Most bassin southern states behave similarly in the spring when spawning activity is a primary motivator. The timing of their migration to shallows varies from lake to lake depending on a lot of factors, but bass behavior is predictable. An angler looking to develop a productive strategy during bedding season should know where bass spawn and why.
In most reservoirs and natural lakes, bass build their nests in shallow, warmer water on or around vegetation or brush. Since the male will have to defend the nest from predators and is in charge of site selection, he’ll opt for places with a minimum number of sides to defend. While some beds have been observed in 10 feet of water, the bed will usually be located in 2 to 6 feet of water, to take advantage of the ample sunshine required to help incubate the eggs.
Super-clear waters with cooler water temperatures generally result in bass spawning deeper and later than those bedding in shallower waters. Other depth considerations are wave action, boating pressure, structure and bottom composition. Due to some limitation of good, protected bedding sites, it’s possible to find concentrations of male bass building nests in sheltered areas. Individual beds, however, are usually spaced several yards apart, so that each bass has his own domain.
The initial bedding activity in a reservoir is likely to take place in the upper end where waters are quicker to warm up. With the winter sun positioned lower in the southern sky than at other times of the year, banks on the north side of coves heat up quicker. Prevailing winds may also tend to concentrate spawning bass in specific areas. Areas that attract spawning bass one year will usually do so the following, assuming water levels are the same and vegetation growth is similar. Male bass normally start selecting nesting sites as the water temperature climbs above 60 degrees. As water temperatures approach 65 degrees, the male will normally have the bed ready for the ripe female.
BED CONSTRUCTION, EGG DELIVERY AND FERTILIZATION
The male bass builds a circular nest, usually at least 2 feet in diameter by 6 inches deep, on a firm, clean bottom. Sand or gravel are preferred since the eggs need something stable in which to adhere. A light deposit of silt or other sediment that can’t be easily fanned out of the bed area may cause a bass to abandon a bed. Most of the loose debris is fanned away so that the eggs, when laid by the female, won’t be suffocated.Decaying vegetation also uses up oxygen that eggs will require.
When the bed is ready, the courting male swims out to deeper water in search of an eligible female to lead back to the nest. The aggressive male will often force the usually much larger female to his bed by butting her with his nose. The pair then slowly circle the bed, and the male continues his physical contact by nipping and pushing at her side and belly.
The male and female then move to side-by-side positions over the bed, normally during low-light times. They are tilted vertically to assure that their vents are near. While the female floats above the nest, eggs are ejected at intervals, as they internally ripen in her ovaries. They sink slowly into the nest, and the male fertilizes them with milt. When she is finished, he’ll move his tail back and forth over the egg mass to assure all are fertilized.
The deposited eggs have soft, adhesive surfaces, and for them, life development begins inside. They adhere to the brush, roots and weeds in and next to the nest. The number of eggs dropped is determined generally by the size of the female. Usually a bass lays up to 5,000 eggs per pound of body weight. Once her role is finished and the male has fertilized all the eggs, the physically-debilitated female usually deserts the nest. The male oxygenates the eggs by fanning them in the bed with his tail. That also helps remove gasses that the egg mass may produce while maturing.
PROVOKE ATTACKS FROM AGGRESSIVE SPAWNERS
The male bass, as sole protector of the nest, won’t eat, but he will vigorously fend off each egg predator. Small predatory fish, like bluegills and sunfish, are waiting for the male bass to drop his guard or leave the nest, so that they can raid the eggs.
While the male bass is on the bed battling pesky panfish, he is very susceptible to being caught by a patient angler employing stealth. The male bass will often pick up and move an angler’s lure, particularly small soft plastics, from proximity to the bed. That’s especially true after the eggs have been laid. Annoyed at any moving object near the bed, he is tenacious.
Female bass can be caught by casting toward the deeper water just off the bedding area. Roe-laden females may be positioned very near a heat-emitting source, trying to incubate her egg mass. If the female is on the bed by herself for some reason, she can also be provoked to strike a lure, but she is slower, more methodical. She’ll softly pick up the fare and immediately blow it out away from the bed. Both genders can swirl at the lure as it hits the water, carry it off and often drop it before you can set the hook. Neither can stand a nuisance in the bed, and they are both reluctant to make long dashes after a lure or bait.
If you do catch a male or female on a bed, you should quickly return it to the water so that it can return to its bed duties. It’s the sporting thing to do. If you do get a strike and miss the fish, you can often return to the same spot later and catch the fish. For your best chances, be as quiet as possible when moving through shallow water.
Switch off your engine about 30 yards out from any potential spawning area and drift in, or use a trolling motor until you reach comfortable casting range. Moving slowly and carefully with a quiet electric motor will keep water disturbance to a minimum.
Fishing on and around the prime spawning grounds for those bass either yet to go on a bed or just coming off of one can be very successful. An ideal place to check out are the flats near a river’s entrance into the lake. Sand or gravel bottom composition is ideal here for the bass to build their nest. Shallow canals of 1 to 3 feet deep are another great type of bedding area with bass often in different stages of the spawning process. Although most recently-dug canals have adequate sand bottom, very old canals may have a bottom with too much silt for successful spawning.
Another prime location is a fairly dense, grassy flat with a sandy bottom. Grass patches in two or three feet of water can support many bass beds. Cast to each “hole” in the grass or weed patch. Where a bed has been fanned out, no weed growth will appear above it and if you can distinguish the bed from other terrain, you’ll waste very few casts. In a river or stream, the shallower inner bend with a very gradual slope will have less current. Search them out and concentrate on the denser weed patterns.
THOUGHTS ON SOFT PLASTICS VS. LIVE BAIT
The best type of lure for fishing around beds are small, soft plastic baits such as grubs, tubes and tiny worms with jig heads, weighted hooks or split shot. Remember to slow your retrieve down to a stop-and-go crawl. If you can see a bed and the bass reaction, utilize a “dead-stick” presentation and leave the bait in the bed for a few minutes. Try to twitch or shake it without moving it from the bed and it may fool the bass. A drop-shot rig or even a “wacky” (belly-hooked) rig can be effective in this situation.
A few of the strikes you get in and around beds may be vicious, but a great number will first be felt as gentle tugs, as when the bass inhales the plastic. Being able to feel these soft strikes can be a key to your success. It requires even more skill to watch your line for that twitch. “Invisible” fluorocarbon line is ideal to transmit soft strikes. A bottom-bumping, dark-hued plastic is a good color, and if the sun is bright and the sky is clear, try a blue or light color.
Shiners, crayfish and other live bait are certainly effective during spawning time. A lively shiner will in effect “search the area” to find an active bass. Its metabolism is similar to the bass so it will cruise the area slowly. A small bobber placed 2 to 3 feet above the hook is ideal. It should be buoyant enough to remain on top during normal live bait action so that the angler can keep an eye out for activity. An excited shiner, for example, should be able to pull the bobber under while being chased away from a bed.
Use a 4/0 hook with a 5- or 6- inch shiner and split shot to keep the bait closer to the bottom. Adjust the hook size upward when using larger baitfish. Hook the shiner through the dorsal area and allow it to drift over the spawning area. If the bass removes the bait from the nest and releases it, cast it back on the spot where the bobber first disappeared.
When you catch spawning bass, male or female, practice catch-and-release. You’ll be glad you did for many years. Others will too!
Stealthy Huntingon the Flats
As youare moving about the shallow spawning flats searching for an active bass or two, you certainly don’t want to spook any that may be there. Noisy trolling motors will put bass in any stage of spawning on the lookout for danger. Trolling motor manufacturers devote plenty of research and development funds to minimize that noise. A recent introduction to the fishing market that claims to be the quietest ever is the Lowrance Ghost trolling motor.
Lowrance based its claims on internal tests through June 2019 and revealed the Ghost to the trade and media at the annual ICAST show in Orlando in a few weeks later, where it received a lot of buzz. For Lowrance, known more for quality fish-finding technology, it was a new market. The company built the trolling motor from scratch and even enhanced its capabilities with the integration of their electronics for what they call the “ultimate fishing system.”
Adding to the quietest performance, Lowrance engineered it to be the most efficient and powerful (maximum thrust) trolling motor on the market. The company built in revolutionary propulsion technology and a brushless motor for longer run times and quieter movement. The Ghost is lighter than most competitors and runs on either a 24- or 36-volt system. There are two integrated sonar nosecone options, a composite shaft, sturdy frame and a 360-degree breakaway mount. With a name like Ghost, you certainly don’t want bass to hear it coming easily. Visit lowrance.com for more information.