By Justin Pickett
Spring is here, which brings around something that gets me on the verge of a fish-gasm at the sight of it…
No, it’s not the first hatch of the season. Yea, there are caddis and mayflies popping off of trout waters across the country, which is awesome too, but that’s not why I’m excited. Nope.
Largemouth Bass are moving onto beds and the spawn is on!
Something fairly unique to the bass fishing world is fishing for spawning fish. While considered extremely taboo in the trout world, as well as other species, fishing for spawning fish on beds is commonplace, as well as one of my favorite times of the year. In many lakes and ponds, it’s the best chance at finding and catching the big females that prowl the waters. Fishing to big bass on beds can be incredibly rewarding, and also incredibly frustrating. Taking your biggest bass is just within reach, but you need a flexible game plan to be successful and here are some quick points to help you develop that plan.
Spring time (usually mid-March into April) is the prime time for spawning Largemouths. With the warmer days, the water temps reach that magic 55-65 degrees that begins pushing the males towards the shallows to begin prepping beds in anticipation for the females. The exact timing will vary based on your latitude, but, in the Southeast, this is when I start looking for spawners.
Damn near every lake, pond, and puddle across the Lower 48 has bass swimming in them. Golf courses, farm ponds, reservoirs, and even rivers have large populations of bass that will all spawn in the Spring. When it comes to timing the spawn, water temp is the major key. Larger bodies of water take longer to warm up, and even different sections of a large body of water will warm faster/slower than other areas. Your smaller, shallower waters, such as ponds, will warm up much faster so you will typically see bass spawning sooner in these waters.
Males will move into the shallows as the temps rise and begin to construct beds several days before the females are present. Most beds will typically be found in 1-3ft of water, but the warmer the water, the deeper the beds might be, possibly up to ten feet. Usually, beds will stick out like a sore thumb, as they are often lighter than the surrounding bottom and near perfectly round. Look for beds that are within, or close, to cover. Bass will often construct their beds amongst grass, lilies, and submerged timber so be sure to keep an eye open around these areas, but at the same time don’t rule out the possibility of finding a bed on a bare, sandy bottom either.
*I’ll go ahead and address this here while we’re talking about locating beds. I highly, highly suggest investing in a quality pair of polarized sunglasses. When it comes to spotting and sight fishing, they are invaluable. Just the other day I was fishing with a buddy of mine that was not wearing polarized sunglasses. I spotted fish that he couldn’t see all day long. There have been many times that I’ve spotted large bass hanging around beds that I could barely make out with polarized lenses, so seeing them without them would have surely been impossible. You’ll see fish that you otherwise would have passed over, which means more chances of hooking up! If you don’t have any, get some. I’m a big Smith Optics fan and highly recommend the Guides Choice Polarchromic Ignitor for this type of fishing, but there are many other options out there.
Whether you are fishing from the bank, or a boat, will determine your approach to locating and fishing to spawning bass. I actually do the majority of my bed fishing from the bank. I frequent several small lakes early on in the season and transition to larger lakes as the season progresses and the waters warm up.
When fishing from the bank, I like to walk the shoreline about six feet off the water. As I walk, I’m constantly scanning the shallows looking for beds and bass. Once I locate a bed, I like to stop for a minute or two and check things out. Is there a buck on the bed? Is the female on the bed? Or is she hanging off the bed, or maybe cruising deeper water? Depending on the progression of the spawn, there may not be a female around at all yet. One of the best tools to help clue you into what is going on is the male bass. In the absence of the female, I make sure to read his behavior before making a presentation. Is he aggressively chasing other fish away from his bed? Or is he just chilling in the middle, or maybe to the side of the bed? How aggressive he is can clue you into where the female is going to be. A docile male sitting around the bed may be waiting for his female to move in to drop her eggs. A super aggressive male is likely sitting over eggs that have already been dropped by the female, which means that it could be unlikely for the female to return. All of these tips are a good rule of thumb, however make sure to look very well around the bed, as well as any cover that may border the bed. I’ve caught several big gals giving me the stink eye while hiding just off the bed in lilies and submerged timber. Keep your eyes peeled!
The same concept basically applies for fishing from a boat or kayak. Regardless of the vessel, you’ll be scanning as you troll or paddle just off the shallows, looking for those tell-tale rings on the bottom. The tricky thing with being on the water will be positioning. Wind and current can make staying close to your target a bitch, so make sure that you have a reliable anchor to keep you positioned. Take your time, as you don’t want to blow over a bed and spook the bass off the bed. Usually, if you stay fairly quiet, you can get away with getting fairly close to the bed in order to make your presentation. Of course, water clarity can play a big part in how close you can get so play it smart first and take your cues from the fish.