January 23, 2022
By David A. Brown
While much of the country will shiver through the first quarter, the Southeast’s mostly mild conditions will have bass anglers snooping around the spawning areas. Florida often sees big, fat swamp donkeys waddling up to the shallow edges as early as November, but by February, the Sunshine State is rocking, with the rest of the region soon to follow.
When largemouth do their thing, the show can yield amazing opportunities, but it’s no gimme. Minding a handful of key points helps close the deal.
Bass are not travelers. Yeah, they’ll vary their location for seasonal temperature preferences and, obviously, the spawn involves some migration; however, these fish generally live and die in whatever region of the lake in which they were hatched.
That said, when habitat features change, they rarely abandon an area — they adjust to the next available feature. Case in point, after Hurricane Irma destroyed the once fertile eel grass carpeting much of the St. Johns River in northeast Florida, anglers have had to locate new areas where the bass would spawn.
During the 2021 Bassmaster Elite event, veteran pro Greg Hackney visited an area of the Lake George pool where he’d fared well in pre-hurricane years. Surmising that the resident fish would spawn on the next best cover, he targeted cypress trees adjacent to where he had previously caught spawners in hard bottom patches amid the now departed eel grass.
Flipping a Junebug colored Strike King Rage Bug, Hackney found many of his bites on high spots amid the cypress knees — a similar behavior as the bass would exhibit when spawning amid vast eel grass.
Connected thought: The St. Johns and other tidal fisheries require spawners to select areas deep enough to retain sufficient depth during low tide, otherwise their nest goes high and dry on the falling cycles. This means high tide may obscure visibility and preclude sight fishing.
Bottom line, if you locate a fish during low water, but she’s just not ready to bite, revisiting during high tide may find her more relaxed. The tradeoff is less precise presentations, but if the fish is territorial, it won’t take much to flip her switch.
Righteous Rod Action
You see a bed fish, flip a bait in there and she nails it. Nice when it happens that way, but the majority of times, success requires more convincing. Bait choice has a lot to do with it and you definitely need to keep your distance and use the sun and wind to your advantage, but it often comes down to the right combination of persistence and presentation.
The common mistake — making a good cast but pulling the bait out of the bed too quickly. Florida pro Drew Cook has a cool method for imparting enticing motion but leaving his bait in the bed as long as necessary. He’ll pitch a Texas-rigged plastic like a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog into the red zone and while holding the rod in his left hand, he’ll use his right hand to tap the rod butt with varying cadence.
Noting that slack line is the key, Cook said this technique creates a bass-angering movement resembling a nest-raiding bluegill, without the forward motion resulting from rod tip twitches. Another option involves tapping the rod blank forward of the reel, but either method makes a bass stare at an active presentation until they cannot stand it any longer.
Then things turn violent. When this happens, fish typically end up hooked cleanly in the mouth. When bass bite an actively hopping bait, there’s some tendency for incidental hooking outside the mouth. Because tournament rules prohibit keeping bed fish hooked this way, you gotta release that fish.
A Different Look
Taking the bass world by storm, the red hot Inu rig offers another option for holding a bait still in the bed, while maintaining an enticing action. Here, it’s all about the rig’s line-through setup.
Essentially, the Inu rig uses three rigging “channels” that allow the line to pass freely through the head end, middle and tail end. Do this by pushing a coffee stir straw, an empty ball point pen in tube or other rigid plastic tube through the worm’s head end, back through the middle and the through the tail end.
With the worm pinned in an “S” shape, cut the tube next to each insertion point to leave a small piece of hollow plastic inside the worm. Rig a hook Neko style (exposed) at the head end, pass the line through the hook eye (do not tie here), in the first rigging channel, out the middle channel and back through the lower channel. Secure the line at the worm’s tail end by tying to a split ring.
In simplest terms, tugging and relaxing the line makes the bait contract and expand like an accordion. That means you can pitch the Inu rig into a bed, give it slight tugs and make it wriggle and flex like an actual earthworm — an action most fish have never seen in a bait and one that will be most unwelcome in the maternity ward.
During the prespawn, covering water is the key to locating the staging areas outside spawning pockets. However, in weedy lakes, you may have a cove where beds are tucked amid dense vegetation that makes traditional sight fishing nearly impossible.
A good bet here is the weedless swimbait. Options like the Yum Pulse, Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper, Big Bite Baits Cane Thumper or the Yamamoto Swimming Senko allow you to slice up the area to systematically search for aggressive fish. If they bite, great — but even a swirl or a push points you to an active spot. Two or three such encounters in close proximity and it’s time to slow down and dissect the area.