Fishing the Bass Spawn
What is more exciting than hearing your drag sing that sweet song? . . . Hearing it all day long!
The spawn starts when the water temperature climbs into the 50's, but the late season cold fronts continually put the brakes on the urge to propagate. That is good news. With a little understanding of fish behavior the sportsman can enjoy a long, prime "season" with outstanding catches.
In Texas we can start seeing the early spawn in late February if weather permits. Fish start moving out of the deep into underwater creek beds and other similar topography. Colder climates will dictate a later start. Water temperature is the key. Since Bass metabolisms are still slow chasing food is not yet a priority. There are two approaches to appeal to their instinct.
It sounds counterintuitive, but many fishermen successfully take the fast lane early in the spawn. Fast, noisy, lip-less crankbaits and spinnerbaits are a staple. This approach uses the predator nature of Bass against them (and works in wide ranges of temperatures). The fish strike the bait in reaction to having their space invaded. When you can better predict their location, in this case channels and around mid-shallow structure, this approach allows you to get those reaction strikes.
The flip side of fast fishing is obviously slowing down to a creep. And since we know where the fish are this can work just as well. Soft plastics and jigs can imitate "lost" or bewildered baitfish. Rattles and scents can be inserted to add extra appeal.
Slow Bass are not going to give chase at this time of year, so go slow and pause for up to 10 seconds if you think you are in the right area. Bites are going to be subtle. Keep your line tight and rod low. I prefer this style of fishing. With just enough weight to keep in contact with the bottom and a light graphite rod you can feel everything.
As the water warms the angler simply moves up in the water column. That means fish closer to shore or into the tops of submerged cover. The spawn will culminate in these locations. Big females will guard their eggs in plain sight. Anglers need to stay low and wear neutral colors to avoid giving their location away, and wear polarized sunglasses to cut the glare on the water.
The north end of a body of water has more exposed shoreline and runoff from muddy creeks that can help warm the water. As the weather warms the lower end of the lake follows suit. This means you have different progressions of spawn as you move north and south. A GPS unit can help plot the stages, but is not necessary to be successful. Boats are nice too, but with careful and deliberate planning one can do just fine on foot.
An observant eye and remembering how a fish is caught can help you understand why the fish was caught. Generalize that idea to new areas. Look for similar structure and land lay underwater across a latitude line (to avoid moving into pre or post spawn water) in larger bodies of water.
Always follow a catch with a cast to the same area. Sometimes the fish are stacked 5 or 6 individuals deep.
Be Considerate of the Quarry
Bass, all fish for that matter, are particularly vulnerable during this time of body stress. If you can release a fish without removing it from the water its chance of survival is greatest. If you catch the fish of your dreams, have the camera ready. Snap a few shots from multiple angles quickly, measure the fish and get that baby back in the water. A replica mount is just as realistic, and will always look as good as the day it was made.
If your state has a breeding program for exceptional fish find a treated live well. Almost any boating angler worth his weigh in worms will happily help, just do it quickly or let her go.
If you want to keep a few for consumption (this is particularly important if you are taking a kid fishing), the small fish will taste better and actually have a positive affect on the large fish, leaving more forage left uneaten in the lake.
Some of my best memories are those shared with my grandfather Salmon fishing in the Sound. Share this spring with a kid. Teach conservation, consideration, and techniques. A kid can handle about half an hour for each year of age, but err on the side of returning early to avoid burnout. Keep it fun and positive. Perch fishing and a remote controlled boat are great for the slow days. I can't stand Game Boys unless they can be made into a bobber!