It's not all about the shiny spots. Just because you can't see the bass on the beds doesn't mean you're not going to catch them.
I catch more spawning bass just fan casting around than I do sight fishing them. Oh, it's a world of fun catching them off spawning beds, but it can also be a frustrating waste of time. In tournaments, time is the most valuable resource, something that can't be taken lightly.
In the last few years I've gotten better at bed fishing, but I still think I catch more of the fish that I never see or even have a chance of seeing. It's a simple process that works for me as well as several other touring bass pros.
Most anglers can spot good areas that bass use to make beds and then rear their young. A good hard-bottomed shallow area, protected from weather and hard blows, next to deep water will often hold spawners. Backs of creeks, behind bigger docks, rocky banks; you know the places. When you get close you can see the shiny spots that the bass have fanned out on the bottom.
Often these spots will be two or three feet in diameter and will be almost polished white. They really stand out. But what you don't see are the deeper beds and the beds where the gravel or hard bottom will be the same color as everything else in the area. When you see a bass it will be able to see you as well, so right off these fish are a little spooky acting.
What I like to do is position my boat back from the shallows and fan cast around with a Texas rigged green pumpkin party colored Berkley ® Sinking Minnow. Outside edges of docks and other cover or just
deeper water off the bank from where you would normally see fish will generally work. There's really no need in fishing deeper than 15 feet.
Being from Florida, I start my fishing during the spawn much earlier than the rest of the country. I'm looking for beds while most of the rest of the nation is thinking about Christmas. Then the tournament season takes me to other parts of the country that are just getting into the spawn right now. I'm lucky. I get months of this kind of excitement where many of you only get a couple of weeks.
This past winter, I got to try some new baits from Berkley that may revolutionize fishing during the spawn. The new bait, PowerBait ® Heavy Weight Sinkworms, really helped me catch a lot of bass. It's
all about the sink rate and the wiggle on these stick worms. There's a bunch on the market but few really work well. This new one is the best I've ever tried and I think I've tried them all. It is perfect for the type of fishing I'm talking about. Perfect!
Cast it where you want it then let it sink, keeping a close eye on the line. Try not to put any pressure on the bait, just let it free fall. When it hits the bottom, reel in and cast again. It's just that simple and the bass just can't help themselves. It's an amazing bait. I haven't tried these things in tournaments yet but I can't wait.
Line selection is super important. It doesn't matter if you're throwing a Sinking Minnow or a new Heavy Weight Sinkworm; the line needs to be invisible to the fish, abrasion resistant and low stretch. Remember you're casting into heavy cover around cables, brush and rocks. I've found that a good fluorocarbon is perfect for this. I use the Trilene ® 100% Fluorocarbon and normally I think 12-pound test is perfect. A good wide gap hook and you're ready.
I find that a seven-foot medium heavy Fenwick ® rod and an Abu Garcia ® Revo reel perform better than any I've tried.
In tournaments when I have a good bag of bass, say 20 pounds or so, I really start focusing on bass I can see. I look for big ones, fish that can help my total weight. When I find them I will generally know in ten minutes or so if I'm going to be able to catch the fish by the way it acts.
Most anglers cast to a bed and watch their bait. That's the wrong thing to do. Watch the fish and you'll learn more. If they leave the nest and come back after a minute or so, that may mean it will take more time and work to catch it than it is worth.If they swim in tight circles when you cast on the bed, that generally means that's a catchable bass and if they get real excited every time the bait crosses a certain spot, you're going to get bit. Each bed will have a sweet spot that just drives fish crazy each time a bait gets near it. Watch the bass and you'll see what I mean.
Sight fishing doesn't call for finesse, so I typically use heavy 50-pound Spiderwire ® Stealth braided line with a Flippin' stick. The bait color really doesn't matter as much as you would think or may have been told. Sure, you can see some baits better than others, but remember to look at the bass and not the lure. I use a Berkley PowerBait Power ® Hawg most of the time for this fishing. Small weight, big wide gap hook and I'm set.
One thing to remember particularly during a tournament, you should wait until the bass eats the bait before setting the hook. Sometimes they will just nudge the lure without eating it. If you set the hook too soon it may penetrate outside the mouth, which is against the rules for most tournaments and some state laws.
Catching bass during their spawning season is a world of fun and can produce some awesome bags of tournament winning fish. But pay less attention to the shiny spots until you get a limit. You'll simply catch more fish.