Sometimes I wonder what passes through a bass’ tiny brain as it joins us in our world for a minute, or as it gazes from confinement. Brainy they are, as fish go. I’ve had several that obviously recognized my son and me by appearance and would splash a greeting (or at least express anticipation of a meal).
Through science, we’ve learned how fish use their acute senses to cope in their underwater world. But that doesn’t remove the mystery of why they do what they do or where they go at times. But certain activity trends are discernible, particularly when we examine bass behavior through the seasons of the year.
Anglers typically divide the year into four seasons, but the In-Fisherman Calendar features 10 Calendar Periods. Some of those periods can be further subdivided to explain fish behavior from a seasonal standpoint.
Seasonal changes in fish behavior are more dramatic in the North than in more temperate or semitropical latitudes. But seasonal shifts in behavior and location occur throughout the species’ range, and understanding these shifts can help anglers define the best angling patterns.
The seasonal approach of the In-Fisherman Calendar works because it takes into account the great variation in climate within the range of the largemouth and smallmouth bass and the five other black bass species. The term “spring conditions,” for example, means nothing. On March 20 in central Minnesota, lakes still were covered by two feet of ice, while the spawn was in full swing in Texas reservoirs. Meanwhile, newly hatched bass were over an inch long in the most southerly fringes of the largemouth’s range.
QUICKLY THROUGH THE CALENDAR PERIODS
The Frozen Water Period is the longest calendar period of the year in the North Country. In Kansas reservoirs, though, this calendar period may last a month one year, then not occur at all the next. Waters in the southern third of the United States rarely or never freeze, so minimum water temperatures occur during what we’ve come to call the Winter Period, characterized by the coldest water temperatures of the year.
At ice-out in northern lakes, bass enter the Coldwater Period, covering the rise in water temperature from annual lows to about the 50F mark. In reservoirs of the mid-South, this period may last for more than a month. In Florida, it passes quickly and may not even occur during mild winters.
At about 50F, the Prespawn Period begins in northern waters and lasts until bass have mated. The Spawn Period covers egg deposition and fertilization, a short time span for fish like walleyes and stripers. But for bass and other species that guard eggs and fry, the Spawn Period may stretch to three months or even longer in Florida lakes.
Of course, male and female bass differ in their involvement in spawning. After laying the last of their eggs, female bass enter the Postspawn Period while males remain in the Spawn Period until they abandon their fry. The Postspawn Period covers the short recuperative phase, followed by the Presummer Period, a transitional phase occurring as water temperatures rise toward the summer maximum. If warm conditions prevail, this period passes quickly, but it lingers under cool, overcast weather.
The Summer Peak Period occurs as a body of water reaches maximum productivity in terms of plankton blooms, insect hatches, underwater weedgrowth, and swarms of fry. This dynamic period lasts just a week or so, perhaps two, but typically offers excellent fishing. The Summer Period follows, the longest period of the year for the southcentral and southern regions. Most of a fish’s annual growth occurs during the Summer Period as bass feed heavily, but fishing success can be highly variable.
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