I’ve never been a big fan of sight fishing for bedding bass.
Sure, there is the moral dilemma of catching a fish that is trying to spawn- which I tend to avoid at all costs during fun fishing- but in a tournament perspective, I would say my distaste for the tactic is more deeply rooted in the fact that I am an impatient person, and I don’t like putting time into catching a single fish, when I could be covering water in search of more aggressive fish.
With this in mind, I am also aware than during the spring it is often a necessity to target fish in some phase of the spawn, and thus I have formulated a strategy for catching spawning fish without sight fishing for them.
Fishing For Ghosts
Just because you can’t see a bed doesn’t mean that you can’t effectively fish for bedding fish. This is why I like to focus on dirty water areas where I know the fish are spawning, yet other anglers likely avoid the areas because they cannot see the bottom.
In many cases fish that spawn in dirtier water are much easier to catch, as they are ultra aggressive and less picky. Also, in dirty water, fish will generally spawn in much shallower water, so shallow water power tactics are effective.
Essentially, I look for areas of a lake that have dirtier water, but also have the other qualities of a suitable spawning area, such as hard bottom, shallow flats and protection from harsh wind. Once I find an area like this, I then start using my imagination to guess where the fish are bedding. This is actually very simple, since bass are very predictable.
Bass like to spawn around isolated cover, like stumps, laydowns, dock posts or types of isolated grass. They like to have something to make their bed up against so they can be more effective at protecting it on all sides.
With this in mind I will use a two-pronged approach, based on speed and precision, to catching these invisible bedding bass.
As I mentioned before, bass in dirty water tend to be less picky, and much more aggressive than visible bass.
For instance, at a recent Florida tournament I had a dirty water pattern fishing for bedding fish, casting a Grass KickerZ around the shallow cover they were spawning around. The fish were literally rushing from over eight feet from their beds to attack my Grass KickerZ, while the fish I could visibly see would barely give a small bait expertly pitched into their beds a second look.
This is why I believe that when they are less pressured, bedding bass are easily fooled by fast moving reaction baits.
In situations like this, I like to choose baits that I can cover water quickly, but also drop vertically into likely spawning areas. This is why I like to use either a Grass KickerZ or a Project Z Swimjig.
Both of these tactics allow you to cover water for reaction strikes, but also allow you to stop on a dime and drop the bait down to a spot where you imagine a bed to be.
With both of these baits, I stick with color patterns that imitate bass enemy #1- bream, sunfish or bluegill.
In situations where reaction techniques aren’t working for bedding fish, this is when precise tactics are essential.
Depending on the thickness of cover, I have a variety of baits that I use to make precision casts to likely bedding areas and slowly work a bottom bouncing technique until I’m confident there is not indeed a bed there.
If I am fishing around grass, or heavy cover, I like to pick up a flipping stick and start pitching either a Boar HogZ or a Palmetto BugZ around likely areas. I like to focus on isolated pieces of cover that have enough room at the base of them to have a bed. I will generally make a quiet pitch into the area and slowly drag in a few feet. If I do not get a bite, I then make another presentation to the next piece of cover.
If I am fishing light cover, such as dock posts, the occasional stump, or a laydown, then one of my favorite presentations is a Ned Rig with light line. I make the same presentation, dragging the dainty bait through bedding territory.
Between fishing with speed or fishing with precision, you can easily catch bedding fish that are invisible to other anglers and keep up with the “looking” crowd.
Seek the bite!