The best chance you’ll have to catch the largest bass of your life could be off the bed for a quick photo and release. Here’s how to do it.
I might as well state up front that I know fishing for spawning bass is controversial, and this article is about doing it, not about defending it. It’s legal in most states and many studies have consistently shown that catching bass off the beds has no significant adverse affect on spawning success. Fish for bedded bass with a clear conscience and turn those fish back once you are done admiring them, and no one can fault you for it.
The springtime is without a doubt one of the best times of the year to catch the biggest bass of your life, and the short period of time when the bass are on the beds is probably the best opportunity to get your picture taken with a real beauty. But these bass are in shallow water and can be very flighty. Some precautions are in order to be successful. Here’s a crash course in how to do it right.
Finding the beds
In any kind of sight fishing, you must first find the fish. Bass like to spawn in warm, shallow areas with gravel bottoms, and will choose the same areas year after year. In fact, many perfect beds will be located in exactly the same place each year. In areas where the bottom composition is right, bass like to create a bed up against something. They often fan out their bed near a hunk of submerged wood, a rock, a lily pad root, or fallen tree branches. They seem to like something on one or two sides of the nest.
Look for the beds in the warm backwater bays early in the season because that is where the water warms first. As the spring wears on, bass in deeper bays will create beds. Even in the same lake, bass will bed at different times, so you can create a “milk run” of sorts, following the best action through the spring period.
The clearer the water, the easier it is to see the beds. Sometimes a windy day will make it hard to see them, and then a day or two following a wind, the water will be murky. It’s rare to find a day when conditions are perfect: blue skies, no wind, and clear water. When you have a day like that, better skip work and go fishing. But for the most part, we’re fishing less than ideal conditions.
A good pair of polarized sunglasses is just as important as your fishing rod. Polarized glasses reflect away any light that is not hitting the lens at a right angle and make it much easier to see below the surface. When you buy sunglasses for sight fishing, make sure you get polarized lenses or you will wish you had.
Approaching the bed
Bass on beds will easily spook at the approach of a boat. You need to position your boat where you can see the fish, keeping in mind that the farther you can remain from the fish while fishing for them, the better. Cruising through the shallows using an electric trolling motor while scanning for beds is effective, but often you will not see them until you are too close. If you run up on the bass, they will normally leave the bed, and you have two options. If possible, drop your lure in the bed as you drift by and freespool line so the lure stays in position as the boat moves away. When you are far enough away, stop the boat. The bass will normally come back to the bed within a few moments and your lure is waiting for them.
The other option is to mark the bed in your mind using features around the bed to identify its location, or hit the save button on a GPS, then come back 10 to 15 minutes later. Then you can approach with caution and position the boat properly. One thing you do not want to do is turn your trolling motor around and hit the power to slow your boat down once you see a bed. The rush of water over the bed will quickly spook the bass away. Anytime you can approach the bed slowly and drift to a stop, you have a much better chance to catch that fish. If you have a pole such as the MinnKota Talon on your boat, it will hold you silently in perfect position while you work the fish. These power poles have considerably improved bed fishing.
Because bass will defend their nests, lure choice is easy. A jig has the weight you need to drop the bait right into the nest with accuracy and it will sit there until the bass cannot stand it. I have had the best luck with a Berkley Powerbait lizard. I usually cut the head off and thread it on a jig with a long hook shank. Minnow-imitating baits like the GULP Minnow work well too. Stay with the natural colors and avoid really bright colors. The bass seem to pick up more natural offerings quickly, while they may hesitate to grab fluorescent colors.
Most times bass will pick the bait up and just move it off the nest, so you must set the hook immediately before they spit it back out. Sometimes they will try to push it out of the nest with a closed mouth so make sure you see the mouth opening before you set the hook.
Occasionally, you will find a nest with both a smaller male and a larger female on it. The males tend to be more aggressive and bite first. Once he bites, quickly get him up and away from the nest without spooking the female. Put him in the livewell while you work on the female.
Have your photo taken with a big fish and slide it back into the water quickly so it can do its thing. Fishing for bedding bass is exciting and challenging. Give it a try this spring.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.
Images courtesy Bernie Barringer