Bass Before Bedtime

Want big bass? Don't wait for the spawn.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Sometimes a bass fisherman wants it too easy. He ignores offshore waters in the spring until he thinks big bass have moved up to the banks and then starts searching the shoreline for the telltale crater that marks a bass bed. If he's persistent, he can catch the big female that's lurking there, but at what price? The angler runs the risk of killing her and the bed (see sidebar) in the process.

A better alternative, for the resource as well as the fisherman's batting average, is to fish the pre-spawn period, when the bigger females have gathered together on deeper structure while they're waiting for warmer water temperatures in the high 50s and 60s. They move to the shallows in stages and stop along the way in schools as passing cold fronts and fluctuations in water temperatures dictate. Depending on water clarity and temperature, female bass may concentrate at 12 feet deep one week and 8 feet the next.

Where to Look
The problem for a fisherman is determining where, in all that open water, he can find these "waiting rooms" where the females converge until the incubating effects of warming water tell them it's time to move in. A good topographical map and a depth finder can help. Bass seldom migrate randomly across the bottom. They follow breaks in the regular contours, such as submerged creeks and points. Here are some other good spots to cast a lure:

  • A sharp bend in a submerged creek or slough with a water depth of about eight feet or deeper. If there's cover such as logs, treetops or aquatic vegetation, all the better.

  • A well-defined transition point between water that's at least 12 feet deep and shallower water of 6 to 8 feet, such as a ledge or submerged island.

  • Ditches or deeper holes that may be surrounded by shallower water.

What to Try
Popular pre-spawn lures include spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and both lipless and billed crankbaits.

All bass don't start moving toward the shallows at once, and pre-spawn fishing patterns may yield fish for a period of a few weeks. If it was a mild winter in your neck of the woods, hungry bass might be roaming in your favorite lake now.

Treat With Care
"If you want to maintain a healthy population of bass in a lake, catching them when they're spawning is not the way to go about it," says Florida filmmaker and bass expert Glenn Lau, whose video Bigmouth is considered the consummate film on the biology of largemouth bass.

A female bass runs a gauntlet of natural obstacles when she spawns. If the protective mucus that covers her body is disturbed in the process, fungal infection ultimately can cause her death. Lau also believes catching and keeping the smaller male bass, which guard the beds from predators after the females lay the eggs, is counterproductive as well.

Fortunately for largemouths, most anglers these days practice catch-and-release anyway. If you do go after a big female bass on her nest, treat her gently and release her unharmed. She has it tough enough as it is.