Bassmaster Elite Angler Brandon Card with a freshly caught bass. (Courtesy of Brandon Card)
This time of year, anglers all over are fishing for bass they can see in the shallows. Some bass will be easy to catch and some are nearly impossible, like those that are in the act of spawning instead of just guarding their beds. There are a few things that I do to determine if the fish is going to bite and if they are worth spending time fishing for.
One of the best ways to find bedding bass is to cruise the shallows with your trolling motor at about 40 or 50%. I have found that this is the best speed to both cover water and avoid spooking fish. Anything faster will scare fish away long before you get to them. If you approach a fish while using the trolling motor and it stays on the bed, it is a fish that should be fairly easy to catch since it is locked on and protecting the bed. If the fish makes a circle and comes right back it is also a fish that should bite.
Another clue that tells me whether or not the fish will bite is the color of the bass itself. If it is really light colored, it has most likely just moved up from deeper water and is not fully committed to spawning and will be more difficult to catch. A darker bass has been shallow for a while and should be a little easier to catch.
The SondeCAM HD Underwater Camera is a great way to look at what is underneath your boat and it also helps you get a better feel for what you are seeing on your graphs. It is also a great way to get a better look at spawning bass. I attach my camera to a long telescopic pole and will drop the camera down to see how the fish is acting. If the bass doesn’t move or becomes aggressive, it will be a fish that will bite a lure. I have found that if the bed is deeper than about six feet, you can just drop the camera down with the cable and will not have to use the pole. You can get right above the fish and drop the camera straight down to see how the fish is acting.
I have also seen where they flare their gills or quickly move their fins back and forth just by seeing them on the camera. These are also signs that they are catchable. On the other hand, if they quickly swim away, they will be more difficult to catch.
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There is usually a “sweet spot” on every bed that will trigger the fish. It is usually where the eggs are and the camera helps to find this. You may notice a little spot that is slightly lighter in color than everything else or you can see what area the fish keeps returning to. It helps determine where you should place your bait and definitely helps increase your odds of catching the fish. You may also see that they are not, in fact, protecting bed but instead guarding fry. I saw this on the camera one time and it was really cool to see and explained why the fish wasn’t acting like a normal bed fish and instead was cruising all over the place.
Another thing I have learned by using the camera is just how little movement it takes to get your bait moving. I used to pop my rod much more and it is amazing how much that moves the bait. While watching my bait on the camera, I realized that it is the little subtle movements that get the most reaction from fish. This is helpful whether you are fishing for bedding bass or not and has changed the way I fish soft plastic baits and jigs.
In a tournament situation, time is everything so I try to limit how much time I fish for a bedding bass. Typically you should be able to catch the fish within 20 or 30 minutes and anything after that is a waste of time. Unless I already have a big limit in the boat and it is a giant bass, I will limit my time and then come back later to try again. The mood of the fish can change, so coming back can be your best way to catch the fish.
The male is usually much easier to catch and the female is usually much larger. This is the tricky part if you are trying to catch big ones. I have found that if both the female and male are present, the best thing to do is to aggravate the male. The female will either get angry since the male isn’t doing his job and come to investigate or she may lose interest. Some fishermen debate on whether or not to catch the male first, but I think that is a roll of the dice. The female may leave entirely and unfortunately, I would say that happens more times than not.
Like I mentioned, I like to keep my trolling motor fairly low when moving through the shallows. If your trolling motor blade is hitting the tops of grass you will definitely spook fish. In that case, I will take my trolling motor out of the water and use a push pole to move through an area. It takes much longer, but it is the only way to do it sometimes.
I also like to use my Power-Poles once I have located a bed. This allows me to stay in one spot and not make as much noise. If you come up to a fish and it is too late, I will push pole back slowly and then drop my poles. Another trick is to make a mental note of where the bed is and move very far back and make blind casts to the area. Usually, they will bite right away, so I only make a few casts before moving a little closer.
Fishing for spawning bass is a fun way to catch big bass and with the SondeCAM you can really get a better look at how the fish are acting. I have found that being stealthy and paying attention to clues can really help improve your odds at catching bedding bass.
Top image: Bassmaster Elite Angler Brandon Card with a freshly caught bass. (Courtesy of Brandon Card)