hook set it important. I personally fish the Helios micro guide HS-SKR-701MH rod.
Bass can be very territorial of their beds, but getting them to bite at the first bait you cast into the bed is not always the case. There are three animals I find bass worry about the most when it comes to protecting their beds: Bluegill, Crawfish and Salamanders. Each of these three creatures love to eat fish eggs and will raid a nest in a heartbeat. To imitate a bluegill I like using a very realistic swimbait, a warmouth, or a bluegill colored jig with a similar-colored trailer. To imitate a crawfish there is absolutely no better bait than a Savage Gear 3D Craw. Paired with a standup jig head, this is a deadly bait. (This bait in white happens to be my go to bed fishing bait). Lastly, to imitate a salamander, a simple soft plastic lizard, Texas rigged with the weight pegged works well.
Once you have these bait all tied on, it is time to experiment with each bed. Keep in mind that each bass is different and not every single fish in that lake is going to hit the same bait. When I find a bed, I like to be as quiet as possible as to not disturb the fish, if you have Power Poles, this is the time to use them! I always begin with the Savage Gear 3D Craw and work my way through my baits from there. If the bass are short biting your bait and only getting the claws in their mouth, this is because they are trying to kill it and not eat it. You can either add a stinger hook to the bait, or just downsize baits.
If after cycling through all of my baits I still cannot get the fish to bite, I then focus on different areas of the nest. Sometimes you’ll find a bass will get extra agitated when your bait is on a certain side of the nest. When you figure out what angers the fish the most keep working that side until they bite. Sometimes you may have to work a single bed for over half an hour! One tip I like to recommend is when you do find a bed with a big fish on it that you simply cannot get to bite, keep a long wooden dowel in your rod locker. I like to take the wooden dowel and stick it in the mud somewhere outside of the nest. This allows me to leave the fish alone for a long period of time but be able to know where the nest was and be able to cast to it later but from farther away as to not risk spooking the fish. Leave that fish alone and come back to it in a few hours. With that dowel there, you will know right where she is without relying on a GPS waypoint.
More often than not you will catch the male bass first. When this happens I just keep fishing and target the female after I have caught the male. Usually I will let the male bite my lure, but I do not set the hook. Sometimes they hook themselves and you can’t avoid it though. My biggest tip when trying to get past that pesky male and catch the big female is to use two rods. Each state has different laws regarding this, and some tournaments have rules against fishing two rods at once, so please do your own due diligence and familiarize yourself with the local laws. What I like to do is have two rods at the ready. I will pitch one bait into the nest allowing the male to eat it. I will then leave the reel in free spool and quickly set the rod down on the deck of the boat without setting the hook, and pick up the second rod. Fire a second bait into the nest as quickly as you can while the male is still preoccupied with the first bait. If all goes according to plan the female will take charge and protect her nest.
One thing I do want to touch on is the fish’s safety. Those eggs on that nest are the future of our sport. When you take that fish off that bed it leaves those eggs or fry vulnerable to predators. Bed fishing can be a controversial issue. I see no problem with it, but I feel it is important to release that fish as quickly as possible. Practice CPR – catch, photograph and release. The quicker you can take pictures and safely return that fish to it’s nest the better.