Inside the Spawn

In the world of bass fishing, there are few things that create so much excitement, that bring so much satisfaction, and that breeds as much controversy as fishing for bedded fish.

I know that most bass anglers approach the spawn with all of the excitement of a kid in a candy store, mixed with a feeling that has to be similar to that of a donut addict headed for the local Krispy Kreme.  Like all creatures, humans and bass included, we tend to feel more alive as the days grow longer, and the temperatures begin to climb.  Normally, if the bass are not easier to catch, they are definitely easier to locate for most anglers.  And then there’s always the possibility that we will be able to stumble across one of the trophy bass laid out before us as the centerfolds of all of our favorite bass fishing magazines.

But then that old ethics argument keeps popping up in the same magazines, telling us that we should be ashamed of ourselves for pursuing such guilty pleasures.  We read that catching a fish off of its nest is just plain mean.  The argument is put forth that bass are easier to catch during the spawn because of their natural instincts of protecting their nest and their young, and that removing these fish from the nest in a manner that is almost certain to cause stress on the fish, can cause the fish to abandon the nest and their young, bringing forth all manners of disaster to the future of the bass population.  Certain groups talk of banning bass tournaments during the spawning months to ease the pressures put on the fish.  Some states make lakes off-limits during the same time of year for the same reasons.  Certain animal rights groups, well, let’s just save that for an entirely different article.

I want to help you catch more and bigger spring bass, but I feel the need to briefly address the controversial issues of fishing the beds.  So the question is, what are we supposed to do in all of the chaos and confusion?  Are we supposed to quit fishing for bedded fish for the future of bass fishing itself?  I tend to look at this bed fishing controversy like I approach all political issues, with a whole lot of common sense, and a strong grasp on reality.  The reality of the situation is that bass do instinctively protect their nest and their young during the spawn, but an argument can be made that they are not necessarily easier to catch.  But instinct is also what drives a bass to attack a lure the other nine months of the year.  I like to call it hunger.  Instinct also causes bass to school, which also makes them easier to catch at certain times.  I have only been fishing for bass for twenty-six years, and there always seems to be plenty of fish in the lake.  I also fish lakes that receive massive amounts of spring fishing pressure due to their legendary status as lakes that hold huge bass, and year after year there seems to be plenty of bass to catch.  Those two things are also reality, so I have a hard time finding realistic proof that all of the bed fishing pressure has dramatically affected the bass population.

It also makes perfect sense that we should keep the health and well being of the fishery in mind when we go after springtime bass.  A little common sense and a more ethical approach to fishing the beds will not only help us become better anglers, but it also helps to ensure that we harm as few fish as possible in the process.  I once talked to a gentleman on the water that spent several hours on a bed and finally coaxed the large female bass inhabiting the nest into attacking his lure, and successfully landed the six-pound fish.  He fished around the cove the rest of the day, and later returned to the same nest, and caught the same fish a second time.  That does not make an ethical springtime angler, and a little common sense could have relieved some undue pressure from the fish.  It also makes sense that you shouldn’t bust through a nest with your trolling motor.  The current can wash valuable eggs out of the nest, and ruin the nest for the season.  Common sense tells me to use a push pole more often.  A push pole costs around thirty dollars.  When it is necessary to use the troll motor, common sense tells me to keep the motor on a lower power setting, and to raise the motor so it is further away from the bottom.

Another action one can take that will improve your catch and further protect nesting bass is to fish a little deeper water.  The shallow bedded fish are easier to locate, it is true, but the larger fish nest in deeper water more often than not.  The largest fish I have seen and caught during the spawn have all been in water that is around eight feet deep.  On the crystal clear Table Rock Lake, I have sight-fished bass on beds in nearly twenty feet of water.  When I have another angler in the boat, and I have the boat in a shallow water position, I always encourage the other angler to cast out to deep-water targets, and big fish are always found.

One thing we cannot change is the level of fishing pressure a lake receives during the spawn, unless you decide to stay home for the well being of the fish.  I am not arrogant enough to believe that my fishing skills are so good that if I stay home the fish will be better off, so I refuse to stay home.  Sure, when I get to the water, I may have to take a number at the boat ramp, and then wait in line again to cast to my favorite bass hangouts, and then cast to a fish that has seem a thousand baits over the last months time, but I still refuse to stay home.  And we have all heard that these spawning bass are so easy to catch.  That’s not reality.

My best advise for catching over pressured bed fish, is to depart from the norm.  Take Lake Fork, Texas for an example.  If five boats, with two anglers each, have cast to a bedded fish before your arrival, it would be a safe bet to say that the fish on the nest has seen ten lizards.  Lizards have always been an effective bed-fishing tool, but imagine if the eleventh bait the fish was presented was something completely different.  I prefer using a Floating Finesse Craw, a Hoo-Daddy, or a Skirted Ring Tube, all baits made by Gene Larew Tackle Company.  My success in catching the fish increases dramatically, as I am able to give the fish a much different presentation with these baits.  Another effective tool I have assembled in the past is using a heavy egg sinker ahead of a large crankbait, like a Bagley DB-3.  I pitch the rig, and place my cast just beyond the nest.  The egg sinker drags the floating crankbait to rest on the lake bottom.  The rig is then pulled into the nest, keeping a tight line, and my rod positioned at a forty-five degree angle from the water.  Once the bait is in the nest I can lower my rod tip, keeping constant contact with the crankbait, allowing the line to feed back through the sinker, and the crankbait to float backwards away from the sinker.  Then you raise the rod tip, which pulls the crankbait back to the sinker resting on the floor of the nest.  You don’t normally have to raise and lower your rod tip very many times before the fish decides to annihilate your crankbait.

The other thing to keep in mind is that bass think like bass, and not like humans.  Bass will locate their nests in places that make sense or feel good to a fish, which is not necessarily where we as anglers think they should be.  At many of the good bass fishing lakes in Texas, you will commonly find bass nesting in the tops of large trees in very deep water, where wide branches form somewhat of a saddle.  Few anglers would ever even imagine that, much less, fish there.  I observed a large female bass at Toledo Bend Reservoir in Texas that had created her nest on top of a sunken rubber raft.  I’ve seen bass nesting in tires, on pieces of plywood resting on the lake bottom, and on top of large stumps.  Fish pick these places because there is less debris to remove from the lake bottom to create a nest.  Other common places to observe or catch spawning bass are up against some piece of cover, like a blown down log, a large rock, or in between several stumps.  These places offer more cover for fish that are normally considered ambush predators, and leave fewer borders to protect from the enemy.  And then there are the fish that nest in the middle of nowhere on a cover barren flat.  You normally see those as you are drifting over the top of them on the way to cover along the shoreline.

I mentioned before, that you should not overlook deeper water.  I have seen some absolutely giant bass on beds in six to ten feet of water.  These bass are much harder to locate, especially when the water is off-color, but they are far less pressured.  Some deep nesting bass have never seen an artificial lure.  Use short Carolina Rigged soft plastic lures, or even easier, a weight pegged six inches above the bait.  When throwing the rig or pegged bait, try to use floating series soft plastic lure, and as large of a hook as you can get away with while maintaining the action of the bait.  I have found that many of the Gene Larew Floating Series soft plastics will float a 4/0 or 5/0 hook.  For me, one of the most important characteristics soft plastic baits can possess is action beyond the movements I force upon it.  The Gene Larew Floating Finesse craw, when rigged as a trailer behind a finesse jig, will cause the jig to stand up after I have stopped moving the bait along the bottom.  This floating action causes the craw to present a defensive posture to the fish, which is almost always followed by a strike. Using floating baits with a six-inch leader, I can keep the bait right in the sweet spot, which is right in a bass’s face, instead of the bait sinking to the bottom and out of the strike zone.  I also demand that my soft plastic baits be salt impregnated, which is very different from just being covered in salt.  Salt is crucial for getting a fish to hold onto a bait long enough to set the hook.  When a fish mashes salt impregnated bait in it’s mouth, salt is squeezed from the bait, and the fish tend to hold on to them a bit longer.  In addition to the normal salt impregnation of their plastics, Gene Larew will be adding sex attractant called Crave to many of the baits, which is actually proven to excite the feeding and mating instincts of fish.  Crave is certain to bring a whole new dimension to soft plastics in the years to come, and by my understanding, it will be exclusive to Gene Larew for quite some time.

And then there’s timing.  The largest bass I have personally landed was caught on February 23rd, in three feet of water on a crankbait.  I didn’t see the fish prior to catching her, but I’m positive she was staking out a nest in a submerged stump row.  I have also found bass on nests in Lake Fork, Texas over the Memorial Day weekend.  Again, few anglers would even imagine looking for spawning fish that late into the spring.  Maybe bass adjust to the fishing pressures on some lakes by waiting to spawn until later in the season, or spawning earlier.  I think moon phases and water temperatures are very important for spawning to swing into full throttle, but not as necessary as the privacy that the fish seek.  There will be waves of fish moving shallow to spawn throughout the spring season.  Different fish will inhabit the same spawning grounds you visited on previous occasions.  Success can come at any time from February through May.  Leave your calendar open.

When you place yourself inside the perfect spawn, you will know.  You will feel good about being on the water, having remembered all of the common sense things that you can do to protect the future of the sport you so dearly love.  All of the conditions will be right, and you will have taken all of the necessary steps in preparing your gear for catching bedded fish.  You will find undisturbed fish in places that you have never imagined looking in the past.  When you make your presentation to the spawning fish, she will move with short, swift, deliberate motions, trying to intimidate your lure.  The fish may swim off of the nest very aggressively, but will return on short order with a specific tenacity for violence.  She may literally side swipe your bait, an action I like to call the hit and run.  And when all of her tactics fail, she will inhale your lure and move toward the edge of the nest like she’s taking out the trash.  But you will be faster.  Your hook set will be smooth, and steady, and solid.  The ensuing battle will require all of your strengths, both physical and mental, and send a rush of endorphins through your entire body.  The fish will fight gallantly, to say the least.  She will test your every skill as an angler as she dives through the cattails, or surges through the stump field.  But she will surrender well before all of her energy is gone, almost as if she were in control of the entire situation.  And when you finally grasp the fish with your trembling hands, she will stare right through you with her steal black eyes, reinforcing the shivers that entangle your entire body.  The magic that happens in this moment is almost like a reward for your soul.  You will feel more like a great bass angler than you ever have in the past.  Sometimes the fish will be hard to let go, as you become suspended in amazement by her character, her beauty, and her size and strength.  You will take a picture to encapsulate the memory of her for a lifetime, and then gently nudge her back into the waters where she will not only finish the job she came to do, but thrive for years to come.

Nate Noble

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