December 06, 2022
Florida blesses bass anglers with big fish potential nearly year-round. But one special period spikes that “personal best” potential: the pre-spawn.
Given the state’s length, pre-spawn timing can vary significantly. That said, insight from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Freshwater Fisheries Research Section substantiates the pre-spawn lore.
Specifically, FWRI Research Associate Drew Dutterer points to the state’s TrophyCatch program, which recognizes three tiers of notable catches: 8-10 pounds (Lunker Club), 10-13 pounds (Trophy Club) and over 13 pounds (Hall of Fame Club). When the program surpassed 100 Hall-of-Fame catches in early 2021, FWRI sent HOF anglers a bonus survey to collect new catch details.
“We documented a pronounced peak in the timing of HOF catches during February and March, and somewhat in January, too,” Dutterer said. “These catches come from all across the state, and Florida tends to have a fairly prolonged spawning period, so our peak of HOF catches probably represents a blend of bass that were either pre-spawn or actively spawning.
“Our graph even compares the tallies per month between HOF bass and the smaller tiers of bass recognized in TrophyCatch and the February and March peak in HOF catches is much more pronounced than the peak of the smaller ones. This just underscores the fact that catching giant bass is so intermixed with their reproductive timing.”
Dutterer notes that the details collected through TrophyCatch surveys certainly seem to substantiate the premise that most big bass are caught before or during spawning. That being said, basic biology would indicate the pre-spawn’s superior opportunity level.
“The energetic demands of developing eggs and spawning have a significant impact on feeding behavior beforehand,” Dutterer said. “Females, especially big females, must eat a lot during pre-spawn to develop lots of healthy eggs that will soon be released.”
Capitalizing on pre-spawn opportunities means minding a few key points.
WHERE THEY POSITION
Look for the shallow coves, bays and canals where the fish are likely to spawn. From there, work backward to locate staging areas where fish may tarry and feed until nature spurs the big move. On shallow, weedy lakes, the transition from pre-spawn staging on the outer grass edges to the spawning zone is a relatively short trip, but elsewhere, the spots are more clearly defined.
Docks, especially those with a little deeper water, are popular with spawners, as are deeper cypress trees flanking shallows where fish often spawn on the exposed roots and knees. Also consider reed clumps adjacent to spawning pockets, as well as pad stems. A lot of pad fields close up during winter, but pre-spawners frequently stage in those remaining stems.
Swollen female bass definitely bring a hefty appetite, but they’re less interested in chasing lots of little snacks than they are in scoring a few sizable meals. Popular options: spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, swim jigs or bladed jigs with beefy trailers, jerkbaits, prop baits and topwater walking baits.
A lipless crankbait and a squarebill will also serve you well. Use the former for fan casting likely areas and ripping through grass to trigger reaction bites. The squarebill’s a good bet for bumping around shallow wood cover or working through lanes in the grass.
Frog lures you can throw just about anywhere, work across gnarly habitat to reach a sweet staging point and hold over a key area to taunt reluctant fish. Tip: If fish are nipping at the lure and not getting a clean bite, trim the legs.
Worth noting, those moving baits get a lot of pre-spawn love, but keep a couple of flipping sticks handy. Mimicking a bluegill in shallow cover is an easy sell to a staging pre-spawner.
When the fish tuck under mats, punching a beaver-style bait or a craw often triggers reaction bites from staging pre-spawners— particularly when cold fronts push fish under cover. As post-frontal conditions start to moderate, a wacky-rigged stick worm is hard to beat. Let it fall right along the edge of a grass mat.
For targeting cypress trees, an unweighted 5-inch stick bait can be deadly. Texas rig it for targeted casts or wacky rig it for probing lanes between trees. FS
Florida Sportsman Magazine December/January 2022