Mention the idea of sight fishing for bedding bass in the spring, and well, be prepared.
Prepared for the fiery Internet debate, social media criticism, and dockside coffee shop frowns that the topic is sure to generate from some anglers.
The reason, of course, is the idea that some fishermen have that fishing for bedding bass is either unethical, harmful to a lake’s population, or both.
- Editor’s note: This is first in a four-part series on sight fishing for bass with shallow-water expert Shaw Grigsby. Jr. Come back to read more on this subject in April.
For Florida’s legendary bass pro Shaw Grigsby, Jr., a 2017 inductee into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and a competitor with Major League Fishing’s Pro Bass Tour, sight fishing is simply a part of the angling game that he learned in a state where bass have been known to spawn for the better part of half the year.
“If you talk about hunting deer, the best time is during the rut – that’s the only time that you’re going to get an opportunity at some of those really big ones, the old (bucks),” said Grigsby, who likes to chase big whitetails almost as much as he likes to chase big bass.
“It’s the same thing with bass,” he added. “I don’t have an issue with ever catching a fish during the spawn cycle. And you got to remember they don’t always come in (at the same time).”
Grigsby points out that down south, his experience – in an angling career that began full-time in the mid 1980s – is that the largemouth bass spawn is a somewhat protracted affair that comes in waves, lasting several weeks or even months depending on the location.
“(Down) here in Florida, we’ll have them start spawning in October in Okeechobee and go as late as June,” said the nine-time tournament winner with more than $2.25 million in career earnings to his name. “I’ve caught them (spawning) as early as October (in Florida) and I’ve caught them as late as the Fourth of July weekend.”
While the spawning cycle isn’t as lengthy in some areas – think of the northern U.S. where there are closed and open seasons in some places – there isn’t really a truly definitive scientific study that proves that fishing for bedding bass harms a population.
In fact, in at least one instance, there’s actually a scientific study that seems to prove otherwise.
That study comes from biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which spent a total of four years studying the topic.
For the first two years of the FWC study, bedding bass were studied in hatchery ponds at the state’s Florida Bass Conservation Center during the study’s final two years, largemouths were studied in small natural lakes in the Ocala National Forest.
In both instances, each nest was marked by biologists and fish were tracked through genetic methods. Nests in this study were actually fished and the bass that were caught were safely moved away from those nests for a full hour before biologists returned them.
According to one study, “30% of all wild [bass] beds succeeded whether they are fished or not.”
What was the conclusion of that FWC study?
According to the agency, the data showed that “…bed fishing does not significantly impact the numbers of young bass entering the next generation” and that “…30% of all wild beds succeeded whether they are fished or not.”
While there are undoubtedly other studies out there that keep the answer to this divisive question a bit more clouded, Grigsby doesn’t see the need for controversy in today’s modern era of bass fishing, a time when fishing is arguably as good as it’s ever been.
“What I look at is making sure that you’re practicing catch and release,” said the 16-time qualifier for the Bassmaster Classic and four-time qualifier for the FLW Tour’s Forrest Wood Cup.
“The male does all the work, so releasing the male is important,” he added. “And releasing the female is important, because that’s the genetics that give us the genetics for the rest of our life.
“If you (do) catch a big one – the spawn is a great time to catch the biggest bass of your life – take a picture of it, put it on a scale for a second, tape it to get the length and girth (for a replica), and let it go.”
As you smile the biggest grin of your angling career, after CPR’ing a lunker bass that you’ll tell your buddies about, brag with a Smartphone photo, and remember fondly for the rest of your life.