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Target Largemouths During the 'Other Spawn'

Bass get focused on spawning panfish, creating a feeding frenzy you don't want to miss.

Target Largemouths During the 'Other Spawn'

Bream beds in shallow water are hard to miss, as they typically resemble the cratered surface of the moon. (Photo by Shane Beilue)

Spring is certainly the most anticipated time of year for bass anglers, when rising air and water temperatures drive waves of bass into the shallows to feed and eventually spawn. However, another spawn kicks off in early summer that can lead to a flurry of fast-paced bass action in the shallows: the bluegill spawn.

Bluegill and bream are names often used generically to describe any number of panfish in the sunfish family that are a predominant forage of bass in most Southern reservoirs. Since the spawn of these hand-sized panfish coincides with a time when a large percentage of largemouths remain shallow, understanding how to target bass around the bluegill spawn can pay excellent dividends in early to mid-summer.

bass and swim jig
Go for bulk when imitating bream with a heavy swim jig and meaty soft-plastic trailer. (Photo by Shane Beilue)

START HERE

"There’s just something about a bluegill that attracts a larger class of bass," says Toledo Bend guide Darold Gleason. "My theory is those bigger bass would prefer to eat one large bluegill than to be out competing with the smaller bass chasing schools of 2-inch threadfin shad. Anytime I see a bluegill bed, you can bet I’m going to stop and fish around it."

Gleason, who com-petes on the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament trail, recommends targeting bluegill beds as a means of quickly breaking down a new lake in early summer.

"One of the things I often hear from anglers visiting Toledo Bend or Sam Rayburn for the first time is where to start fishing on such massive impoundments," he says. "During early to mid-summer, searching out bluegill beds is a great place to start because they always attract numbers of bass, and often a better quality of bass."

James Niggemeyer and Clark Reehm guide clients on the big-bass waters of Lake Fork and Sam Rayburn, respectively. They are also active on the national tournament scene and rely on searching out spawning bluegills to find oversized bass for their clients, as well as their own tournament bags.

"As soon as the shad spawn starts to diminish in May, the bluegill spawn should start happening across the South," says Niggemeyer. "Bluegill will often move into the same shallow pockets and flats the bass were using to spawn just a few weeks prior, often taking up residence in the beds the bass fanned and vacated. Just like a bass, bluegill will gradually transition to deeper water during mid-summer, so they will spawn in 8 to 12 feet if there is good light penetration at those depths."

Reehm says that he’s observed bluegills spawning in as much as 20 feet of water in extremely clear reservoirs such as Lake Ouachita in Arkansas. "A good rule of thumb is the clearer the water, the deeper the bluegill will spawn," says Reehm.

All three pros use quality polarized sunglasses to scan the shallows in search of bluegill beds. They’re looking for light patches of sand in a honeycomb pattern, as bluegills often fan nests adjacent to one another. "I love to fish for bream when I’m out ‘fun fishing’ with my son, and I’ve noticed they’ll spawn in the exact same places year to year. For example, if you find bream beds in between two dock poles, they’ll very likely spawn in the exact same spot the following year," says Reehm.

NARROW IT DOWN

Niggemeyer has noticed that staring into a bream bed will seldom reveal a bass directly over top of it. Rather, the bass will typically lie in wait along the perimeter of the bed network, waiting for an opportunity to attack.

"If there’s shady cover in the same vicinity as the bream beds, be it boat docks or bushes, I’ve found those are places where the bass will lie in wait during the bright part of the day," he says. "They’re just waiting to pick off a bream that wanders too far away from the pack, so definitely fish around any nearby cover."

Gleason recounts a summer guide trip some years ago in which he and his client found a series of shallow bluegill beds along a creek bank on Toledo Bend.

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"Every single bluegill bed we found within that creek had a 4-pound-or-better bass lurking around the edges of the bed, just waiting for its opportunity to attack," he says. "We had an incredible day casting to the edges of those spawning bluegill."

When fishing for bream, Reehm has observed bass resting lazily around the perimeter of the bed, only to be triggered into attack mode as a bream is being reeled back to the boat.

"The bream and bass are in proximity most of the day, but the bass needs something to indicate a bream is wounded or susceptible before it expends the energy to go on the attack," he says. "Bass that were just lounging will suddenly chase down the bream as you reel it to the boat—especially as it nears the surface—so consider that when working your lure around these areas."

BEDDING BAITS

When asked what lures they lean on when fishing the bluegill spawn, all three Texas pros listed topwater poppers or chuggers as a top choice. Gleason also likes a plopper-style topwater, while Niggemeyer and Reehm each like a slow-moving prop bait cast over the bed.

Another consistent lure choice for the Texas trio is a weightless soft stick bait, like the Yamamoto Senko or the V&M Chopstick. Whether Texas- or wacky-rigged, the weightless stick bait settling among the spawning bluegills is considered a consistent "bite-getter." Swim jigs, bladed jigs and soft jerkbaits are also good options. Niggemeyer prefers to target these shallow areas in the low light of early morning, as bass will often use the reduced visibility as an opportune time for raiding spawning bream. Each pro recommends making long casts toward the bedding area to avoid spooking the bass or bluegill.

As summer progresses and bluegills gradually move deeper to spawn, the main-lake areas come more into play when searching for bass near bluegill beds. Locating these deeper beds in 8 to 12 feet becomes a matter of idling and searching with side-imaging sonar from the console to identify the large honeycomb pattern of the bed network.

bass lures for summer
Topwaters, swim jigs and stick-style soft plastics are hard to beat during the bream spawn. (Photo by Shane Beilue)

"Just like in the shallows, you’re looking for hard patches along the lake bottom, so the sides of tapering clay points or hard spots and gravel on the peaks of offshore ridges are high-percentage places to scan with your sonar," Gleason says. "Their beds will look like the surface of the moon on your sonar screen—the honeycomb design is unique and there’s no mistaking it."

Reehm says finding these offshore bream beds is not always as easy as it may sound. "You really must commit to finding these deeper beds, as it can take hours of idling and scanning with sonar to locate them," he says. "Of course, the big benefit of side-scan sonar is you can search large swaths of lake bottom in a single pass, so I’ll often run across bream beds as I’m scanning in search of offshore brush or rock piles."

The pros mark these offshore bedding locations on their side-imaging sonar and revisit them throughout the day. The bulk of a 1/2-ounce football jig (or swim jig) and large plastic trailer drug near the beds is first choice for attracting strikes from nearby bass.

Gleason also likes the aggressive action of a crankbait in these same areas. "I want a crankbait that really digs bottom so it will stand out from the rest of the bluegill and really get the bass’ attention," he says. "I’m going to pick a lure that runs at least 5 feet deeper than the bottom to make it dig and kick up a lot of sediment. I’m usually choosing a chartreuse crankbait with powder-blue back for cranking around bluegill beds."

Gleason also likes throwing a bulky, 10-inch soft-plastic worm. When fishing bream beds, no matter where he is in the country, he opts for a red bug color. He feels that the big bait looks like an easy meal for big fish, and one that’s filling too.

"Revisit bream beds throughout the day because packs of bass will move up at different times to feed," says Gleason. "I like to set up a milk run of offshore bluegill beds so I can try to time when the bass are up there feeding."

This on-the-move approach increases the odds you’ll time it right to quickly catch a couple of better bass. These are areas that will replenish throughout the day, as well. If you catch a good bass around a deeper bluegill bed, come back a couple hours later to see if another has moved up to take its place.

PINPOINT THE SPAWN

  • When and where to look for bream beds

Todd Driscoll, fisheries biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, says that the term “bream” encompasses several species of panfish in the sunfish family, such as bluegills, redears (aka shellcrackers), longears and redbreasts to name just a few. Bluegills are often the most common species in southern reservoirs, and each of the sunfish species have very similar spawning habits.

“If I had to pick an ideal water temperature for when they spawn, 70 to 78 degrees is usually the range,” Driscoll says. “This, of course, is a little later than the bass, and typically occurs from late May through late July in Texas.”

Interestingly, Driscoll notes that female bluegills will likely spawn two to five times within that 2- to 3-month window. “Bluegill spawn in colonies, typically with 10 to 15 nests adjacent to one another,” he says. “They’re looking for the same type of places that bass like to spawn, with gravel and sand being ideal. However, they’re also adaptable and can make spawning beds in softer mud when necessary.”

Driscoll adds that bluegills like to spawn near a hard object, when possible. Therefore, cover such as stumps, dock pilings and even aquatic vegetation are places anglers should look for when searching out shallow bluegill beds.




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