Bass can act pretty wild during the spawn—and they can be incredibly difficult to catch. But it's still possible! Learn how, here.
Last updated: February 13, 2022
By: Brandon Sanders
Let’s face it: Catching largemouth bass can be difficult. That’s why us anglers love the challenge!
But there’s one huge advantage we can bring with us when fishing: understanding how largemouth bass operate—their feeding habits, their activity, and their lifecycle. Knowing this helps us to predict bass activity better, meaning we catch more and bigger largemouth bass.
A really important part of the bass life cycle is the spawn. Bass can act incredibly strange during the spawn, and they can be incredibly difficult to catch. Let’s learn how, to better understand bass, and to be able to catch bass during the spawning season.
Sound good? Let’s dive in! 👇
The spawn is simply the time of year when largemouth bass procreate, but it is a key time in largemouth bass fishing. The female's size increases substantially as they become loaded down with eggs and the males become excessively aggressive as they instinctually guard their nests. The whole process will typically last up to three or four weeks. Given the need for extra calories along with the male’s protective instincts, it is prime time for action-packed fishing.
Bass begin the spawning process when the water temperature begins to rise above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The males will begin to move into the shallows and prepare the nests by making clearings on the bottom two to four feet wide. They will continually clean and guard this area for the next several weeks even after the females have come and gone.
It begins when water temperatures have hit the mid-60s. The females will move into the bed and begin to lay their eggs. The males will fertilize them and then keep perpetual guard over them until the fry has hatched and moved on.
The spawn is the most important time in the bass’s year, but that doesn’t mean fall bass fishing isn’t productive. They will spend the fall and winter trying to survive until the water temperature tells them it is time for the spawn. Then they will spend the rest of the year attempting to recover from the loss of energy and body mass that the spawn takes from them. Females will begin feeding to ready their bodies for the next spawn and the males will attempt to recover from not eating and only protecting beds for so long.
The largest fish will likely be caught during this period. Bass that are otherwise difficult to locate and entice into a bite are vulnerable through the spawn. The angler that can accurately anticipate the spawn, know where they are at in the cycle, and then locate them on the water will be rewarded for their efforts. After the spawn, they will disperse and assume a summer pattern, which can be more challenging to exploit as the season's march on.
Pre-spawn bass fishing can be somewhat challenging as it is a time of significant transition for the bass. They have spent the majority of the fall and winter in an inactive rut to conserve energy and weather the colder water temperatures. As the water temperature begins to rise their mating instincts kick in and begin to move towards shallower water to build beds. Typically, they will congregate and school in areas that border deep water, which can make the fishing a little easier.
Due to the bass’s preference for schooling during the pre-spawn it is easy to find several at once. During this phase of the yearly cycle, the bass want to move but are still plagued with cold water and largely empty bellies that they want to fill before the spawn begins. This leads to them attempting to find the path of least resistance as they move due to a lack of energy. Finding these spots is key to catching fish during the pre-spawn phase.
The way to most effectively do this is with topographical maps or depth charts of the body of water that is being fished. Knowing where they will likely want to spawn and where they have been in the fall and wintertime is key to understanding how they will be moving. Once the shallow flats are conducive to spawning and the high points surrounded by deep water where they will have been suspended, the paths they will take become quite obvious. Looking for natural funnels or channels, like old creeks in reservoirs, bridges, or choke points will yield results as the fish pass through them.
Lure selection can be challenging, but there are lures to love during the pre-spawn. They will need to cover a variety of depths depending on the conditions of the day, reflect the watercolor, and match the speed of retrieval to the water temperature. Crankbaits are a go-to for prespawn, but if the water is especially cold they may simply require too much effort for the fish to catch. If that is the case, turning to bass jigs may be a viable alternative.
The time of year that the spawn takes place can vary wildly depending on the environment that the bass is subjected to. While there are still some controversies around what all determines the time that bass spawn, it is largely held that water temperature is the biggest determining factor. As the temperature rises above 50 degrees, bass know that spring is coming and the time for mating is at hand. By the time the water temperature reaches the mid 60s the spawn is in full swing.
Some will point toward the timing of moon phases is also important. Most aquatic life will use the moon as a coordination tool to hatch eggs so that predators are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of young. Therefore, it is far more likely that the moon phase has little to do with the timing of the spawn, but influences when eggs are laid during the spawn. This is all yet to be proven, but the prudent angler should at least be aware of the conversation and possibility.
Generally speaking, the warmer, southern states see the largemouth bass spawn in late January to early March. The middle states will see the spawn in late March to April. While the most northern states may not see the bass spawn until June. Yet, these are all approximations as a wide variety of variables can come into play.
The relative weather over the preceding months can have a severe impact on when the spawn happens. The best way to know is to pay attention to your local body of water’s temperature as that is the best indicator of when the spawn will take place.
A fishing journal can be helpful when fishing the same body of water year after year. Keeping catch records of the temperature, weather, water level, and annual rainfall on an app or in a written journal helps establish the trends for that particular lake. While the spawn is a sensitive time that can move earlier or later in the year, a bass’s preference for conditions remains mostly the same. Understanding your local body of water and your local fish will help greatly in predicting where they are in the cycle.
Spawn behavior is divided into different genders as they play different roles in the spawning process. The males assume the role of provider and protector. Yet the females simply show up, lay their eggs and leave. Understanding the different roles in the genders helps in the timing of techniques, bait selection, and overall approach to fishing the spawn.
The males are the first to show up and the last to leave the nesting area. As the water temperature moves into the 60-degree range for several days, the males move into their preferred nesting sites. They begin to clean out an area that will be a suitable bed. Often these sites have no overhead cover so to allow for ample light penetration.
This is the one time in a largemouth bass’s life where they do not want to hide. Rather they want to be able to see anything and all threats to the eggs. After the female has laid her eggs, the male will aggressively guard the nest until the fry have hatched and moved on.
The female plays a much simpler role in the whole affair. Her only job is to show up, lay eggs in the male’s nest and move on. Most of her involvement in the spawning process comes from rambunctiously feeding to supply her body with enough material to form and sustain the eggs. The majority of their most active time is during the pre and post-spawn periods as they prepare and recover accordingly.
There are several key items bass look for when selecting a bedding site. The quality of the bottom is one crucial factor as that's where the eggs will sit while they incubate. The bed must have a hard bottom that is clear of debris. The male will ensure that he picks a place that is suitable and will spend the majority of his pre-spawn days fanning out debris from the area.
Depth is another key factor. Bass beds will always be shallow. Typically this will occur in water no deeper than 3 feet deep. The shallowness keeps traffic in and around the bed low. This results in fewer variables that could harm the eggs and fry.
When a male looks for a bed, he will always select a site that is near some sort of cover. Though this cover will not be directly overhead as he wants ample light penetration for both heat and protection. Fewer shadows mean an easier time detecting nest invaders that would feed on the young. The ideal spot for a bass bed incorporates several pieces of cover on one side so that the male can fortify his position.
Possibly the biggest consideration for a bass bed site are localized factors that directly impact the temperature in that spot. This can be warm water influxes like run-offs and creek mouths. However, peaks in the underwater topography, like saddles, ridges, and points allow for warmer temperatures to be higher than other parts of the lake. Trees that have high amounts of vegetation to gather sunlight and channel its warmth into the water also make for attractive bed sites.
Males and females will both migrate and actively eat in the pre-spawn period as they are gearing up for the next several weeks. As they invariably school up for this migration, bass will eat baitfish and stalk other targets of opportunity along their path. Most of their sustenance for the coming weeks will be acquired during this period. Males will be more opportunistic, but females will be much more intentional as they are still forming eggs up until they begin to roll on the beds.
During the spawn itself, the females will be much less reactive. Their main focus is to select a mate, lay their eggs, and get back to feeding themselves as soon as possible. This makes catching largemouth bass difficult, as the fish are more inclined to ignore opportunistic meals that they would normally take advantage of. Males are hyper-aggressive and attack anything that enters into the bed and the area around it.
Post spawn can be one of the most interesting times to fish as both males and females are in recovery mode. Bass will often move into shallow water to feed and take advantage of the higher water temps. However, as the sun rises higher in the sky, they tend to move to places that have better access to deep water. Points, ridges, and underwater plateaus that have some sort of vegetation provide them with elements that maximize their feeding efforts.
During the spawn, it is most effective to directly target the beds. Having polarized sunglasses that remove the glare from the water will allow the fisherman to see what is going on below. Many bass, both male and female, have been caught due to the angler being able to see that they are posted up over a fanned out bed allowing presentations to be made directly to them. Stealthy platforms, like those used when kayak fishing in a river, can also allow for the fisherman to get dangerously close under these conditions.
If the water is muddy and finding beds by sight is not realistic, then focusing on cover is the next best thing. Finding a flat area with a solid bottom and pitching next to trees and stumps is crucial to success. Bear in mind that if the fish have spawned there once in the past, they are very likely to return to the same area year after year. Adverse conditions like these are where a fishing journal, pictures, or simple memory can open the path to success.
The buzz bait is one of the most effective ways to irritate males into striking during the spawn. They are extremely aggressive and sensitive to annoyances coming from the blades made by the buzz bait. Slow rolling a buzzbait with a clacker and trailing worm over a bedded male can be a surefire way to catch the overly protective male. This also allows for a very large area to be covered in a short period as the presentation and retrieval time of a buzz bait is very short.
Using soft plastics to directly invade a nest is also an excellent way to pull males off the bed. Texas rigged worms and jigs have been used to win many bass tournaments during this time of year. The male’s only ambition is to protect anything that could be seeking to eat the eggs the female has laid. A Texas-rigged lizard with a bullet weight hopping its way into the bed is highly effective. This approach effectively imitates the threat that the male is on a keen lookout for.
Post spawn fishing can be very rewarding, but also very challenging. The warmer the water gets, the less oxygen it will hold. Bass, especially the larger ones, will seek relatively cooler temps to allow them to breathe easier.
This means that as the water cools over night, they will want to come back to the shallows to feed. However, once the sun is up and the lake warms back up, they will retreat to deeper water. As a result, using watercraft such as a bass boat or a kayak might be the best way to reach bass.
This dynamic means that areas that have access to shallow water with vegetation and deeper pools are very attractive to fish. In addition to the oxygen saturation characteristics of cold and warm water, deep water also provides security from other predators. Hunting shallow can be rewarding bass, but it also exposes them to herons, egrets, and other predators that they would like to avoid. Therefore, having access to both shallow water and deep water are areas that the fisherman should be sought after.
An all-time favorite for this time of year is the fluke. The fluke’s action as it drifts through the water is that of a dying baitfish. Bass see this and think that another fish has done the work of disabling a small baitfish, but neglected to finish the job.This sort of presentation is effective at pulling large bass off of deeper cover, from under docks, or other cover on the lake.
As opposed to colder temperatures seen during the fall bass fishing season, warmer water temperatures open up pandora’s box of search baits. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits can be crucial to effectively catching fish during the middle of the day as they pull off to deeper water or suspend. They have the added benefit of allowing a fisherman to cover a large area fairly quickly. This increases the chances that a prime location holding bass will be discovered and many fish will be caught.
Bass spawn in whatever month the water temperature rises to the mid 60s. Pay attention to your local body of water’s temperature to know when the spawn is most likely to take place.
You know if the bass are spawning if the water temperature is above 60 degrees, you can see them on their shallow water beds, and they are highly responsive to presentations made close to cover.
Bass feed while spawning, but they differ depending on where they are in the spawning process and their gender. Essentially, they will bite, but how responsive they are to any particular presentation will depend on a variety of factors.
Largemouth bass only spawn once per year. This occurs in the springtime when the water temperature has reached an appropriate (warm) level.
Bass stay on their beds for approximately one month. However, males will stay for the duration of the spawn to defend the eggs and fry against predation. Females will show up after the males have established the bed and go once their eggs are laid.
Bass will bite while spawning, but only to defend the nest from potential predators. It is best to use this defensive instinct to your advantage by imitating creatures that would like to feed on bass eggs.
About the author: Brandon Sanders, who goes by BBSanders, is a freelance outdoors writer that enjoys hunting and fishing across the world. He is a combat veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other smaller deployments. He lives in East Texas in a small cabin with his wife and two dogs. You can learn more about him on his own website, here.