Tag Archive for bass spawn

Table Rock Bass Spawning Stages

By John Neporadny Jr

 

Learning about the local geography can be beneficial to anglers when they want to fish a highland reservoir such as Table Rock this spring.

This Ozark highland reservoir is characterized by rolling valleys and steep hills The terrain around the lake is rocky with scattered cedar glades encircled by dense hardwood forests. The reservoir features main tributaries twisting through valleys and hollows. The rivers are fed by the spring rains and creeks flowing down from hillside springs.

Brush and cedars line the creeks that meander for miles before emptying into the main lake.  The upper ends of the lake consists of flooded cedars and hardwood trees standing in the pockets and creeks next to the main river channel. Table Rock can be divided into three distinct sections: (1) the lower end with its steep bluff banks and deep, clear water; (2) the mid-section with more sloping shorelines, long, gravel points jutting into deep water and a mixture of clear and off-colored water; and (3) the upper end with its riverine characteristics of stained to murky water flowing over long, flat stretches of shoreline combined with some steep channel swing banks.

Rock and timber provide the main cover for bass in Table Rock. The best spots to fish in the spring s are anywhere you find isolated boulders or rock combined with wood or gravel.  Chunk rock and gravel banks provide a forage base of crawfish for bass, while pea-gravel banks are the preferred spawning sites. When searching for wood cover, remember that cedar trees usually stand in shallow, rocky areas while hardwoods can be found in water 50 feet deep or more.

Knowing these common characteristics of a highland reservoir will help you develop springtime patterns that can be applied successfully at Table Rock. Let’s look at some of the top patterns that produce bass during the three stages of spring (pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn) on this Ozark highland impoundment.

Pre-spawn

If you fish much in the early spring on this clear reservoir, you’ll notice  dying shad fluttering to the surface. This usually occurs when the water temperature is still in the upper 30-degree range or the low 40s as shad finally succumb to a long period of cold water. During this time, bass move out of the deep wintertime haunts to the 45-degree chunk rock banks, bluffs, channel swings and main or secondary points.  The most productive structure will have cedar trees where bass suspend in the wood cover.

To catch these suspended fish, throw a suspending deep-diving stickbait in black and silver or blue and silver. You can work the lure with either bait-cast or spinning tackle and 8- to 12-pound test line. Use 8-pound test line for open, clear water and switch to the heavier lines when fishing in stained water or in standing timber.

The suspending stickbait works best during this time of year because the lure’s buoyancy keeps it in the strike zone longer for suspended lethargic bass seeking an easy meal. The lure’s action and profile also imitates the dying shad that provide the main forage for bass in the early spring. Since bass tend to suspend at different depths depending on the weather, you need to vary the type of stickbaits and retrieves for these early spring fish.

Another early spring pattern that produces in the clear water areas, especially after a cold front, requires bouncing plastic grubs or jigs along chunk rock boulders of steep banks leading to pea-gravel spawning flats. The cold front causes bass to seek shelter on the rocky bottom where they feed on crawfish, so you want to use a lure that bounces along the rocks. Slowly lift the lure over the rocks with spinning tackle and 6- to 8-pound test line. One of the best soft-plastic rigs for bottom bouncing is a double-tail plastic grub with a 1/4-ounce rocker or stand-up jighead in crawfish colors (watermelon or pumpkinseed). A 1/4-ounce live rubber or hair jig tipped with a small plastic or pork chunk is also a good crawfish imitator that you can effectively crawl along the bottom this time of year.

Fishing on the upper ends of the lake turns on once the water temperature climbs above the 50-degree mark. Break out your heavy-action rod and bait-casting reel filled with 25- to 30-pound test line and slow-roll a spinnerbait or flip a jig. In the earliest stages of spring, bass on the upper end congregate along the points of pockets where they can be taken slow-rolling a white or chartreuse tandem willowleaf spinnerbait. A spinnerbait rolled over the rocky point produces enough vibration for bass to pinpoint this shad imitator in the off-colored water.

When the lake is on the rise, flip a jig into the flooded bushes of the upper end. If the lake level is normal, pitch the same combination to any wood cover you can find along the bank. Jigs in 3/8- to 1/2-ounce sizes and in color combinations of black/chartreuse, black/blue or black/brown work best for this pattern. The rapidly warming water of the upper end causes bass to move extremely shallow and burrow into the heaviest cover they can find. The flipping technique allows you to quietly present a slow-falling lure in front of the shallow fish and winch it out of the cover with your heavy tackle and line.

On the lower two-thirds of the lake, bass continue to migrate towards the spawning banks when the water temperature is in the low 50s. Bass become more active now and have a tendency to chase faster moving lures such as spinnerbaits or crankbaits.  Banging a crawfish or fire tiger medium-diving crankbait on the bottom in areas where chunk rock changes to small gravel can be a deadly technique during this time since bass feed heavily on crawfish before moving to the pea-gravel spawning flats. The technique works best when your lure digs into the rocks, so you need a medium-light action rod to make a long cast and a baitcast reel filled with 8- to 10-pound test line, which allows the lure to dive deeper.

As the water temperature moves into the upper 50s, bass in the lake’s lower and mid-sections tend to concentrate on the pea gravel points and flats in depths of 10 to 15 feet about halfway to three-quarters of the way back in coves. On sunny days look for the fish in the little pockets within the coves.

Bass lose interest in chasing anything now and prefer slower-moving, bottom-hugging lures as they continue to feed on crawfish. Tube jigs and plastic grubs catch some fish, but the quickest way to cover a lot of water and still work at a slow pace is to drag a Carolina-rigged plastic lizard or 4-inch finesse worm along the gravel bottom. Rig a watermelon seed or green pumpkin plastic lizard or finesse worm on a 3- to 4- foot leader of 10- to 12-pound test and add a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce bullet or egg-shaped weight. The heavy sinker stirs up silt as it bounces along the gravel bottom, which draws bass towards your lure. Vary your retrieve depending on the mood of the fish. Start with a   steady pace for aggressive fish, but if that fails to produce, switch to a slow pull with long pauses for sluggish bass.

Another good crawfish-imitator for this pre-spawn stage is a jig  and craw in a brown-and-black combination. Tie the lure on 12-pound test line for fishing in clear conditions and open water; thick cover requires heavier line. Pitch the lure to the bank and pop it off the bottom, then let it drop to simulate the action of a crawfish   scurrying along the bottom.

Spawn

When the water temperature climbs into the 60s, bass start building their spawning nests. Bass start to scatter along the pea gravel banks throughout the coves and construct spawning beds 3 to 6 feet deep, depending on the water clarity. On the lake’s upper end, the fish build nests even shallower in the dirtier water. The earliest spawning activity will be on the north side of the lake where the water warms faster due to more exposure to the sun and the south winds.

A good pair of sunglasses becomes an important tool when looking for spawning bass in the clear water. Since bass concentrate on building and protecting nests now, you need to use a lure that will slowly fall into the nest and stay there, which forces the bass to pick up the bait and move it out of the bed. A variety of soft plastics will do the trick, such as split- shotting a finesse worm or a 4-inch plastic lizard, or dropping a plastic grub with a 1/8- to 1/16-ounce stand-up jighead into the nest. Skipping a tube jig with a 1/32-ounce jighead over the top of a nest or slowly drifting a jerkworm into a nest also trick spawning bass. A suspending stickbait is also effective since it remains stationary in a nest and when a bass takes a swipe at it, the lure’s sets of treble hooks usually latch onto the fish.

When bass first move on the beds they tend to spook easier and are hard to catch. Switch to light spinning tackle now since you might even have to drop down to 4-pound test line in the clear water. You almost have to pitch your lure up on the bank or at least on the opposite side of the nest and drag it into the bed to prevent spooking the bass. If the fish spooks, leave the lure in the nest until the bass returns, then jiggle the lure to entice the fish into picking it up out of the bed. When bass are locked in on the nest, then you can throw your lures right on top of them and provoke them into hitting.

Hordes of minnows and sunfish pester nesting bass throughout the spawn, triggering bass to smash at anything swimming over the nest. Early in the morning, some bass attack topwater lures, such as chuggers, Zara Spooks, floating worms and buzz baits. The best topwater action during the spawn usually occurs after the water temperature climbs above 65 degrees.

Flipping and pitching continues to work for spawning bass in the river sections of the lake.  Look for pockets off the main river and target any shallow cover. The best lures for this shallow-water fishing include jigs and pork frogs or Texas-rigged plastic worms, lizards or craw worms. These larger profile lures work better in the upper end since bass can locate them easier in the dirtier water.  Pitch the lure into the cover and let it fall to the bottom. Shake the bait once or twice, then pull it out and pitch to another piece of cover.

Post-spawn

The spawn usually ends when the water temperature reaches the 70-degree mark. The arduous task of building nests and producing offspring puts a strain on bass that carries over into this period so slow-motion lures and  retrieves are  the key to catching bass now. The fish migrate to pole timber or points near the pea gravel banks where they suspend or drop to the bottom at depths of 10 to 18 feet. The location of the spawning bank determines what type of point holds post-spawn bass. If the bass spawned back in pockets, they move to secondary points before eventually migrating to the main lake points. Bass that spawned in main-lake pockets or in the upper river sections of the lake move to the primary points during the post-spawn.

One of the most exciting post-spawn patterns is topwater fishing, which is an effective early morning tactic in the clearer water of the lower and mid-sections. Male bass are easier to catch now since they stay near the surface to protect their fry. Bass strike at topwater plugs because they perceive these lures as a threat to their fry. A Zara Spook retrieved in a walk-the-dog fashion or a   stickbait barely twitched across the surface are two of the best topwater techniques for catching post-spawn bass on these lakes.  The stickbait works best on 8- to 10-pound test line, while a Zara Spook walks smoothly on 12- to 14-pound test.

Later in the day, bass tend to drop down and can be taken dragging the bottom with a Carolina-rigged plastic lizard or finesse worm. Look for long, pea gravel points that drop off into deep water (30 to 40 feet deep). Since you’re fishing deeper, use a heavier weight (3/4 ounce) on your Carolina rig. Stay away from the bank and cast close to the drop or beyond it, then drag your lure to the drop-off and let it fall off the edge. Pump the rig with the rod and stop it, then reel up the slack and pump again.  Stopping your retrieve allows the lure to rise up and gives the bass a chance to grab it off the bottom.

A Texas-rigged plastic worm is an effective slow-paced lure for catching post-spawn bass suspended in timber. Cast a 7- to 11-inch curly-tail worm with a 1/4-ounce bullet weight past the cover, let it slowly fall back into the timber and pull it up through the tree limbs. The fish will be holding at depths of 8 to 12 feet along the standing timber near the pea gravel banks or as the water continues to warm, they move out to the main lake points. Bait-casting equipment with 20- to 25-pound test line works best in the heavy timber and stained waters of Truman Lake, while 12 – to 14-pound test is more effective in the clearer waters of Table Rock, Stockton and Lake of the Ozarks.

For information on shows, lodging and attractions in the Table Rock Lake or Lake Taneycomo area or to receive a free vacation guide, call the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-877-BRANSON or visit the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB web site at  www.explorebranson.com

Copies of John Neporadny’s book, “THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide” are available by calling 573/365-4296 or visiting the web site www.jnoutdoors.com.


Nabbing Lake of the Ozarks Bass From Spawning Hideouts

by John Neporadny Jr

“Warning!!  If you have a heart condition, it is recommended that you avoid fishing behind this dock because the effects of hooking a spawning bass could be hazardous to your health.”

No, the Surgeon General hasn’t posted any signs like this on any of our lakes yet, but the perils of trying to land a thrashing largemouth behind a dock might be more than the faint-hearted can bear.  “A guy who has a heart condition doesn’t want to fish for big spawning bass behind docks,” says Bruce Gier, a tournament angler from Eldon, Mo.  “Sometimes, you’re using 6-pound line when you hook a 6-pound fish, and then you have about six cables for the fish to go over.  You can flat get into some jams then. I’ve had some heartbreaking experiences behind the cables.”

In other Midwestern lakes spawning bass seek the shelter of flooded timber and lay-downs, but on Gier’s home reservoir, Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri, bass build their nests behind boat docks. “A dock is the biggest log on the lake,” says Gier. The floating structures offer bass plenty of cover to protect them from wind and intruders.  Their favorite dock shelters include cables, walkways, pillars and sunken brush piles.

The dock’s location is the key to finding spawning bass.  Gier locates the majority of nesting bass behind docks in the backs of coves, except during the latter stages of the spawn when he concentrates on main-lake condominium docks.

No real pattern exists as to which docks hold spawning bass. Gier notes that he doesn’t seem to find them in exactly the same places every year.  “You need to go back in the most awful looking area you can find,” Gier says. Any dock that has pillars is a prime target because bass will spawn next to every support.

Another prime target is a dock with two or three sets of cables running from the pier to shore.  “The docks that seem nearly impossible to get behind are the ones where the fish congregate best,” Gier says. In most cases, the fish are unmolested because the average angler shies away from the menacing cables.

In addition to keeping anglers away from the spawning territory, cables also serve as security blankets for bass. Some fish spawn right under the cables.  “They seem to know that they can deal you some fits on those dock cables and they can,” Gier says.

Some bass also spawn in the open areas behind the docks. Even if the dock has plenty of cover, Gier wastes little time fishing behind it if he fails to find a nest (a round, shiny spot on the bottom).  Shiny spots that are barely visible in 8 feet of water usually hold bigger fish.  Bass spawn at various depths on fluctuating lakes affected by spring rains. Gier finds most of the spawning bass on Lake of the Ozarks behind docks in less than 10 feet of water.

If Gier finds a nest close to the bank, he tries to catch the bigger bass first by working deeper water and then gradually moves in shallower to catch the smaller male fish on the nest.  “A lot of guys make the big mistake during spawning time of fishing for the bass they can see,” Gier says. “If the big fish is there, of course, go ahead and get her. She is generally lying just out to where you can’t see her, though.”   However, in a tournament, Gier concentrates on catching a limit of keeper-size fish initially and then works on the kicker fish. When the spawn reaches its speak, Gier can catch a limit fishing behind five docks in a row.

The depth of the cables determines where Gier positions his boat behind a dock.  If the cables droop deep enough, Gier slides his boat on top of them and uses the cables to hold his boat in position. When the cables hang above or on the surface, Gier keeps his trolling motor next to the moorings.  “I don’t have any paint on the shaft of my trolling motor because it’s constantly rubbing against the cable.”

Once he finds nesting bass, Gier offers them a wide range of lures because he feels the fish will eventually bite.  “You just have to have a giant arsenal of every kind of plastic lure known to man,” Gier says.  He either flips or pitches to his targets, or casts with an underhand sling to skip the lure under walkways and cables.

Gier’s strategy starts with heavy-duty equipment and then scales down to lightweight tackle as he moves in closer to the fish.  During his first presentation, Gier stays back far enough to where the fish is just in sight.  As he moves in, he switches to lighter line and smaller lures.   “You can come close enough to where you can spook off the fish but it will come right back,” he says.  When using line as light as 4-pound test, Gier can move within 10 feet of a spawning bass and still coax it into biting.

In murky water,  you can use as heavy as 20-pound test line behind the docks, but since Gier mainly fishes the clear water of the lake’s North Shore area, he usually scales  down his line size. For aggressive fish, Gier selects bait-casting equipment and 10-pound test line.  “I feel I have a little bit of an advantage with this heavier tackle,” he says. His favorite lures for this application are a brown 1/4-ounce jig and brown No. 11 pork frog or a Hula Grub in earthworm or crawfish colors. With most of his lure choices, Gier prefers crawfish or earthworm colors (brown, dark green, motor oil), especially for finicky fish.  “If you have a fish that’s in the mood or about half ticked off at your bait, then go ahead and throw something chartreuse,”  Gier says. He suggests that you can even catch aggressive fish on sunny days with a cotton candy or pink-and-chartreuse plastic lizard.

When bass shun his jigs, Gier changes to spinning tackle, 8-pound test and soft plastic baits. His top lure choices are 4- and 6-inch plastic lizards and plastic crawfish.

The next step in Gier’s scale-down approach involves 6-pound test line and 4-inch plastic worms on a No. 1 wire hook. “You stay with that as long as you can and as a last resort,
when you just have to have that fish, pick up the little stuff and throw everything you can at them,” Gier says.

The “little stuff” Gier resorts to consists of trout fishing tackle, an ultralight rod and reel with 4-pound test line and a small plastic trout worm impaled on a tiny hook. Gier sticks the hook through the head of the worm and leaves the point exposed to ensure a good hookset.  This rig is especially effective on fish that Gier has missed a couple of times with his larger lures.  “What have you got to lose? You can’t catch that fish the other way, so you might as well go to the real light stuff,” Gier suggests.

The Missouri angler retrieves all of his lures at a snail’s pace or even slower.   Occasionally he’ll twitch a lure fast for aggressive fish.  “Every fish lying on a bed has its own personality,” Gier says.  “If you move your lure just a hair when it’s in the nest she might look at it.   Big fish don’t want a fast-moving bait.  If you present something to them fast, I guarantee that they won’t even look at it. They don’t get big by being stupid.”

When a fish strikes, Gier carefully pulls his line to set the hook. A soft touch and a sharp hook are critical, especially when fishing with light tackle. “On spawning fish, it’s unbelievably important to have a sharp hook.  That thing has just got to be like a needle,” Gier advises.  He also suggests that you remain calm if you see a big fish hit your lure, otherwise you’ll jerk too hard on the hookset and break your line.

The real challenge comes after you’ve set the hook. Trying to weave a stubborn bass through a maze of cables, pillars and other obstacles can be a pulse-raising experience.  Gier catches most of his 5- and 6-pound fish on the heavier line (8- and 10-pound test) with his drag set light. “You can turn a 6-pound fish during the spawn with 8-pound test line. It’s a trick but it is possible,” he says. Since spawning fish tire easily, Gier usually lands them if he controls their initial surges.

Patience helps Gier land the smaller male bass (15- and 16-inch fish) on the lighter tackle. He has even landed bass after they have jumped over a cable and looped the line around to where it was ready to form a knot. But when a 4-pounder smashes one of his mini-baits on 4-pound test line, the bass has the edge. “He’s the boss.  You have to leave it up to him as to whether you’re going to land him or not,” Gier says.  “That doesn’t usually last too long. It’s usually Fish 1, Gier 0.”   With a lack of obstacles behind the dock and a little bit of luck, the heavier fish can still be landed by keeping slight rod pressure on the bass to wear it out and then guide it toward the boat.  However, the light tackle is no match for a bruiser bass behind a dock loaded with brush piles. “That’s where the big boys win every time,” Gier says.  “If those fish bury their heads in the brush while pulling 4-pound line, I don’t care if Houdini is holding the rod, the fish is going to win.”

Frequently checking your line improves your chances of catching fish behind the docks. Gier advises retying your line whenever it rubs against a cable.  “It’s over for your line if it touches that cable,” he says. If your heart can take it, sneak behind a dock this spring and try to coax a bass from its spawning hideout.

For information on lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 162-page vacation guide, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at funlake.com.

Copies of John Neporadny’s book, “THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide” are available by calling 573/365-4296 or visiting the web site www.jnoutdoors.com.