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Fly Fishing for Spawning Bass: Part II

Spring has started. It’s time to dust off the fly rod, and there’s no better avenue to break in the new season than by sparring with spawning bass. We caught up with TFO supporter Greg Smith of River Hills Outfitters for a few tips on largemouth on the fly.

Picking the Right Time of Year

“March through May, at least in the (Austin) Texas area. The main thing is the water temperatures, 60-degree plus water. Like all animals, they work off the moon cycles. If the water temp is right and the moon is full, they’ll start the spawn process. If it’s too cold, you’re basically looking at a full month before they decide to do it again. I think they’re looking for the right checklist. If they haven’t reached those parameters, it can be pushed back a month a lot of the time. It’s kind of an interesting thing. They definitely are working on moon cycles.”

What To Look For

“At least in the rivers that I fish, I traditionally look to the sides, with the fallen trees and current on it, the deep edge of the river, but here’s the thing: This is the one time of year to scrap all of that. Don’t cast to the deep structure and deep logs. You want to cast to the shallow gravel, medium shallow, grassy areas. Beds are easy to recognize. They’re clean washed gravel, normally in a perfect circle.”

Understanding the Food Chain and Flies

“If you’re looking to target spawning, or pre spawning fish, it needs to be something that resembles a predator to their eggs — a salamander, a crawfish, a lizard, a leech, anything that looks like that. What they’re doing is killing anything that comes near their eggs. All of those small animals in the river will take advantage and eat those eggs. That’s a whole function of them sitting on that bed and protecting those eggs that they’re so aggressive, they’ll protect their young with their life and put themselves in harm’s way to do so. … Crawfish, lizards, leeches. Even small bluegill and baitfish patterns. Those little things will do the same thing. They will try to eat the eggs. As far as flies, I tie my own stuff. None of it’s named. Everyone has their preference. There’s so much on the market these days. Pat Cohen makes some great crawfish patterns.”

The Right Equipment

“Six to eight weight rod, 10 to 15-pound tippet, 10 to 20-pound really. With the flies, go weedless as possible. By the time of year when you’re fishing, it’s when the grass really starts growing and you’re going to snag on stuff. A heavy trout setup or light redfish setup will work.

“I pretty much use TFO exclusively. I’ve probably got 20 (TFO) rods in my guide quiver. I use the BVKs a lot. I’ve got to spend a lot of quality time with (TFO advisor) Lefty (Kreh) and (I use them) out of homage to him.”

Vary Your Retrieve

“It’s a cat-and-mouse game to get them to eat sometimes. They will chase your fly a lot, but they won’t always eat, hardly ever. There is a reading of the fish and testing things. You definitely have to try a faster retrieve and see if they chase it and show more interest. Try that. If they turn off it, you have to slow it down a little bit. Sometimes you have let it sit still when they’re right up next to it and making it look like it’s going down toward their zone. Sometimes that’s the best thing. You can twitch it instead. Sometimes fishing it slower and giving the fish time to recognize it works. Moving it fast sometimes will get them to chase, but it won’t get a bite.”

 

Any more tips on fly fishing for bass? Feel free to let us know with a comment or two.

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 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.”