Hawg Huntin'

Hawg Huntin'
Hawg Huntin'

If you live in Western Canada, right now (late May) is your best chance this year to catch your personal best bass.  With temperatures warming up into the 60 degree range (16 degrees Celsius), both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass are moving shallow to get ready to spawn, and the big females are as catchable as they will ever be.  However, these fish are likely going to see a lot of lures over the next few weeks, so there are a few things to consider to set yourself apart from the rest of the bassers out there.

(1)  Stealth
Shallow bass are especially wary and may spook at the slightest movement, especially the older, bigger ones.  This type of fishing is as close to hunting as you can get, so keeping noise down and movement to a minimum will pay off big time.  To do this, keep your trolling motor on low, stay as far away from the bed as you can, and make long casts.  Polarized glasses are a must for spotting fish at this time of year, so don't leave home without them.

A stealthy approach paid in bringing this 6 pound 1 ounce pre-spawn female to the boat.

(2) Presentation
Fish may bite as soon as they see your bait, or it may take hours to get a hit, depending on the mood of the fish.  You can greatly increase your chances of getting bit by using baits which match the natural enemies of spawning bass, such as crayfish, salamanders, and panfish such as perch and sunfish.  Long casts and patience are two attributes which will help you put more big bass in the boat.  Some of the best baits for pre-spawn bass include tube baits, jigs, spinnerbaits, and, my personal favourite, the Berkley Chigger Craw.

(3) Preparation
Using the right gear can make all the difference between catching your biggest bass ever and having it break your heart by getting away.  You'll want to keep the fights short this time of year, not only to increase your chances of landing a fish, but also to preserve the fish's strength as it goes through it's most stressful season.  By using fresh line, a sturdy rod and a good net, you'll be set to minimize fight time and safely release the fish.  I wouldn't use any less than 8 pound test, no matter how spooky the fish are, and in many cases I am using 12 to 15 pound fluorocarbon just to make sure I don't get broken off.  A good rod includes one with a lot of backbone such as the Abu Garcia Vendetta series.  These rods offer an unparalleled combination of strength and sensitivity for their price point.  As far as nets go, a rubber mesh net is the best way to go for catch and release, as it won't remove the protective mucus on a fish's body like other nets will.  This mucus keeps the fish healthy, and fish need to be healthy as they prepare for their spawn.  

(4)     Conservation
As bass prepare to spawn, they are at their most vulnerable stage of the season.  Not only are they shallow where they are easy to spot, but they are also in a heightened state of aggression, especially males protecting their nest.  In some lakes there are regulations which protect spawning bass, including Vaseux Lake and Christina Lake which have areas closed to fishing during the spawn.  Others, like Duck Lake, have a mandatory catch and release period during this time of season to protect the fish.  But regardless whether the lake you are fishing has regulations to protect the bass or not, it is important to be vigilant as a fisherman looking to protect a trophy fishery. 

Once the males are locked onto the beds protecting the young, it's best not to fish for them at all, as they have enough on their plate protecting the nest from a bevy of predators.  As a good rule of thumb, once the water hits the high 60s (18 degrees Celsius) it's best to leave the beds alone altogether, as any fish locked to them is likely a protective male.  Instead look for a nearby dropoff where the biggest bass of the season will be waiting.

When you do hook a bass this time of year, it's important to end the fight quickly to help the fish retain its strength, and return it to the water as soon as possible.  Have your camera and scale at the ready, and make sure when weighing the fish to keep your scale's hook away from the fish's gills.  You shouldn't have the fish out of the water for more than a minute, and the less time the better.

Finally, from a hawg hunter's standpoint, the biggest fish will be the ones lurking nearby anyway, as the males are usually considerably smaller than the females.  The females don't spend much time on a bed, usually just showing up to drop their eggs, and will recouperate in deep water, or a protected area nearby.   If you concentrate on targeting these big mommas rather than the smaller males, not only will you be catching the biggest bass of the season (females loaded with eggs can gain up to a pound in weight), but you'll be allowing the male to save his strength for protecting the future of the fishery.

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