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Tips for Spawning Bass: Part I

Depending on where you live, winter is almost over. The spring thaw has started, which means it’s time for spawning bass. Temple Fork Outfitters ambassador Joey Nania shared a handful of tips with TFO blog editor Mike Hodge on how to fish the spawn, so you’ll be prepared to catch a big bucketmouth.

Spring Time is Prime Time

“Spawning bass is all about spring. And there’s a couple key factors that have to mix properly to get the fish where they will spawn. One of the keys is water temperature. It depends on where you live. For instance in Florida the fish can be finicky and they come up when the the water’s warmer. Some bass will spawn when the water is in the 58-degree range. The magic number is 60 degrees. The bass are going to spawn on either a full or new moon when the water temperature reaches the 60, 70-degree range, anywhere in that range. That’s when it all starts. They will be in pre spawn and staging before that. When the water warms up and you get the moon phase, that’s when they really go. They start fanning and doing their business.”

Shallow Water and Structure

“There’s a big difference between largemouth spawn and where smallmouth and spotted bass spawn. Largemouth spawn in shallow pockets and in shallow flats. They liked to be protected and tucked up against some structure like a dock or laydown tree or a hole in the grass bed in four feet or less. So you want to be shallow in a flat area like a pocket or a super shallow creek flat near structure. Stumps are good. Next to a dock, something that they can get next to — for protection.

Don’t Forget About the Other Species

“Spotted bass and smallmouth spawn similarly. They’re going to spawn on flats and points and rocky, gravel structures, where largemouth are more on pockets. Flats, humps, any shallow spot four feet or less, that’s where spots and smallmouth will spawn — and more in open water. It’s not going to be protected as much. It could be on a flat in the middle of a creek.”

Strategy and Tools of the Trade

“With the smallmouth and the spots, a lot of times you can’t see them. They spawn on the more open-water structures. My favorite (setup) for catching those species when you’re blindcasting, where you think they’re spawning and you’re picking off areas, I like to use a TFO Pacemaker, 6-10 medium with 20-pound braid to a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader. A Carolina Rig with a 3-foot leader is a little trick also for blindcasting on the flats on the open-water beds. I like to fish a lizard or a Fluke on the back of it.”

Patience is Virtue

“It’s all about presenting it slow. One of the most important things is when you see a piece of structure that looks right, when you throw that bait, you want to wait, three to five seconds before you ever move it. After that, give the bait little small movements until you’re out of the strike zone. Fishing it slow is really important. Sometimes if one is bedding there, it might take multiple casts, even if you can’t see them.”

Sight Fishing Strategy

“You have to find the fish first and having a good pair of polarized glasses is very important for that. Once you’ve found them, you want to use little craw baits, Texas-rigged soft-plastic crawdad baits. Those tend to make them mad. The Shaky Head also works good for that.”

Minimizing Expectations and Playing the Game

“This is important. Every bass you find on the bed is different. One of the biggest keys is to be able to see the fish and how it’s moving, what it’s doing and to tell if the fish is catchable or not. Some fish are easy to catch and some bed fish are very difficult to catch. If you keep hunting for those easy-to-catch ones, you can normally find enough to have a productive day and catch some good, quality fish. You’re looking for ones that are easy to catch. If it’s a giant, I’ve worked fish up to an hour before I got them to bite. If it’s a big fish and if you’ve got an hour to spend, that’s not a bad idea. The key is if the fish leaves and doesn’t come back for maybe three to five minutes, it doesn’t care that you’re there. If it leaves and comes (right) back, then you know have a catchable fish. Pay attention to the signs. If they start looking up at the bait, and once they start turning up, all it takes is a little pop. Understanding the mood of the fish is important. It can be frustrating at times.”

 

Any more tips on spawning bass? Feel free to comment. Next week, we’ll look at how to catch spawning bass on fly.

How to Fish Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee is one of the top bass lakes in the United States. It’s also one of the most challenging, given its sheer size and changing conditions. Two-time junior Bassmaster world champion and TFO Ambassador Joey Nania weighs in with a few tips on how to find bass in Lake O.

Preparation is Key

“The big thing is to do your research learning those key areas like the Monkey Box, certain places like that. Do your research on those backwater areas with good hard reed lines. But from what I heard the last hurricane wiped out the hard reed lines. And normally the key on that lake is finding the hard reed lines, even with the wind is blowing. Find a reed line that’s got good backwater behind it. Those kind of places are going to filter out the dirt and the sediment and the mud. Those Florida bass love to be in that clear water. Your best bet to catch them is in that not-sediment-filled water. Those reeds lines filter that out.

Expect the Unexpected Given Florida’s Recent Tropical Weather Trends

“A lot of stuff has changed. It’s one of those flat, shallow Florida lakes. A hurricane comes through and that can change the whole lake. It’s the same in Louisiana in those low-lying marshes. That vegetation can easily get ripped up and destroyed and killed. It can become a mess. Daytime decisions are a big thing. Understanding the wind, which way it’s blowing and which way things will be protected or blown out. Running away from the wind can be very important to having success.

Start Small

“I’ve always done well in the rim canal, those canals that go all the way around the lake. There’s some good backwaters off those rim canals. Those places are going to stay a little more stable in terms of wind conditions and weather.”

Think Outside the Box

“The spawn is always a good time. A lot of fish will spawn through the fall and into the winter. That will depend on the conditions. One of the most fun times I know of is to go down there is post spawn — April — when the fish are still shallow, but a lot of them have done their thing. They’re just in a full feed mode. That’s a great time to swim a jig. They’re done spawning and they’re in full feed mode. They’re feeding hard. That time of year is a lot of fun.

The key is finding clean water, somewhere that’s not filthy and dirty. And then it’s a matter of figuring them out. …”

The Right Equipment

“A 7-6 heavy action rod to punch the grass mats. Something to punch with 65 to 80-pound braid, something in the 1-2 ounce range to consistently punch through with every pitch. You don’t want half your pitches not go through the mat. A heavy rod with a good backbone to throw a decent jig with a soft tip. That’s really important. I would say a 7-6 Heavy Pacemaker is a great rod. The 7-6 is a perfect length. It’s not so long that it’s overwhelming and too much to fish with. It’s a got a good bounce to it. You can flip with that thing all day and not get tired. I would use a high-gear ratio reel for the punching technique, something that can punch through those mats and get the bait back to the boat quickly to get to as many fish as possible.”

The Right Technique

“It’s about getting as many flips as you can and hitting them in the head when you’re punching. With punching, it’s important to know when you’re getting the bite and nine times out of ten, your bite comes on the initial fall when you pitch it in there and let it drop, or it will be on the first hop, when you pitch it through the mat, hop it, let it fall, and they’ll get it. And if the water is really cold, you have to hop it in the hole for a long time. Normally, it’s punch it in there, let it fall once and hop it, let it fall and get it to the next good looking area or clump.

Don’t Get Frustrated

“That lake can be overwhelming. It’s overwhelming because it all looks the same. Finding the right area that has the right water quality and grass and an abundance of different grass. Work that area. And you’ve got to think there’s a population of fish that use that backwater to spawn and go through their life cycle. It’s finding that right area, hunkering down and figuring out are they on the outer edges and outer reed lines in the deeper water, or are they up in the flats trying to spawn? Do that type of thing.

“One type of grass to look for and there are a couple different types that grow on hard bottom. One of them is Arrowhead. If I’m in Florida and I find Arrowhead grass and it grows in sand. It’s 2, 3-feet tall with a spear-shaped arrowhead on it. That’s always a good sign for hard bottom. And any time you’re around a full moon the first couple months of the year finding that Arrowhead grass with that sandy, hard bottom in those backwaters is really important.”

Manage Your Expectations

“(Lake Okeechobee) is not as good as it used to be it seems like. Lakes go through cycles and weather changes. It will rebound, but it’s down right now from what it used to be. Hopefully it rebounds strong. I’m sure it will. That’s how these lakes work. But it’s certainly not what it was at one point. It’s still a great destination, but I would wait till the water warms up a bit so you can get stable warmth before you schedule a trip, sometime in March or April. January and February in Florida is always up and down. Normally you’re going to hit a cold front of some sort.”

 

If you liked this story, let us know. If you want more bass fishing info, check out this interview from TFO advisor Cliff Pace.

How to Fish for Winter Bass

Largemouth bass are known as a warm-water species, but this is not to say you should pass on winter fishing. TFO Ambassador and two-time junior world bassmaster champion Joey Nania provides six tips to make your time on the water more productive during those chilly stretches.

Expand Your Strategy by Going Deep

“I would say one of the biggest mistakes people make is not being versatile in the winter. On any given day of fishing, whether it’s winter, spring or summer or fall, there are a lot of fish that are shallow and there are a lot of fish that are deep. Deep-water winter fishing is one of the more forgotten techniques. What a lot of guys do is fish a crankbait and a jerk bait, and those are two techniques that always I have ready to go in the winter time, and the little SR 7 shad rapper, crawdad color, is a great crankbait. Also (I use) a jerk bait. A jerk bait is a great way to catch them shallow. In the winter time, I always give those shallow fish a chance.

But a lot of times with your numbers, a lot of times where your bass are living is out deep. Learning how to fish deep is important for fishing success throughout the year, because shallow fish do not bite every day. No doubt about it. You can catch them up shallow, but normally you’re not going to catch a ton of fish. You’re not going to get a consistent bite or numbers. The majority of the population is deep.”

Lures to Use and Where to Fish for Bass

“For deep fishing, there’s a couple different baits I like to use. One of the main ones is a 6th Sense Divine Underspin, with a fluke-style bait on the back of it. That’s good to be slow rolled on the bottom for deep schools, and then my second favorite is the bass Underspin and Nedmiki rig. The Nedmiki is (for) a vertical technique.”

Structure. Structure. Structure.

“What I do is use my depth finder. The key in the winter and the summer when it’s warmer is bass are going to be holding in current-oriented places in the structure. They’ll be right on the brush pile or right on the tip of the point or right on the brink of the ledge. But in the winter time, they lay in the holes and depressions and pretty much in the valleys and troughs between structures. They lay in the deeper holes, because that’s a softer bottom, a mud bottom and they’ll lay out there in the cold with their bellies in the mud and they eat shad. I like to locate those fish with my Underspin fan-casting in those deep holes and deep depressions. I’m talking 16, 17 out to 25 feet deep. A lot of times it will be near a creek channel, but a lot of the times, they won’t be on a creek channel, they’ll be in holes in the pocket, in the deepest part of the pocket, something like that, a pre-spawn staging deal.”

Use Your Technology

“The easiest way to find these fish is with your depth finder using your side imaging looking for those white dots. In the summer when I’m graphing deep, I like to use my down imaging. I still use my side imaging, but the down imaging shows me where those schools are sitting. In the winter, those schools will be scattered 5, 10 feet apart. It’s harder to see them on the down imaging, but on the side imaging you’ll see fifty to a hundred dots between two pieces of structure pretty much with high spots on the bottom.”

Pay attention to Water Temperature

“They pretty much do the same thing all year long. It just gets a little bit tougher. The colder the water is the less they’ll eat because their metabolism is slower. The colder the water the slower it will be. That’s why it’s important to do that vertical fishing out deep. You’ve got to drop a Nedmiki or Damiki rig or a jig head with a minnow. You’ve got to drop it right on their head and jiggle it in front of their nose. It’s really important to have a sensitive rod when you’re doing that. It’s important to feel those bites. I’d say it’s important to have a (TFO) 6-9 GTS Tactical, Drop-Shot rod, medium light. You want that light, soft rod for vertical fishing. It’s almost ice fishing from your boat. You’re pretty much ice fishing. You’re vertically dropping it on their head, and a lot of times once you catch one, more fish will come into the area to investigate.”

Patience Pays and Here’s Why

“Their feeding zones are a lot smaller. They’re not going to feed all day long like they do in the hotter months. It’s going to be a narrower window, when they actually do eat. The key is finding those places the fish are using and looking for life and activity using your graph. The other way you can find fish is birds. If you see birds diving in a certain area and you look on your graph and see if their diving between two holes or whatever. I look for that a lot. But when the water temperature gets down to 48 (degrees) or so you don’t see as much of that bird activity, either.

“I still think the winter bite is really good in the morning time, but in the afternoon, there always seems to be a spike (in feeding too). In the winter, if you have a front pushing in and you can get out there pre front, those fish will feed a little better. That barometric pressure makes a difference than it does in other times of year. If you’ve got a good day with a front pushing in, that can be really important. Wind can push those fish a lot, too, if the wind blows and moves the water and bait fish, those fish might hold closer to wind-blown structure.”