January 23, 2022
By Justin Brouillard
When Keith Carson was 17 years old growing up in Florida, he and close friend John Cox began to learn how to sight fish. It was 2004 when the duo started to expand on their skills and in 2005 they won the AOY in the Central Florida Bass Anglers club. The fire was lit, and Carson has since fine-tuned his craft and is successful in locating and catching big spawning bass.
Carson has tried many different approaches over the years but seems to find himself having a great deal of success with one in particular. After studying baitfish and bream over his career, he learned how bass react to baitfish on their beds before and after the eggs have been laid.
“Bream are around the bass beds constantly during the spawn, patiently waiting to sneak in and grab a quick meal while the bass is not looking. I noticed how the bass react when this happens and have adapted an approach that takes advantage of the presence of bream.”
Carson likes to fish a Berkley PowerBait Gilly around the spawn as he can closely mimic baitfish of different species. Prior to the laying of the eggs, the Debary, Florida, angler Texas-rigs his swimbait weightless as it keeps the bait higher in the strike zone for fish that are preparing to spawn.
“I will pitch that Gilly to the far side of the bed, let it sink and slowly swim it across the bed, killing it near the middle,” he said. “I'll then hop it up and down and it usually gets finicky bass that have yet to lay eggs to bite. After they lay eggs, I'll add a weight to my presentation to keep the bait on the bottom where the eggs are.”
In his experience, certain bass will sit outside the bed on purpose and let the bream swim in. Once enough are there, the fish will swim in and start knocking them off. By having a bait that looks like the bream, and waiting until others are on the bed, when the bass begins to chase the panfish away, the Gilly remains and is often easy for an angry fish to pick off.
“I used to start with jigs (they resemble a bluegill) or the Berkley General, but they wouldn't eat it in this case because it doesn't look enough like the baitfish,” he continued. “By using the Gilly, it's certainly opening doors to new possibilities to catching fish we have not seen before.”
He notes this tactic is not always quick, in some cases one cast can take longer than 5 minutes. After casting beyond the bed, it requires patience to present the bait simultaneously as other bream start to make their way in. Once you get it dialed, the fish will swim in, the bream scatter and the fish eat the bait.
Carson relies on two main set ups for his spawn fishing technique. The same rod-and-reel combo works for both, but changing between different lines allow him to present the baits to spawning fish in different cover and water clarity.
“Florida bass will spawn in thick cover in and around the Kissimmee grass and holes in hydrilla,” he said. “When I set the hook, they always try to get you wrapped up and the percentage of landing those fish drastically goes down. In that situation, for thick cover, I use a 40-pound Berkley X5 braided line on a Zenon high-speed reel. I use a 7-foot, 6-inch Fantasista medium-heavy action rod all the time.”
When fishing in more open water scenarios, along the edges of the Kissimmee grass and out from it, Carson will throw the Gilly on 20-pound Berkley Big Game monofilament. A strong line for fish that often weigh over 7 pounds, monofilament is strong and will not break with big fish. If the water is cleaner, which often is when a natural spring is close by, he will reach for Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon in a 20-pound test.
“For me, the medium-heavy is better than heavier model rods because the Fantasista still has the power and bend to get big fish to the boat, but I feel like I lose and break off less fish by using the lighter power rod.”