Facts and Thoughts About Fishing for Spawning Bass

Bass Are on Beds in Spring, and Sometimes Vulnerable

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Photo © Ken Schultz

When several people told me they had seen bass on beds in the month of March, I was not too surprised. Although most people think all bass bed in April where I live in central Georgia, I think that during a normal spring about 20 percent will bed in March, 60 percent in April, and 20 percent in May. If it is unusually cold or hot during the spring, or if there is a lot of rain, these times and percentages may change.

In some years, the water in coves can be as high as 64 degrees in early March in a few mid-Georgia lakes. That warm water draws in the early spawners, even though colder weather may later drop the water temperature back into the upper 50s. So fish can be on beds that early, and people may be fishing for them.

Fishing can be tough when most of the bass are in spawning mode, and for a short period afterward, but good beforehand, which most anglers call pre-spawn fishing. When they are bedding, or spawning, they can be caught, and there are many anglers who fish for them and deliberately target bass on beds.

Unlike some northern states where bass fishing season is closed until after the spawn (or where fishing regulations mandate catch-and-release only during the spawn), fishing for bass is allowed in Georgia and most other southern states all year long, including during the spawn. Bass are so successful at reproducing in the South, and so many anglers release all of their catch, that they do not need special protections during the spawn.

Also, most of our lakes have stained water in the spring and many bass spawn too deep for their beds to be seen and targeted by anglers.

The Spawning Process

Male bass move into the shallows and fan a bed (nest) on a hard bottom. It looks like a plate or shallow bowl on the bottom, often near a stump or rock.

They stay there keeping it clean until a female swims into the area. She will deposit some eggs in the bed, staying on it for a few hours or longer. Then she may move on to finish laying her eggs in other beds.

The male bass fertilizes the bottom-laying eggs and then guards them until they hatch. He runs off all intruders, like bream and crawfish, that want to eat the eggs. When the young hatch, he stays with them, guarding them for a few days until they are able to swim fairly well and hide. Then he becomes a predator and may eat his own young!

Pros and Cons of Catching Bedding Bass

The male bass, which is generally a small fish, is easy to catch when it is guarding a bed. He is very aggressive and will hit just about anything that comes near him. The female is much larger and harder to catch. Some anglers spend hours trying to aggravate a female into hitting something or picking it up to remove it from the bed. Soft plastic lures cast into the bed and twitched there will often draw a strike from the female. You might have to keep the lure in the bed for a long time, though. It is usually not worth the effort to me, but some tournament anglers have incredible catches during the spawn because they deliberately target large females that they can see on beds.

Should bass be left alone to bed? In some states, fishing for bass is not allowed during the spawning season, or it is only allowed on a catch-and-release basis, in order to protect the females and to ensure reproduction takes place. However, a majority of states allow year-round fishing with no restriction on catching spawning fish.

Biologists says that catching bedding bass in Georgia will not harm them. After all, in her lifetime a female bass has to produce only two young that survive to be successful, one to replace her and one to replace her mate. She produces thousands of eggs each year, and may spawn for many years, so a lot of females can be unsuccessful and we will still have good populations of bass.

Another argument says that big females should be left alone to spawn to keep their genes in the genetic pool in the lake.

Since a big female has already spawned for many years, her genes should be widespread anyway. But some argue that once a fish is removed from her bed and relocated, even after being released, she will not spawn that year.

What almost no one talks about today is whether it is ethical to target bass that are spawning, even though state regulations may permit it. In any case, you have to decide for yourself if you want to catch bass off the beds if it is legal to do so where you fish. Even if you do, proper handling and release should be practiced in order to help ensure the fish's survival.

This article was edited and revised by our Freshwater Fishing expert, Ken Schultz.

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