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Everyone knows bass spawn in the spring, but that doesn't mean they are always easy to catch.
Mark Taylor | The Roanoke Times
Ron Nelson of Berrien Springs, Mich., relied on sightfishing for spawning bass to boat 14 of the 15 bass he weighed to win the recent Everstart Northern Series tournament at Smith Mountain Lake.
Mark Taylor | The Roanoke Times
Joe Wood of Westport, Mass., displays three of the lures he used to target spawning bass at the Everstart Northern Series bass tournament at Smith Mountain Lake on April 25-27. The lures were (from top) a plastic lizard, a finesse worm, and a River to Sea Nest Raider.
Mark Taylor | The Roanoke Times
A 3-pound largemouth bass guards a spawning bed near the shoreline at Carvins Cove. Sightfishing for bedding bass is a popular tactic during the spring spawning season.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Tournament bass fishermen can be a frustratingly secretive bunch.
Even after an event is over they can be coy about tactics that worked. Can't give away secrets, you know?
Yet there were the contenders in the Everstart Northern Division tournament at Smith Mountain Lake, parading across the weigh-in stage and putting their methods out there for anyone to hear.
"I caught every one of them bedding," said co-angler winner Scott Howard of Evington.
Pro-side winner Ron Nelson readily admitted that 14 of his 15 weighed fish were spawners.
Pro runner-up Joe Wood said spawning fish were his focus, too.
Why so honest and open?
Because some things are so obvious that there is no reason to try to hide them.
In the spring, bass spawn.
When they do that in lakes or ponds with relatively clear water, they can be easy to find.
That doesn't mean they are always easy to catch, however.
Big females can be maddeningly selective. Some fishermen who have found 20-pounders on beds in clear lakes in Southern California have been known to target the same fish day after day with no success.
Fickle as spawning bass can be, fishing for them can be addicting, in large part because it combines the anticipation of hunting with the excitement of hooking and fighting fish.
Largemouth bass tend to get serious about spawning about the time water temperatures reach the middle 60s, which happens to be where water temperatures are at present in the region's larger lakes.
Smallmouth bass typically spawn at lower temperatures, usually getting into the groove at about 55 degrees.
In both cases, smaller males - or bucks, as they are often called - clear out a saucer-shaped depression on a sandy or gravelly bottom.
Largemouth nests or beds, as they are sometimes called, are typically within 10 feet of shore, and usually at a depth of 1 to 3 feet. Often they are next to some sort of cover, such as a stump or boulder.
Smallmouths usually spawn in deeper water, often around rocky cover.
When the nest is complete the male entices a female to the nest, where she drops eggs over time. As males guard the nest from predators, such as other fish, females may return multiple times to lay more eggs.
Eggs typically hatch after a period of up to 10 days, with the incubation period shorter when the water is warmer.
The male will often guard the fry, which swim in tightly packed schools, for several days.
Spawning action often is heavier around new and full moon periods, but can occur any time when water temperatures are sufficient.
"The moon does play a big deal," says professional bass angler David Dudley of Lynchburg. "But I always say when it's their time, it's their time."
Some states set regulations to protect spawning bass, fearing that the fish are too vulnerable. Typically, those beliefs are reserved for states in the North where water is clear and spawning habitat is limited.
On a large reservoir - such as Smith Mountain Lake, which has nearly 500 miles of shoreline - the impact of recreational fishing on spawning bass is generally believed by biologists to be minimal because the lakes have so much spawning habitat that angling disrupts just a tiny percentage of spawning activity.
The first key to catching spawning bass is to find spawning bass.
Glare-reducing polarized sunglasses are a must.
Nelson said he often uses glasses with green-tinted lenses, but used amber at Smith Mountain Lake because the color made it easier to differentiate bass from non-target fish such as carp.
Enticing a spawning bass to strike is not about appealing to the fish's desire to eat, but rather to trigger its protective instinct.
Smaller bucks are typically pretty easy to fool as they tend to be more aggressive.
When a buck and female are spotted on the same nest, some anglers will quickly catch the male and put it in their livewell. Otherwise, if released, the male will often go right back to the nest and right back to striking any lure that comes within sight.
Spawning smallmouths tend to be more aggressive than largemouths.
"Smallmouth are easier to catch," Howard said. "But they're harder to find."
When searching for spawning bass, Dudley uses the trolling motor on his Ranger bass boat to hum quickly along the shoreline. When he spots a bed that has a bass worth fishing for, he mentally marks the spot, swings wide and then comes back around to an area where he can make casts from a distance.
Rather than cast his lure directly into the nest, he casts beyond the target and creeps the lure back to the strike zone.
"That way it's like I'm coming across the whole property, and not just half of it," Dudley said.
Dudley prefers to fish with 20-pound test fluorocarbon line, believing that bedding bass aren't line shy.
"They're not concentrating on the line," he said. "They're looking at the lure."
He'll typically start with a Yum Pappy Craw in green pumpkin, then adjust lure colors and sizes as he sees fit, based on the bass's reaction.
Wood used three primary lures when targeting bedding bass at Smith Mountain Lake. One was a River to Sea Nest Raider, a soft rubber newt imitation.
"I can't believe I bought it," Wood said of the garish lure. "But when the big girls see it, they eat it."
At the Everstart tournament, one of Howard's preferred lures was also a green pumpkin offering, in that case a Zoom Z Drop finesse lure, which he fished on a drop shot rig.
When he got the lure into the strike zone he was patient even if the bass darted off.
"Keep the lure in the bed no matter where the fish goes," said Howard, who fished using 6-pound fluorocarbon because he wanted to give himself the best possible chance of getting bites.
With a new moon hitting Thursday, this week should offer a flurry of bass spawning activity. While the May 25 full moon will likely bring another peak, spawning bass will be tempting Virginia anglers well into June.
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