Shaye Baker started fishing with his dad in Alabama as soon as they could find a life jacket small enough to fit him. Competing with his father in local tournaments, Shaye quickly found a hunger for competitive bass fishing. He furthered his fishing career at Auburn University helping to establish the Auburn University Bass Fishing Club. While at Auburn, Shaye served as the President of the club and qualified to fish on the traveling team amassing six Top 5 finishes including two 3rd place finishes in consecutive FLW College Fishing National Championships. While beginning to dabble in the world of outdoor journalism, Shaye continued to fish semi-pro events finishing in the Top 5 in the Bassmaster Opens, FLW Costa Series and BFLs. Finding himself at a crossroads, Shaye chose to put down the rod and pick up the pen and camera to focus on his career in outdoor journalism. Shaye has had work featured in Bassmaster Magazine, FLW Outdoors Magazine, B.A.S.S.Times and the Japanese bass fishing magazine, Basser. Shaye has also had work featured on ESPN and Wired2Fish.com,FLWfishing.com and Bassmaster.com. While working with B.A.S.S., Shaye initiated and spearheaded their GoPro division which brought more video coverage to the fans than had ever been done before in competitive fishing. After his tenure with some of the best companies in the business, Shaye identified a need for competitive fishing where participation didn’t cost a fortune. By founding UPLOADED, the Online Fishing Series, Shaye established a free tournament series where anglers could film their fish catches and upload their videos to compete against other anglers for prizes.
Shaye Baker started fishing with his dad in Alabama as soon as they could find a life jacket small enough to fit him. Competing with his father in local tournaments, Shaye quickly found a hunger for competitive bass fishing. While at Auburn, Shaye served as the President of the club and qualified to fish on the traveling team amassing six Top 5 finishes including two 3rd place finishes in consecutive FLW College Fishing National Championships. While beginning to dabble in the world of outdoor journalism, Shaye continued to fish semi-pro events finishing in the Top 5 in the Bassmaster Opens, FLW Costa Series and BFLs. Finding himself at a crossroads, Shaye chose to put down the rod and pick up the pen and camera to focus on his career in outdoor journalism. Shaye has had work featured in Bassmaster Magazine, FLW Outdoors Magazine, B.A.S.S.Times and the Japanese bass fishing magazine, Basser. Shaye has also had work featured on ESPN and Wired2Fish.com, FLWfishing.com and Bassmaster.com.
Spring is in the air! Well, for those of us south of the Mason-Dixon line. A few more weeks of winter for our northern brethren, but as for the southern states, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing and the bass are bedding. The annual bedding activity of largemouth bass referred to collectively as ‘the spawn’ is perhaps the most exciting time of the year to bass fish. For a few weeks each spring, we’re able to interact with spawning bass in a unique way.
On clear water fisheries, you’ll see male or ‘buck’ bass cruising the banks and fanning beds and then you’ll see big females pull up to those beds to lay their eggs. Those females will stay put for a short time before retreating to a little deeper water to recuperate from the stress of the spawn.
On fisheries with low visibility, all of this is also happening behind the cloak of the muddy or stained water. The purpose of this article is to talk about how to sight-fish and blind-fish for spawning largemouth bass.
Let’s start with sight-fishing in clear water fisheries where we can see what’s happening as we fish for these spawners. This will give us a better idea of what’s happening when we talk later about targeting the same fish in muddy water scenarios and when we talk about staying back away from the spawners in clear water situations where we are ‘blind casting’ to beds.
Sight-fishing for bedding bass is unique because you can see how the bass is reacting to what you are doing.
There are other situations where you can see the bass you’re targeting, like fishing for wolf-packing bass in the summer, but those interactions are over within a matter of seconds. With sight-fishing for spawners, you can devote an entire day to staring at one fish if you’re not careful.
The basics are pretty simple. Bass like to spawn on a hard bottom. The male bass will fan the bed clean of any debris and establish a place for the female to come in and lay her eggs. So, you’ll want to target areas with a hard bottom. On highland reservoirs, the entire lake has a fairly hard bottom. On some lakes in Florida with a siltier bottom composition, look for indicators like specific vegetation that primarily grows on a harder bottom: hydrilla, arrowheads, pencil reeds, etc.
Once you find a bed, you’ll notice a couple things right away.
The buck bass will almost always be fairly territorial and try to protect the bed. The female will either be ‘locked on’ or she’ll roam around. If she’s locked on and not actively trying to push out her eggs, she’s usually territorial as well and ripe for the taking. A few flips and she’ll start ‘nosing down’ on the bait where she moves to a vertical position and eyes the bait closely on the bed. Move the bait only a fraction of an inch and you’ll see her flinch. Ideally, she’ll then suck the bait in and the rest is just a hard-fought battle between the bed and the boat.
If a female isn’t locked on, you can still get her to bite on occasion but it’s a much harder situation. You basically have to try to get her to lock onto the bed and become territorial. There are various schools of thought concerning what I’m about to say next, but I actually have had better luck getting a female to lock onto a bed by catching the male and getting him away from the bed.
Here’s an example of this tactic from Lake Austin!
If both bass are locked on, I will try to catch the female first since catching the male will sometimes run the female off. But if she’s roaming around and won’t lock on, I’ll catch the male and continue to fish the vacant bed. More often than not, she’ll become territorial as well. Either that, or she’ll vacate the area all together.
Either way, the stalemate ends and you’ll either have a chance to catch the female or you can move on in pursuit of others.
To get a bass to react once it is locked on can still be a little tricky at times. There’s almost always a sweet spot somewhere on the bed about the size of a quarter where you can really agitate the bass into becoming aggressive. Some say it’s where the eggs are actually located. I have no way of knowing that, but it makes sense that a bass guarding a bed would be particularly concerned with what it believes to be a crawfish or bluegill pecking around the exact spot where its eggs are.
If you have a fish locked on that is still reluctant to bite, you’ll notice an immediate change in the fish’s demeanor when you find the sweet spot. It will either spin around on the bait, start nosing down on the bait or actually make quick burst away from the bed like it’s trying to intimidate the assailant into leaving its bed. But you’ll see when the bass runs away from the bed that it turns to look at your bait to see if its antics have achieved their desired goal.
All of these are great signs that the fish’s patience is running thin.
There are times when a bedding bass will even pick the bait up and move it out of the bed without getting the hooks. If you’re throwing a bait with big flapping craws, you’ll be amazed by how precisely and quickly the bass can pluck the bait off the bottom and blow it out of the bed, all the while avoiding the hook. In all tournaments and by the basic ethics that all anglers should adopt, you’re not allowed to ‘snag’ a fish while sight-fishing by hooking it outside of the mouth. So you have to be very careful to make sure the bass has the bait and the hook is inside her mouth.
The unfortunate grey area here is that oftentimes a fish will be aggressively striking a bait and have the bait in its mouth but the hook point will enter from outside of the mouth through the lip and the fish will have to be released. I have had this happen in a couple of tournaments. The craziest thing I’ve had happen while sight fishing happened on Day 1 of an EverStart (now Costa Series) event with FLW on Lake Okeechobee. You can find more about this situation here.
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‘Blind casting’ is a great way to fish for bedding bass in clear water that are either finicky, not locked on, or under a lot of fishing pressure. It works well for individual beds with reluctant bass but is especially effective in an area with a lot of beds. If I find an area where bass are spawning but a little finicky and won’t stay on their beds, I’ll back off and let them rest and then return to fan cast a stick work like theMISSILE Baits 48 through the area.
There are a lot of ways to rig the 48 depending on the cover present and depth of water: whacky, Neko, Texas-rig, light Carolina-rig, weightless Texas-rig, Ned rig, shaky head, Flick Shake and the list goes on. But I’m usually fishing this way in 5-feet or less and prefer a simple 1/8th or 1/4th ounce Texas-rig with a4/0 straight shank VMC hook.
You want to make mental notes of where the beds are.
There’s usually a stump, reed clump, or other form of cover nearby. You can also find areas with thick vegetation like hydrilla where the bass have made beds that are indicated by holes in the top of the hydrilla.
Anytime you’re blind casting like this, you have to visualize what the fish are doing. You have to wait for the bite and for your line to start swimming off before you set the hook. A bedding bass isn’t likely to stay stationary once it eats the bait because it isn’t eating out of hunger but mainly wanting to remove the bait from its bed.
So the best indication is usually your line swimming off.
Due to the ever-present danger of accidentally snagging a bedding bass while sight-fishing, many anglers actually prefer to back off and blind fish the bed. This way they don’t accidentally set the hook when they think the fish has it. If they feel the bite or see their line moving, they know the fish has it.
Similar to blind casting but different enough to note, walking something like aTrick Worm orFluke just under the surface through an area like this is also an effective way to draw strikes from big roaming females. There have been times where my father and I have located a bedding bass in a practice situation and returned the next morning throwing a floating worm like this over the bed and got the fish to bite right away instead of having to actively bed fish for it. But this style of fishing is really more for the immediate pre-and-post-spawn where you can just go down the bank throwing these baits and catch bass that are not relating to beds and are just feeding before or after the spawn.
Just because you can’t see the bass spawning, doesn’t mean they’re not doing the deed. Largemouth bass will still spawn in stained and muddy water situations. The same as in clear water situations, you want to look for indicators to locate beds. In muddy water, the best indicator is cover. Stumps, logs, dock posts, and grass lines all offer protection for a spawning bass in muddy water. Cover is especially important to spawning bass in these situations since they need all the help they can get when it comes to guarding these beds in the low-visibility situations.
Tubes, jigs and Texas-rigs are all great tools when fishing for spawning bass in muddy water.
You can pitch them close to cover and work them slowly through areas where you think the beds might be. The biggest drawback, they are time consuming. Bass may be bedding in one pocket and not the next. Once you locate an area where bass are spawning, these tactics are great for picking them clean. But how do you prevent yourself from wasting a whole day dragging baits through beds that don’t exist?
The answer is to use ‘search baits’ to locate the beds.
Fishing baits like spinnerbaits, square bills, chatterbaits and swim jigs aggressively along side cover will reveal where these bass are bedding. You may catch some fish this way during the spawn but what you’ll more likely experience is bass ‘short striking’ your bait. When these baits come through a bed, bass will aggressively swipe at them to run them off, but not try to eat them.
Repetitive casts to a single piece of cover with the search bait are also necessary at times to try to draw a strike. The bass may not have been agitated enough the first time to strike at the bait but the second, third, or fourth pass are usually enough to break its patience.
Once you have a bite like this, have a follow up bait on deck to work slowly through where you got bit. Draw a few of these misses in an area and then it’s a good idea to slow down and work the whole area over thoroughly with the slower presentation.
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For clear water situations, I’m using straightSeaguar InvisX fluorocarbon. Depending on the cover present and the size of the bass I’m targeting, I’ll use anywhere from 12-to-20-pound test. Likewise on the rod selection, I’m may use a7’ heavy Vursa Series at times and work all the way up to a7’-8” medium-heavy Vursa at times. You just want to make sure you have enough strength in your rod and line to handle whatever fish you’re targeting. As for the reel, I recommend aLew’s Super Duty across the board.
In low-visibility, I’ll still vary rods but stick with the same reel just like I do in clear water. But I’ll swap over to braid. Anywhere from 40-pound test around shallow stumps to 65-pound test if I’m flipping reed clumps in Florida. Regardless of the pound test, I preferSufix 832 braid.
For the blind casting in clear water, I’ll usually go with straight fluorocarbon. But at times I’ll do a braid to fluorocarbon leader if the bait I’m throwing causes a lot of line twists.
The braid does a much better job with these baits because it isn’t nearly as affected by the same number of twists as fluorocarbon is.
Targeting Spawning Bass: Bait Color
When it comes to bait colors to use when bed-fishing for largemouth bass, the spectrum is pretty wide. Traditionally, actively sight-fishing for a bass on bed has been associated with bright colored baits. These baits are easier to see which helps an angler know where the bait is in the bed and know how much of the bait the fish has in its mouth if it strikes.
More and more tournament anglers now have moved toward natural color baits because they don’t want to be able to see the bait. They would rather go by the feel of it, which makes foul hooking a fish far less likely. So greens, browns, and blacks all work well.
I’ll also go with a natural color when blind casting to beds in clear water. Something in the green pumpkin realm usually.
And when fishing muddy water, it’s all about helping the fish see the bait. So black, black and blue, black and red, black and chartreuse, whatever you can get to show up the best in the muddy water.
Let’s set the stage, I was ‘bumping’ a 5-pounder with my bait to try to agitate it into striking my lure. I would pitch my bait over the fish and yo-yo it up and down with my line over the fish’s back. You have to be very careful when doing this not to accidentally hook the fish so I had my hook point buried in my bait and not exposed. Suddenly the bass flared its gills and started swimming off with my line. It was weird but I thought somehow she must of inhaled my bait because I couldn’t see it anywhere. I set the hook and the fish started coming to the boat sideways and I wanted to throw up because I was sure that I had snagged her somehow.
My co-angler got the fish into the net and to both of our astonishment, the bait was nowhere to be seen. My line however was running into the side of the fish behind her gills. I opened the fish’s mouth and my bait was hooked on the roof of her mouth as pretty as you please. Somehow when that fish flared its gills, it sucked the bait into its mouth through its gills. I had to reach in the fish’s mouth and unhook the bait and then I cut my line and pulled the line back out through the gills and the bait out of her mouth. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen bed-fishing and still is to this day.
Now the question is, was that a legal catch?
The fish was not hooked outside the mouth. But it wasn’t technically hooked inside the mouth either. I mean it kind of was but it kind of wasn’t. What would you do?
I put the fish in the livewell and immediately called the tournament director and quickly explained the situation. He recited the “must be hooked inside the mouth” rule to both my co-angler and I on speaker phone, a rule we both already knew by heart and didn’t help either one of us in the slightest for this particular scenario.
The phone call ended and my co-angler said “It’s up to you.” Wanting to throw up for the second time in about 5 minutes, I pulled the fish out of the livewell and released her hoping she would return to her bed and give me another shot. She swam back to the bed but was no longer locked on and just kind of wandered around.
That was rough but I just didn’t feel right taking that fish to the weigh-in.
A contrasting experience happened in that very same Everstart on Day 1. You notice when I released the bass I had hoped she would return to the bed and let me try again? That’s because you can oftentimes hook a fish and lose it and it will actually return to the bed and bite again because it’s so territorial. I have actually lost a fish three times bed-fishing and finally caught in a tournament on my home lake of Lake Martin. But only once, have I ever caught a fish and pulled it all the way out of the water, then released it and returned and caught it again.
On the final day of practice for that Everstart, my dad and I were fishing through a pretty good spawning area I had found the year before. There were a lot of boats and only a few buck bass. My dad spotted a pretty good fish as I was about to pack up and leave the area so I spun the boat around to get a better look. The fish was in about 6-feet of water but looked like a good one. I had a few other areas I was more confident in and the area we were in was a much longer run from launch.
We had both been cooped up all winter and were chomping at the bit to pick one off bed.
Knowing that my dad would be fishing co-angler all week and not have a chance to bed-fish, and knowing that this fish was too far to run to by itself along with knowing that someone else in the area would likely pick it off on Day 1, I decided to set up on her and get a little sight-fishing practice in before the derby kicked off. We stood shoulder to shoulder and messed with her for about 10-minutes. She bit both our baits a few times before she inhaled mine and I caught her. As she entered the boat, we noticed a distinct black spot near her tail the size of a half dollar. We then released her and went on our way.
By 10 AM the next morning, I had rolled through plans A, B and C with only 2 little keepers to show for it. I was disgusted and actually contemplating making the long run to that bedding area in hopes that some more females had pulled up. I convinced myself to go and when I got there I found about 10 boats scattered around with their Power-Poles down. No one was set up on the bed where that fish had been so I slid in and dropped my Poles hoping she hadn’t been caught already.
It was a little cloudy and as I was straining to see the bed I saw a big shadow pass across it. I pitched my bait into the bed and pulled it back out a few times. I couldn’t actually see the fish, but after about 5 minutes I felt a thump and set the hook and to my surprise caught the same fish that I had my hands on the day before. Five-pounder with a black spot near the tail the size of a half dollar.
Catching bedding bass can be as easy as plucking an apple from a tree. Or it can be as difficult as plucking an apple off a tree in a hailstorm… in gail force winds… using only your teeth. Ok, well maybe not quite that difficult but it can be very frustrating and can get personal quick. In a tournament situation, you have to have a clock in your head and continuously weigh the options in your mind.
‘Is this one fish worth spending more time on? How much more time? If she’s acting this way or that in the next 5 minutes I’ll stay or I’ll go.’
These are the conversations you have to be having with yourself or else you’ll burn a whole day on a 5-pounder. Even if you catch it and have nothing to go with it, the 5-pounder is just a waste. And this seems obvious but I’m telling you, this stuff gets personal when that fish circles on your bait time and time again. I’ve seen seasoned professional bass fishermen stay out and miss their check-in times because it has gotten so personal with a bass before. Above all, don’t let the bass get to you.
After that, it’s pretty simple really. Pay close attention to what the bass’s behavior is telling you. If you can get it to react to your bait in any way, you’re onto something. If the bass is totally ignoring you but staying put, don’t lose hope just yet. If the bass vacates the bed for more than 5 minutes, it’s probably a good idea for you to do the same. But take notes and return later to very carefully blind cast to the bed in hopes that the finicky bass will bite without an audience.
In muddy and tannic water, or on cloudy and windy days when the visibility is poor, know that all this interaction is still happening between the bass and your bait. If you miss a fish on a search bait or on a slow moving bait, devote a little time to making that same casts again and again with a followup bait.
Above all, as always, have fun. You’re fishing! And you’re fishing during my favorite time of the year while I’m probably behind a keyboard writing about whatever comes next. So, do me a favor and catch a big one for me. Lip it and log it in theANGLR appand let me know in a comment below if this article helped you out at all in the process.