Story and Photos by Dan Rice
Bed fishing is one of the most challenging ways to fish. Not because of the difficulty level of finding the bed or delivering your lure; but because there are many influential factors of successfully finding, catching and releasing a fish that is active in the spawning process. Victory comes down to using the right equipment, understanding fish behavior and doing so with correct timing – a combination of water temperature and moon phase.
As water temperatures reach sixty degrees, a full moon or new moon will kick start the motions in gear. You will need to find the bed, position yourself and your boat for the attack and follow through with sensitivity and care to return the fish back to the water in a healthy state. By following these simple suggestions and tricks, you can turn understanding into pure talent.
From an equipment standpoint, a strong sensitive rod like the Lamiglas Infinity 735C can help alert you to a strike. As a heavy believer in the advantages of fluoro, I stick to 15-pound P-Line 100% Fluorocarbon. In stained or muddy conditions, heavier line is common and jumping up to 20-pound-test is an option, too. For hook setting power, the Tournament Pro from Lew’s is my go-to horse. Strong line and a strong drag will prevent a lot of heartache.
Most importantly, your gear list would not be complete without the frames and lenses that cover your eyes. Measuring in length of one-foot to three-feet, beds are bright colored ovals or circles that appear clean and tidy. Polarized glasses are a must. By keeping the sun to your back, the rest is all technique.
THE SECRETBoth males and females will often use a “pick-up” motion to remove your lure from the bed without closing down on it completely. Using a white jig or chartreuse colored soft plastic will help you visually confirm the commitment. By relying on a bright colored lure, you are using your sight to help identify what is happening under water.
My weapon of choice is a half-ounce football jig, but instead of purchasing white jigs, I carry replacement skirts by Warrior Baits. Their E-Z Change Leg’ns come three to a pack and are cost efficient. In a matter of seconds, you can change skirt colors for any instance that calls for modification. White and Hats Shad are my best producing skirt colors.
ALL ABOUT BEHAVIOR
Visually reading fish behavior is an understanding that comes with experience, but to give you a base of information, a fish’s behavior can be broken up into two categories; primary movement and secondary movement. When approaching a bed, your boat position may scatter the fish. A bass leaving the area would be primary movement – its physical location has changed. After giving the fish time to come back to the area, the male and/or female will return to guard the bed. This is referred to as being “locked on”. Secondary movement includes fin movement, threatening charges towards your lure and blowing, which are tactics of intimidation.
Depending on the location, you may be fishing in open water or around cover such as grass, lily pads or submerged trees. With repeated casts and patience, the bass will often commit to removing your lure from the bed. With amazing talent, a bass can and will win from time to time. A fish may remove your jig by holding onto one strand of your jig skirt, or recognize your lure as a non-threat. Depending on the situation, it may take an angler up to two hours to land the target. Its value heavily depends on your willingness to commit to the situation. Remember that once the fish is hooked, your priority is to safely land the fish and return her to the water as quickly as possible. A quick photo and a safe return is top priority.
Other environmental factors can play a role in your bed fishing success. The sun’s position may help you identify beds by creating contrast on the lake floor; but it may also reveal your position with a shadow. I have had fish move and not return in my presence, because my shadow crossed the bed on a bright sunny day. Not every fish is catchable and like other techniques, bed fishing takes practice and a little bit of luck to be successful.
Watching largemouth and smallmouth bass in Washington State during the spawning season has allowed me to visually connect with the fish that I spend so much time learning about. Much like testing a lure in a pool to reveal greater understanding, sight fishing has helped me gain knowledge that I utilize throughout many other areas of fishing. Much like us anglers, every fish has a unique personality and these variances make up the greater whole of the sport. Using the right equipment, understanding fish behavior and doing so with correct timing will help you become more successful in your pursuit.