Spring Time Bed Fishing for Largemouth Bass- written by Austin Fishing Guide Tyler Torwick
If you ask any bass angler their favorite time of year to fish, I would be willing to bet a vast majority would say springtime. It’s that time of year where the weather gets warmer and the water temps finally start to rise. All winter long those bass have been out deep in the creek channels, suspending offshore and have been tough to catch. Once the water starts getting warmer those fish move up shallow to make beds in which to lay their eggs.
Let’s take a more in depth look at how to catch those bedding fish…
The Science Behind Spawning
First off, let's talk a little bit about how the bass behave once they have found a suitable place to make a bed. You are dealing with a wild animal but their behavior can be very predictable at times. Largemouth bass are very territorial and will become aggressive once they have eggs laid. Male bass, often referred to as the buck bass, typically do a lot of the work. It is very common to catch fish with bloody tails in the spring. The bass will use its tail to fan away debris and sediment in order to clear a clean patch on the bottom. This will show up as a light colored spot on an otherwise dirty bottom. Polarized glasses are an absolute must for this type of fishing.
Once the bass have found a place to make a bed and the conditions are right the female will move up on the bed and lay her eggs. At this point the male will fertilize them and guard the nest until the fry have hatched. It may be a few days of sitting on the bed before the female lays the eggs. Sometimes after laying them she will hang around for a while. Typically though once the deed is done the female will move away from the bed and leave it to the male to guard. This is why it is so common to catch the smaller male even when targeting those big females. This is one of the best times of the year for your shot at a personal best. While those females are full of eggs they are at their heaviest! Keep in mind you only have a small window once the fish spawn. Those females will not stay on their bed for very long once they have laid their eggs.
Another thing to remember is that fish spawn at different times during the spring depending on what part of the lake they call home. Populations of bass in different parts of the lake or even different parts of the same large cove will vary the time they spawn. Water temperature is the main factor in when fish spawn so keep in mind that shallow water, stained water, and the backs of creeks all warm up first. This is important to know, if you successfully catch bed fish in a certain part of the cove, you can often recreate this pattern elsewhere. Keep your eyes on the water temp gauge of your graph and note what temp you found when you found active beds. Something to note… river system lakes like Lake Travis don’t always behave this way. For example, the upper end of the lake past Pace Bend can be considerably warmer than the basin areas near Sometimes Island.
Where Do Bass Spawn?
Largemouth bass prefer shallow protected coves and flats to build their nests. Areas away from strong current, wind, and boat traffic are ideal places to look. Watching Bass Master I’m sure you have heard them refer to something called a “spawning flat.” So what is that? Well in certain lakes there are areas that set up with all the ideal conditions to hold multiple beds. Ideally you want an area with 6 feet or less of water. There are exceptions to this, Lake Travis for example is very very clear and I have found fish spawning in as deep as 15 feet of water. Let’s not worry about those bass though. The backs of coves and creeks will always hold bedding fish, but you will find that not all areas are created equal. Look for creek channels that have flats nearby with timber, rock, or some form of cover. Those creek channels act as a highway and make it easy for fish to move when ready to lay their eggs.
Structure can actually be a big factor in where fish spawn. Often times you will notice that their beds will be built next to a log, a stick, a lone rock, some brush, under a dock… the list goes on and on. I believe that they use this cover as additional protection for their nest. Bass eggs are like caviar to a myriad of fish. Bluegill and sunfish are notorious cradle robbers and will eat the eggs if left unattended. Crawfish are another enemy when it comes to spawning time… This brings us to what baits to throw.
What Baits To Use
When bass are actively guarding their beds they become easily agitated and very aggressive. There are a ton of baits that will catch them, but I would like to narrow it down and suggest a couple that work well for me.
Senkos: A wacky rigged Senko is deadly anytime of year, but particularly in the springtime. When bass bite your lure they are not trying to eat it because they are hungry. They are trying to kill it and stop it from disturbing their nest. Bass are able to flare out their gills and suck in and out water. A fish can spit out a bait just as fast as they can suck it in. When the fish are being finicky I like a wacky rig with an exposed hook. A 1/0- 2/0 Owner wacky hook or a VMC Neko hook are my preferred hooks. With the exposed hook point I have found that you improve your hook up ratio, as it can be tougher for a fish to spit the bait. That hook point has the chance of catching inside their mouth before they spit it, giving you the opportunity to set the hook.
Lizards: Salamanders are also a predator of bass eggs and a soft plastic lizard is a great imitation. Rig them on a Texas rig with a very small tungsten bullet weight, as light as you can get away with. You also want to peg the weight, it helps with the action when trying to keep it on the bed.
Crawfish: There are numerous terrific crawfish imitations. Take your pick but I like Zoom Speed Craws, Strike King Rage Craws, a D Bomb, or my favorite a Savage Gear 3D Craw. I will typically rig these on a shakey head or a football jig head without a weed guard.
A Dropshot: This is one of my absolute favorite ways to fish a bed that I feel gets truly overlooked. With a dropshot you are able to keep the bait on the bed and give it action without moving the sinker. You can literally leave a bait in the same spot for 5 minutes just lightly twitching it until you get the fish to bite. Rattlesnakes, bluegill colored flukes, and worms are all good options. When fishing a drop shot on a bed shorten up the distance between the bait and the sinker. I like to rig my hook about 5 inches from the sinker, and tie it on a bait casting rod. I find this set up much easier to pitch onto a bed quietly without disturbing the bass. A heavier sinker is perfect since you can twitch the bait a little more aggressively without dragging it.
Jigs: I personally DO NOT recommend jigs. This is a personal preference as I know a ton of people use them. If you trim back the weed guard it helps a little, but I find a jig to be the least forgiving of all the bed fishing baits I throw. I find that the weed guard makes me miss a lot of bites. The fish will pick up the bait and spit it out, and that weed guard gets in the way of them hooking themselves. You have a very narrow window to set the hook as soon as you see the bait disappear in the bass' mouth. If you aren't quick with the hook-set the moment they bite it, you'll likely miss the fish. I also avoid baits that have a large profile. Since the fish isn’t trying to eat the bait they sometimes won’t get the whole bait in their mouth, they’ll just pick up the trailer and miss the hook.
Colors: This is where I keep it simple… white, bubblegum, and green pumpkin. Sure you can mess around with dyes and different colors but these three colors are all you need. I like white especially since it stands out against the contrasting bottom. When the bass bites I want to be able to see immediately that they have it in their mouth. I want to see the bait gone before I ever even feel a tug on the line. You have to be quick, so using a bait that you can visually see allows you too set the hook quicker. White and bubblegum are my favorite colors to start with since they are easily visible underwater. Sometimes though a finicky bass will turn their nose up at one of these bright colors. This is when I break out the green pumpkin and give them something a little more natural. These colors apply to all the baits listed above.
Lake LBJ Largemouth bass caught during the spawn
Once You Catch a Fish
During the spawn the bass and their eggs are very vulnerable. I have personally seen bluegill flock to a bass' nest to eat the eggs as soon as I caught the bass. Unless you are in a tournament I highly recommend snapping a quick photo and getting that fish back into the water as quick as possible. After all, they are the future of our fisheries and ensuring a successful spawn is important for future fish.
Random Bed Fishing Tips
Here are a couple little bonus tips for those of you that read this whole article!
When fishing a bed try to be as stealthy as possible. These tips are especially helpful when the fish aren’t as aggressive. A bass will rarely hit your bait on the first pitch to its bed; sometimes it can take dozens and dozens of casts. I have literally spent 45 minutes before fishing for one bass. When they get tight lipped there are a couple things I recommend….
Try different lures: switch between you quiver of rods and try those different baits I recommended.
Try different colors: sometimes just the color of the bait can make all the difference.
Try casting on different parts of the bed: More often than not a certain part of a bass’ bed will rile them up the most. Experiment with which side or part of the bed you present the bait on. The dead center of the bed isn’t always best!
Try casting from a different direction: dragging the bait across the bed from multiple directions can also elicit a bite.
Try hitting the fish with your bait. By no means am I saying to snag the fish, however letting your bait bump into them can sometimes make them mad. This is a last resort if the fish just won't bite.
Here is a little tip when you are targeting the big female but the male keeps getting in the way. Disclaimer: This is illegal in some states and forbidden in most tournaments, so this is more for fun fishing. Check your local regulations and rules.
In some states you can purchase a second rod stamp or the law simply allows it. I will keep two rods rigged at the ready, sometimes I will literally have the second rod between my legs ready to cast. Toss the bait up onto the bed and let the male take it… if they are aggressive they will usually pick it up and try to swim a little ways off with it. Do NOT set the hook! At this moment put the rod down under a rod strap or down in the boat and cast the second bait onto the nest. Hopefully that empty nest will draw the big female in and force them to guard the nest. Wait until she bites and set that hook!
Tournament preparation: Another trick I will use when fishing tournaments is marking the beds. A waypoint is cool, but it doesn’t tell you EXACTLY where to cast. For large tournament this usually won't work due to off limits periods. If they don’t have an off limits period though, I will keep a few wooden dowels in the boat. When I find a bed with fish on it, I will VERY slowly, with the trolling motor on the lowest setting, creep my boat up near the bed and stick a dowel in the lake bottom near the bed. Don’t stick it directly in the middle of the bed. I always put it on the left side of the bed a few feet away so that I know to cast to the right of this. Why do this? It gives you a huge advantage if you can cast to the bed from a distance and not spook the fish. If they don’t feel any pressure your chances of them biting go way up. Also, spay paint the dowel to blend in better with the lake and not stick out like a sore thumb… don’t want other anglers catching your fish.
Be quiet! Put all your graphs on standby, turn off your live well pumps, and keep your trolling motor as low as you can. I love listening to music in the boat, but I refrain from this when bed fishing.
I hope some of these tips help you catch more fish this spring! If you liked the article please leave a comment and let me know. If you would like more one on one coaching please considering hiring a fishing guide like me! There is so much I can teach you. The fishing is getting really good and I would love to put you on some fish!