Among anglers, there is perhaps no more controversial topic than whether or not, as conservationists, we ought to fish for bass while they are spawning. Battle lines on this issue were drawn in the sand long ago—some northern laws that prohibit it date back to the 1800s—with no end to the argument in sight.
Those against fishing for bass during the spawn contend that it disrupts the breeding cycle, resulting in fewer fish in the future. However, studies indicate that fishing during the spawn, even if specifically for trophies, does not appear to harm the bass populations. Obviously, taking a spawn-ready female from the bed will, if she dies, reduce the numbers of young bass produced. But bass produce thousands of spawn every year, leaving the surplus millions of juvenile fish to become food for other species, so numbers aren’t an issue. Further research has shown that if a big female hasn’t spawned yet and is released in good shape, then it is likely she will spawn.
Contrary to some beliefs, a bedding bass is not easy to catch, particularly the big females. It is true that the small males are often aggressive in their guardian duties, but the trophy fish is very difficult to catch. To catch fish during this time of year, I use two methods, depending on whether or not the water is clear enough to see the beds.
If the water is reasonably clear, I look for hard-bottomed coves, a place where the bottom will be mostly pea gravel and chunk rock. Once there, I get on the deck of my boat and watch for the mostly round nests, areas that have been cleared off by bass fanning their tails. Once I spot a nest, I either look for a bass or its shadow. Once I spot the fish—be it a small male or a large female—I use my spinning reel, spooled with 10-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line (especially if the fish have already been pressured) or a casting reel spooled with 17- or 20-pound 100% Fluorocarbon, and cast a white, Texas-rigged PowerBait Flippin’ Tube, with the hook barely piercing the skin of the bait.
I position my boat far enough away from the nest so as to not spook the bass, but close enough that I can still see what is going on. After casting just beyond the nest (if the fish hasn’t already gone for the bait), I hop the tube into the nest, working it through the nest area searching for the “sweet spot.” For some unknown reason, the sweet spot is an area of the nest that, when a bait reaches it, will cause the fish to attack. It may take several minutes or several hours to get the bass to react, but when it does, it will turn itself sideways and scoop the bait off the bottom in an effort to remove the intruder from the nest, not always to eat it. Because the hook is barely in the bait, it will be easier to set the hook.
If the first approach doesn’t work, a like to turn to a dark colored Berkley Gulp! Lizard and try the same tactics. However, unlike the white tube, the dark lizard is harder to see in the water. If the water is too murky to see the nests, try Carolina rigging in the shallows. And if you’re after smallmouth bass, look for underwater cover to hold bedding fish.
Fishing the spawn can be fun, difficult and rewarding all at the same time. Just be sure to practice catch and release so that other anglers will have the opportunity to enjoy the fishing, too.
Berkley Pro Jay Yelas is the reigning FLW Tour Angler of the Year and a former Bassmaster Classic winner from Corvalis, Ore.