The Spring Spawn
While listening to a speaker at our club meeting the other night, I heard a statement about a subject that I have always thought was highly overrated. The subject was water temperature and the statement was “what would happen if the water temperature did not go up?” The answer was, of course, “the fish would still spawn”.
Too many of us have bought into the notion that water temperatures must be at a certain level before fish will spawn. The most common one being that bass spawn in water temperatures of 70-80 degrees. If this were the case, there would be no bass in some states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont and Maine, just to mention a few. These states almost never get water temperatures that high until the middle of the summer. And yet, the bass still spawn in May and June every year.
In talking with fisheries biologists over the years, I have learned that bass start their spawning cycle according to the available light. As the days get longer and longer in the early spring, the fish recognize this and begin their search for a suitable spawning site.
This is not to say that water temperature does not matter. But the simple fact is that I have seen bass spawning in 50 degree water in Canada, 90 degree water in Virginia and just about everywhere in between. It is also a mistake to believe that all bass spawn in the spring. Many spawning bass have been caught off the beds in the Potomac River in September and October.
From what I have learned, bass “awaken” with the lengthening of the daylight hours. They tend to head for shallow water where the sun can beat directly on their sides, helping to ripen their eggs. At the same time, they start actively foraging for the food necessary to sustain them during and immediately after the spawn. Once the eggs ripen and they have gained enough fat storage to sustain themselves, they only await the ideal conditions for spawning.
Moon phases come into play at this juncture. Most fish like to spawn near the full moon or the new moon. This is why you see many, many fishing tournaments held on weekends adjacent to the full and new moon. With all conditions right; i.e. eggs ripened, available daylight, adequate food and good water, the fish will generally start the spawning process around the full or new moon in May and June in the Mid-Atlantic. North or south of this area, the dates will shift somewhat as the amount of light will not be the same. Some area see bass spawning as early as February and others as late as July, but somewhere in that area, all conditions will come together and the spawn will start.
Males are charged by Mother Nature with the task of making a nest. This nest can be in one foot of water or in 10 feet of water. Conditions for each body of water are different and the bass instinctively know what they have to do to ensure the survival of their brood. The most common place is a shallow sand or gravel flat adjacent to deep water. The term, deep water, is relative. In some areas, this may be 25-30 feet and in others, it may be 4-5 feet deep. The key is water deeper than the spawning area. I most generally look for spawning areas near 12-15 feet of water.
Once the male has built the nest, he then leaves to find a suitable female. Suitable means any female he can round up and herd back to the nest. There they play the mating game, with the male pushing the female’s body to help her eject the eggs. Once the eggs are laid, the female leaves the nest and the male takes care of the housekeeping and maintenance of the eggs. When the eggs hatch, he stays with them, protecting them from bluegill and other predators until they are big enough to fend for themselves.
A good pair of Polaroid sunglasses are a great help when looking for nests. While scanning the flat, look for a round clearing in the middle of darker colored bottom. This may be in the middle of a weed bed, around submerged wood, on a gravel bank or in the middle of a lily pad field.
Once a nest is found, check the center of the nest for a fish. Bass blend into their backgrounds beautifully, which makes it very difficult to see them. Watch the center of the nest for movement of any kind. If you see movement, there is a fish on the nest. Back away from the nest as far as you can and still maintain visual contact with it. I like to throw a soft plastic bait in either chartreuse or with part of the tail colored chartreuse. I watch the chartreuse and when it disappears, the fish has got it in his/her mouth. This is the time to set the hook and bring in the fish.
Please remember however, that if we take all the spawners off the beds, we will have no fish to catch next year and the years after. Have your fun but put them back as quickly as possible to complete their spawning process.