We’re smack in the middle of the annual largemouth bass spawning season and that means one of two things for bass anglers: the time for the trophy fish of a lifetime or leaving the fish alone until they’re done making more fish.
Catching and releasing spawning females has been hotly debated forever, with some believing if the fish are handled carefully and quickly released, it will go back about its business with no harm done. Others contend there’s no good reason to interfere, even if the fish is released, as it could disrupt the spawn and impact reproduction success.
The debate will likely continue, but perhaps the best indicator we have to guide us is that there is no bass fishing closure in Florida during the spawning months, which means Florida’s fisheries biologists don’t consider it necessary. But keep in mind, part of that reasoning is likely based on the fact most largemouth anglers release their catch, and in some states, there are closures during the spawn.
So, with that, let’s move forward with the presumption that based on the way the state handles it, Florida largemouth bass are hardy and fish stocks are not impacted by fishing during the spawn. But anglers have to do their part by practicing catch-and-release, along with careful handling.
The large, spawning females are easy to find in our local ponds and lakes, as all one has to do is look for the tell-tale white sand circles on the bottom in shallow water. These beds are created by the fish clearing away muck and growth to make a suitable spot to drop her eggs. It’s not unusual to see the bass hanging over or near the bed. Smaller males may also be hanging in the area, as well.
Despite the fish being in plain sight, convincing a bedding fish to bite can be a frustrating experience, as they frequently refuse to take artificial or live baits. They become preoccupied with reproduction, it seems, and clearly are a bit turned off to the idea of eating, the trigger bass anglers rely on most.
But there’s another trigger: the threat response.
Anglers long ago figured out that mama bass can be get pretty defensive when it comes to their eggs and their bedding territory. A successful tactic when nothing else seems to work is park a soft plastic worm, eel or lizard on the sandy bed itself. The intrusion will sometimes trigger an aggressive response by the largemouth, which attacks the bait — but not always.
Some bass just gently pick up the bait by its tail and remove it from the bed, as if it’s just doing some housecleaning. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over expecting a different result, but that doesn’t stop determined anglers, even though every time they reel in and recast the bait onto the bed, the fish repeats the process.
The good news is during the spawn, there are plenty of other beds to scout, and each fish is different, so move on with the idea of returning later. Often the bass that wouldn’t bite changes its mind later.
If it does, be sure to use stout enough tackle to land it quickly without overtiring it. Removing the hook while the fish is in the water and releasing it is best. If removing it from the water, do not touch its skin without wetting your hands first to prevent wiping off its protective slime coating. Also, don’t put strain on the fish’s jaw by lifting it by the lip and allowing its body weight to force its mouth wide open. This is particularly important with handling large fish, as they have more weight.
Often the released fish can be seen swimming right back to its bed, a good sign that it is getting back to nature’s business—and that’s a good feeling for anglers.
The spawning season in this region can run for up to three months beginning in February. Late-season cold this year means we’ll likely see spawning fish in some lakes, ponds and rivers through April.