One of the valuable byproducts of the passage of time is the fact that fishing myths are dispelled on a regular basis.
Two of the biggest myths in fishing that have been proven incorrect are the belief that fish get inactive and won’t bite very well in the winter, and the idea that spawning bass are nearly impossible to catch.
In many parts of the country we are either in the middle of, or beginning to see, a major spawn take place in our lakes. Many factors contribute to the spawning cycle and may vary depending upon where you’re located, but no matter where you fish water temperature and daylight hours will play a role in the timing and duration of the spawn.
Water temperature surrounding the spawn can vary widely, depending on the weather systems that are coming through an area once the daylight hours reach prime length for spawning activity. Other factors that figure into this are the effects of man-made climate change and moon phases. I’ve witnessed over 40 years of spawning activity myself, and I’ve seen a definite trend of earlier spawns taking place due to climate change. For the most part, this has moved up the actual act of spawning nearly a week compared to when it occurred back in the early 1980s.
Moon phases are also critical. Normally, the first full moon that occurs once the morning water temperature is around 60 degrees will signal the first wave of bass to begin spawning. The type of bass a lake has may impact this movement slightly.
Here are some important guidelines to remember this time of year:
- Smallmouth bass will spawn a bit earlier than largemouth and spotted bass.
- Smallmouth and spotted bass will spawn a bit deeper than largemouth bass.
- Flatter areas towards the backs of the coves will harbor the biggest population of spawning bass.
- Largemouth bass and spotted bass prefer to spawn around some type of cover, like a log, stump or dock piling.
- Smallmouth bass prefer to spawn in open areas on clay, sand and rock bottoms.
- The bigger fish will always spawn deeper than smaller fish.
Once you’ve found a spawning bass, the next step is to catch it, or just observe it.
I’ll say this first about spawning bass. It is best to leave them be and let them spawn undisturbed.
If you do fish for them, it is critical to practice catch and release this time of year, to ensure good fry populations that not only produce catchable bass in the future, but also provide a food base for other types of fish in the lake. This is an important element in the balance of the ecosystem of any lake.
If you do choose to fish for the spawning bass, it’s important to remember the stage of the actual spawn will determine the catchability of the fish themselves. If you see a bass that has just moved up to spawn or is in the act of spawning, these fish can be very difficult to catch. A bass that has just moved up can be very spooky, and will dart away quickly when a lure is pitched near them.
Bass that are paired up and are spawning will also tend to ignore a bait. Bass that have begun to build their nests, just prior to spawning, and those that have laid their eggs, are the easiest ones to catch.
There are several keys to triggering a spawning bass to bite. First is boat positioning. Always try and keep a good distance from the fish, and position your boat where you can get the best view of the bass.
Once you spot a bed and a fish, take a few minutes to observe it. You will notice as the fish swims in and out of the bed that there is often one small spot on the bed they keep returning to. This is the “sweet” spot that you want to focus on putting your bait in.
Once you pitch your bait into the sweet spot, let it lie motionless until the bass swims over to it. Many times, the bass will study it. Once you see the bass make eye contact with your motionless bait, give it a small twitch. Most of the time, this is the trigger that will get the bass will nail your lure. With a fish that is particularly wary, however, you may have to repeat this process many times before the bass gets irritated enough to move on the bait.
The caution that spawning bass exhibit is often due to fishing pressure. Bass that are highly visible on nests get a lot of attention from anglers, which can cause them to be super spooky. Many times this makes them uncatchable, and it’s best to move to another nest that is harder for most anglers to see.
Bait selection can be basic. Texas-rigged plastics are often the best choices, rigged on light weights. Specific colors can often be the key to triggering strikes. If you see a bass that is locked onto a nest, and it gives your lure attention when it’s in the nest, that is a very catchable bass. Usually, changing colors on your soft plastic will trigger a strike.
In lakes with dirty water where you can’t see the actual nests, you can still fish for and catch spawning bass by targeting spawning type areas. The good thing about doing this is that spawning bass in dirty water are much more aggressive than in clear water.
Stay in the same areas — the backs of coves– and make methodical pitches with the same Texas-rigged soft plastics. Make your pitches land about two feet from each other and fish very slowly. Focus in and around any visible shallow cover.
One final thing to always remember. Be patient! Spawning bass are not feeding bass. They will bite only to protect their territory and future offspring.
Check out the Texas-rigged Bottle Shrimp in action here!