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How to Fish Bedding Bass During the Bass Spawning Season

How pros account for location, water temp, visibility, fishing pressure & other factors during the bass spawning season

How to Fish Bedding Bass During the Bass Spawning Season

Topwater earns a strike from a defensive fish during the spawning season.

Get the camera ready, because the Florida bass spawn spikes your chances of catching a personal best. For the optimal timing, locations, bait selection and presentations, we quizzed some of the state’s top bass pros. Their consensus: If you want to consistently score big catches during the spawning season, you need to understand these key variables.

LIKELY LOCATIONS

Some bass beds are easy to find, but that doesn’t mean the fish will be easy to catch. It’s nice when you find that yellowish/white circle contrasting with darker bottom, but the obvious ones may hold fish supremely challenging in their vulnerable position. Bassmaster Elite Cliff Prince of Palatka won’t ignore easy targets, but he’s all about maximizing his time through realistic assessments.

“If she doesn’t bite in 10 minutes, that fish may not be catchable,” Prince said.

The uncooperative mood could be the new arrival jitters, but the fish might have already seen a bait or two; or maybe the nest-raiding bluegill have been giving her fits that morning. Whatever the case, bed fish mood can vary widely.

Florida’s bounty of native and non-native vegetation offers year-round bass habitat, with certain areas coming into play for particular spawn-relevant reasons.

bed-bass-shore

Sun exposure plays a big role here, but so does clarity. Bernie Schultz, the Elite veteran from Gainesville, points out that a lake’s northwest bank will be shielded from a cold front’s hard north wind, and water quality in this sector tends to remain viable. Beyond this, Schultz favors protected canals and grass-filtered areas, like the spaces between outside grass lines and progressively shallower vegetation.

“Places I look for are what I call ‘stove pipes’— round holes in vegetation, whether it’s hydrilla, eel grass, maidencane, or reeds, fish will find a small hole or open area in the grass,” Schultz said. “It can be the size of a saucepan or it can be 3 feet across, but they’ll generally be in those open areas within the interior of any grass bed.”

Similar private chambers occur deep within vast stands of cattails. About five years ago, I watched Roland and Scott Martin pick off spawners by nearly disappearing within mini forests of Lake Okeechobee’s vertical cover.

Now, even when water clarity is good, thick layers of detritus (“muck”) coating many Florida lakes challenge bass to find suitable spawning sites. Here, Elite pro John Cox looks to lily pad roots, logs and cypress knees, where elevated solid surfaces accommodate the fish’s needs.




TIME AND TEMPERATURE

bed-bass-catch
Jon Cox, an Elite Series bass pro from Florida, says the 65- to 72-degree temp range is ideal for all-day bites in areas where bass are bedding.

In northern latitudes, well-defined seasons compact the spawning window into a tight period. Florida bass don’t feel such urgency, so they can afford to be more selective in their timing.

“The spawn in Florida can be a relatively long window and early in you have to pick and choose your days,” Shultz said. “If it’s cold, your best activity will be later in the day when the water temperature warms.”

Cox agrees and dives even deeper. In his experience, early spring water temperatures in the low to mid 60s favor the afternoon, while the latter end of the major spawning season finds water temperatures in the upper 70s flipping the preference to morning hours.

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“During the heart of the spawn, when water temps are in that 65- to 72-degree range, it’s all day long,” Cox said.

WEATHER WOES

Late-season cold fronts can be a buzzkill. When the temperature drops, skies clear and winds die off, otherwise aggressive fish assume full-blown lockjaw.

“Fish sometimes will get off the beds and even move away from the spawning area under severe cold fronts,” Schultz said. “They might go to the thickest cover nearby, or they may go offshore. When the temperature gets right, you’ll see the males show up and then the females will be behind them. If you have consecutive days of warming, the fish are going to start showing up. But if you have cold fronts one after another, you’re probably going to be better off looking in areas adjacent to the spawning areas. Think matted hyacinths, matted hydrilla, maidencane, eel grass, docks, cypress trees and other cover.”

While classic bed fishing takes a hard pause during a frontal cycle, some of these displaced fish are still catchable. Try punching a smaller creature bait through mats near a spawning area, pitching a jig or an unweighted stick worm around cypress trees, or skipping a wacky rigged Yamamoto Thin Senko near heat-holding cypress trees and docks.

READING THE TELLS

bed-bass-flip

Fishing for bedding bass is a poker game. Success or failure depends on reading your opponent’s actions—particularly their response to yours.

The approach and initial observation are critical. In search mode, ease along on low, consistent trolling motor, avoiding pulses that put fish on high alert. If you inadvertently spook a bed fish, don’t assume it’s game over. Wait, watch, evaluate.

If a fish bolts, and you return to the bed after several minutes to find it’s still gone, this one’s a waste of time. Conversely, a fish that spooks, but runs right back in a matter of seconds, is a hot fish that’s very likely to bite.

“If I see a fish that I know is on a bed and it spooks,” said Prince, “if I leave it and come back and that fish has returned to the bed, I feel like that fish is still catchable. Back away from them and stay off where the fish can’t see you, and you may catch that fish.”

When Prince finds a locked-down bass, he makes patient, repetitive presentations, each about 2 inches from the previous one until he finds the specific spot the fish is guarding. He knows he’s on the money when the fish’s posture switches from nervous and irritable to focused and menacing.

“I like to see a fish react to my bait and by that, I mean she doesn’t swim away from it; she goes toward it,” Prince said. “If she ever goes toward the bait, that’s a sign that fish is getting aggressive. If she ever spins around on it really quick, that’s a definite sign she doesn’t like the bait where it’s at.”

While close-range sight fishing rarely requires more than about a 1 ⁄8-ounce weight, Prince bumps up to 3 ⁄8 when blind casting to a nervous bed fish. Using a visual reference, he’ll cast beyond the bed and slowly drag his bait until he feels it dip into the kill zone.

BAIT SELECTIONS

bed-bass-bait2
Creature bait rigged on sturdy hook with tungsten lead for slow fishing through beds.

Flipping/pitching Texas-rigged plastics such as beaver-style baits and stick worms probably accounts for the largest number of bed fish catches, but that’s not the only game. The bottom rightfully sees the majority of focus, but dropshotting a worm or wiggly creature bait a few inches higher in the water parks a threatening form where it’s often staring a fish right in the face.

Schultz said a suspending jerkbait like Shimano’s flashy World Minnow can serve a similar purpose. And don’t overlook the taunting impact of a topwater bait hovering over a nest. With propbaits, Schultz recommends a two-stage strategy: Use those gurgling props to attract attention on the approach, then park the bait. In a bedding scenario, a static presentation that remains on target is better than a noisy but relatively brief pass-through. Best piece of advice from the pros?

Schultz offers this parting tip:

“Whether you’re fishing from the bank or from a boat, try to put some distance between you and the fish, so it doesn’t detect your movement. That’s especially true if the fish are free roaming in clear water and they’re not under heavy cover, when they’re in those void areas where they’re going to build their beds.” FS

RECON PATROL

bed-bass-in-water
If the fish doesn’t commit, I’ll throw a wacky-rigged 4-inch worm or a fluke.

Because Florida's spawn can span half the year or more, there’s a strong likelihood of finding one wave of fish in the maternity ward with another in the waiting room. Those staging post-spawners offer incredible opportunity.

You won’t go wrong with the highly effective duo comprising a moving “locator” bait and a quick shot targeting bait. Start with some type of weedless swimbait in the 4- to 5-inch range and use this to cover water and search for fish that are likely set up just outside the spawning areas.

Remember, pre-spawners will still eat aggressively, but as they edge closer to the beds, they become highly territorial. For their solitude and, ultimately, their egg protection, these fish will chase off any intruders. Sometimes it’s a kill shot, other times, just a big “Shoo!”

Cliff Prince, the Bassmaster Elite from Palatka likes a 5-inch Bass Assassin Boss swimbait on a 5/0 belly-weighted hook. Prince also knows a ChatterBait with a 4-inch Bass Assassin Little Boss can be highly effective at triggering fish sitting off the beds.

“Even topwaters, sometimes a fish will come up and show herself. They don’t like them in their spawning area for sure. If the fish doesn’t commit, I’ll throw a wacky-rigged 4-inch worm or a fluke.”

You’ll also find a wacky rig handy for sight casting to cruising fish. Idling through a shallow spawning pocket, you’ll often spot fish scoping out the area and offering prime targets for an unobtrusive bait that skips well, falls relatively lightly and emits the kind of enticing wiggle that pushes even a nervous fish over the edge. — David A. Brown

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