March 29, 2021
The largemouth bass spawn offers the year’s greatest opportunity to catch your personal best, as the biggest fish move into shallow areas for brief periods of heightened accessibility. Sounds pretty good, huh? Well, the spring season certainly can be an absolute goldmine of potential, but this time of year can also turn into a lot of digging with no reward.
Fact is, the fish don’t need me to warn them of their vulnerability. Bass hatch with this knowledge written in their DNA. Your job is to overcome nature’s security system and trick a big bass into making a mistake.
Easier said than done; and we’ll save the exhaustive bait selection and rigging lessons for another time. For now, these savvy awareness points will sharpen your spawn game and improve your chances of coming tight on a bragging-rights behemoth.
Seeing Isn’t Always Believing
If you equate spawn fishing to sight fishing, you’re not entirely wrong, just incomplete—even in shallow fisheries, some of the bigger, more experienced fish bed with a yardstick or more of water over their heads. Tough to spot these deep ones—as well as the ones who set up shop amid cover—but you can often irritate them into revealing their positions.
Blindly flipping/pitching likely areas might work, but a more time-effective method involves covering water with moving baits. A swim jig—basically the ATV of bass fishing—is hard to beat when you’re working with varying densities of vegetation. Pair it with an active, kicking trailer and that narrow head design pushes through pad stems, hydrilla, eel grass, water willow, etc.
For open water, a bladed jig, topwater frog or a paddletail swimbait rigged weedless on a wide-gap hook does the job. Whatever you throw, keep a pitch bait—a jig, a wacky-rigged Senko or a Texas-rigged creature bait handy. It’s cool when they bite the reaction baits, but often they’ll just charge at the intruder or boil under it.
Once you identify the hot spot, you might be able to sneak into a better vantage point and gain enough visibility for a targeted presentation. If not, slice up the general area with measured casts until you make contact. A bed fish that chases won’t tolerate an uninvited bed guest.
Find Their Trigger
If bed fishing looks like a monotonous game of in-and-out, in-and-out, think again. Those who excel know that consistency requires an active, diverse approach; specifically, in terms of bait presentations.
Each bed is positioned differently, but when the scenario allows, try presenting your bait from different angles. The objective, says Bassmaster Elite angler Bill Lowen, is to find that particular spot where the female has laid her eggs. Even if the big moment has yet to happen, bass will identify their preferred spot and any bait that ends up there will meet with harsh reception.
You’ll rarely be able to visibly make out that sweet spot, but the fish’s posture paints a clear picture. Fins active, tilting at odd angles, hugging closer to the bottom—they’ll let you know when you’re in the DMZ.
Also, simulating a multi-front invasion will red-line a bass’ aggression. The more that fish has to spin and turn, the more agitated it gets. To this point, casting well past the fish and slowly dragging into the bed can flip the switch.
“When I find a fish on the bed, I want to read his body language and find out if that fish is catchable or not,” Lowen said. “One thing that stands out is a fish that’s holding really tight to the bed. It’s easier to catch that fish when it’s staying really tight to the bed and swimming small circles, versus running off when you pitch a bait to it.”
On The Flipside
Bassmaster Elite pro Darold Gleason’s best bed fishing tip: Learn to flip/pitch with right-handed reels. Assuming a right-handed preference (but reverse this for lefties), most anglers present the bait with their right hand and then quickly pass the reel to their left hand to begin working the bait.
Nothing wrong with that, except when that bed fish drops the hammer the second your bait breaks the surface. To eliminate the frantic juggling that often results in a missed opportunity, Gleason foregoes the crossover movement by flipping/pitching with a righthand reel held in his left hand.
Gleason explains: “If you’re flipping at a bedding fish, when you flip in, you have your hand engaged on your reel handle. So if you flip in there and one swims off with your bait, you’re ready and able to get a good hook set.”
Distance is your first ally, so ease into casting range while scanning the area for beds. Sure, you may have seen a bed by that reed clump yesterday but rushing right to a particular spot could blow out several newcomers.
Height benefits your recon, so use your trolling motor bracket as a step-up while looking for beds. Also, if you must use the trolling motor, keep it as low as possible and avoid the silt-clouding, fish-frightening pulses that scream “Danger close!”
If the day brings wind, use this natural propulsion to your advantage or use a push pole to slide into position. Be careful with the latter, as one drop or bump can kill the game before it starts.
Florida bass fishing legend Shaw Grigsby knows that too much wind can cause issues for sight fishing by disturbing the surface and distorting his vision. Neutralizing the impediment, he’ll often create a window of greater visibility by angling his boat to block the breeze and create a slick area in front of his target zone.
Timing Is Key
Afternoon warmups, particularly after a cooler night, typically bring a wave of spawning activity, so don’t give up on a promising area if the morning is slow. That little male holding down the fort is a good sign that a big gal is on the way soon.
Also, falling tides make deeper spawners more visible, but rising water makes them more relaxed. Whenever possible, scout on low tide, mark your beds and then fish ‘em on high water.
Lastly, back to that mood thing: An unsettled fish will run from encroachment and you can’t do much to change that reaction—other than to stay as far back as possible, while maintaining an accurate cast. But there is an option for patiently strategic types.
When a bed fish bolts, flip your bait into the nest, keep your reel open and quietly back out of the red zone. Make sure you can still see the bed and your bait (white is a good choice here) and simply sit tight until the fish returns to find the home invader.
Heaven forbid, but how would you respond to coming home and finding an intruder in your home—in the nursery, no less?
“The main reason I did this early on is that when I first got into bass fishing, I was a schoolteacher and for the weekend angler, it’s very expensive to have to buy righthand reels and lefthand reels,” he said. “But the big thing with flipping is you want to be ready immediately when your bait hits the water.”
Gleason said the many hours he spent flipping/pitching under his dining room chair rewarded him with more versatile technique. Streamlining his tackle selection was certainly easier on the wallet, but you can’t put a price tag on confidence.
“I didn’t have to go buy a bunch of lefthanded reels, like a lot of the pros do,” he said. “I know some people do that because it takes pressure off their arm and that’s fine. But for me, it helps me be more efficient. When I flip in, I’m immediately ready.