Capt. Steve Chaconas
Largemouth trophy hunters flock to Lake Fork in Texas, 2 hours from Dallas.
There, fish between 16 inches and 24 inches are released to ensure big ones get away. A 24-inch fish can be well over 10 pounds!
I jumped at the invitation of Skeeter Boats to visit Lake Fork in late April. Bigger female bass were on beds for the spawn. Smaller males, 3-8 pounds, were guarding beds. The water was clear enough to see the fish and I was with the Skeeter/Yamaha pro team, some of the best bed fishermen in the business.
Some call it “bed fishing,” some “sight fishing.” I liken it to a singles’ bar… guy aggravates gal until she slaps him…or in this case, fisherman aggravates bass until it bites.
Bass typically are not eating…but will react to intruders. Bass behavior ranges from very aggressive to spooked. Aggressive bass attack the first thing that enters the nest, while spooked bass will swim off on approach.
Beds, circular and up to three feet in diameter, are in water 3-5 feet deep near shore or deeper.
To “sight fish,” you need good eyesight and a great pair of polarized sunglasses. I was able to pick out beds and the fish on them with Maui Jim Polarized Plus HCL (High Contrast Lens) sunglasses.
Beds are everywhere, but catchable bass are not! If a fish looks at you or reacts to the trolling motor and takes off and doesn’t return for several minutes, pick another fish. If a fish spooks and comes right back, or isn’t spooked at all, it’s a good target.
Pros agree on some tactics with subtle differences on line size and type, hooks, bait style and color, and even boat position. They all agree Power Poles keep things quiet and close.
Some pros take a long-distance approach. Cruising the bank to find beds, they then back off to avoid spooking fish and make longer casts without actually seeing them.
Green colored unweighted stick worms soaked in Jack’s Juice are tied to fluorocarbon to help them sink for reaction strikes.
Others get right up on the fish, 10 feet or closer. Soft plastic stick worms and tube baits in natural colors are baits of choice. However white, pink, orange and other bright colors aggravate fish into biting. Plastic baits imitate intruding fish or crawfish that eat eggs or fry. Shake unpegged 1/32-ounce or heavier tungsten weighted Texas rigs in beds until fish bite.
Using a deep-water technique to fish beds is also popular. Drop Shots, a hook tied a foot or so up the line with the weight on the bottom, allow weights to be left outside the bed and baits inside. The bait stays in the bed as they are shaken, providing a vulnerable and persistent target for bedding bass.
Giant bass in California’s clear lakes are caught by trolling 6-10 inch soft plastic “swim baits” (like Sassy Shads on steroids).
A one-two punch for bedding bass can be set up with the same big baits by pitching them a few feet past the bed, swimming to the bed, and then dropping them in the middle to separate the lethargic from the lunkers. First, hooks are removed to avoid accidentally snagging bedding bass. It becomes a game of bass and bassmaster.
The large plastic predator dropping in is not well received. Bass, visibly agitated, grab the tail and drag the bait outside the bed. A few pitches and bass are ready to kill anything that comes near. The follow up punch is a small presentation that is dropped in front of the angry fish and it’s engulfed without hesitation.
Some find fishing during the spawn as an interruption to procreation. Many fishermen who bed fish release their fish immediately to allow them to carry out their duties. Studies to date have not been conclusive on the impact of bed fishing. Bed fishing isn’t out of sight but has a short season.