Bed Fishing Bass - Friend or Foe?

  • Blog Post by: Josh Douglas
  • April 25, 2010 - 4:41 PM

As the unseasonably warm southern air continues to blow, our northern lakes are heating up as water temps are jumping into the mid 60’s. To a serious bass fisherman this means the bass are in the pre spawn, with the spawn right around the corner. This time of year gives the angler their best chance of catching that bass of a lifetime, better than any other time of year.

During the cold, frozen winter months the bass tend to lay low in their deeper haunts and stay rather dormant. They do eat, but key to survival is maintaining their energy by not exhausting themselves by   chasing prey.

Female bass actually start developing their eggs in the late winter months. As spring approaches, these big females move up into the shallow waters in search of some much needed food. Often they’ll actually find themselves in these shallow areas before the rest of the food chain gets there. If your lure happens to be in that area during this time, the results are often very rewarding.

This stage is called the pre spawn and what makes this time of year so special is that the vast majority of reproducing bass will be in the shallows, making them especially vulnerable to hog hunting fisherman. The bass really put on their feed bags this time of year, their catching up for limited food they had during the winter and are also packing on the pounds for their upcoming spawn.

This brings me to my main topic, the spawn, an often misunderstood and controversial topic of bass fishing.  Here in Minnesota, we attempt to protect the spawn by mandating a closed fishing season on our game fish. There are other states that also regulate fishing seasons with most of them being on the northern regions of the United States. Minnesota is one of the very few states that actually close the bass season completely. Most northern states have implemented the “catch and release only” policy, meaning you can fish for bass but must return the fish back to the water immediately, no harvesting allowed. Whereas other states in the southern and western United States have a continuous bass season.

The main reason the states regulate bass fishing seasons is to protect the spawn. Warmer areas of the United States don’t need to employ such restrictions because their spawning seasons last for months and fish can be caught in all stages of the spawn, making them less vulnerable of being caught. Here in the north, our season is much shorter, cramming the vast majority of the lakes bass in the same areas, making the lakes largest females exceptionally vulnerable of being caught, reducing the chance of them reproducing.

I for one would like to see Minnesota jump on the bandwagon with these other northern states like New York and Michigan and adopt the “catch and release” policy and open up this season to bass fishing. Like I said in the opening paragraph, this is by far an angler’s best opportunity to catch that fish of a lifetime.

I do understand that ethics plays a role in this argument, although the fish are being put back, they are still open to be caught off their nests. It is true that bass don’t eat during the actual spawn but that doesn’t mean they can’t be caught. Bass in fact become extremely territorial and protect their nests by attacking anything that poses a threat. Sight fishing, a form of bass fishing that is practiced throughout a majority of the country.

When sight fishing an angler watches a bedded bass and tries to agitate the bass into biting by continuing to pitch different baits to the bed and watching for the fish to strike. This may sound easy enough but trust me, there’s a lot to it. This is almost more hunting than it is fishing in that you stalk your target and figure out the perfect recipe to make that fish strike your bait. Sometimes it may take only a single pitch to the bed and other times 10 hours to finally initiate a strike. Patience and persistence are two major skills needed to be successful bed fisherman.

The ethical argument is that by catching a female bass off her bed, you reduce the odds of that fish reproducing that year and inevitably are hurting the overall population of the bass in that body of water. This can be true, it is possible that a bass that gets caught off a bed will end up not reproducing that year, but there is also a percentage of female bass that will nest 4 or 5 times in a given season. I practice catch and release always, no matter the time of year, so it’s hard for me to understand why we can’t take that chance, when someone harvests a lunker female during the open season given that fish zero chance at reproducing ever again. Please do not get me wrong, as a tournament angler I practice catch and release, I need them to be there when the money is on the line. I have nothing against anglers that harvest fish, especially when done within reason. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

Being from Minnesota, I don’t get much opportunity to practice bed fishing, so naturally I didn’t think it was a strong suit. Every time the opportunity presented itself within the legal season, I wasn’t all that successful. I didn’t have the experience and like I said before, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

It wasn’t until a recent tournament I had at Oklahoma’s Grand Lake. It became more than obvious during practice that this was going to be a bed fishing tourney, they where all on beds! This put me way out of my comfort zone. Everyone in the field was experienced in this and I wasn’t allowed to by law because of where I live.

During the course of this tournament, I was able to really get a crash course and in the end was able to ride it to a pretty decent finish.  I was able to catch my limit fish by sight fishing her and after a 20 minute showdown I landed a 2.8 pound largemouth. I’ve caught thousands of 2 pound largemouths but that single catch was easily one of my top 3 ever. That was one of the most rewarding and addicting ways to truly outsmart a bass. The best part is the bass still lived to spawn another day.

There is a lot of scientific studies that proves that fishing during the spawn doesn’t negatively hurt the fishery. I do agree that here in the north we do need some sort of protection and laws for this time, but I think opening the season to catch and release could in fact provide more good than bad.  Not just for personal reasons but monetary as well. I’m sure local guides and tackle shops wouldn’t mind seeing this come into play. Not to mention all the trophy fish that will guarantee more and more fishing addicts in the future.

I know this will sit easily with some and really stir with others. I’m sure there’s an argument for other species both pro and con, but bass are my specialty and I don’t feel comfortable writing for species that I don’t have the qualified knowledge on, it would be purely opinion instead of fact. I understand there’s always another side to the coin, but I think it’s time we take a strong look at the numbers and I’m pretty confident you’ll see the numbers don’t lie.

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