There are few things more entertaining to me in fishing than the personality of a spawning largemouth bass. Each one is different. Some are eager to defend their nests, while others it takes a while to get them worked up. The process of getting each individual fish from a negative attitude to a fish aggressively defending its nest can be one of the most frustrating but satisfying ways to fish.
There are a lot of different baits and techniques that will work in this situation. But no matter what you use, the goal is to make that fish angry enough to want to kill whatever is crawling through its bed. This can, at times, demand an extreme amount of patience and focus to stay keyed in on nothing but the fish you are trying to catch. Paying close attention to the little clues they may be giving off is so important. I look for a lot of different things but one of the most important is finding a certain area of the bed that really gets them defensive. Once I find that spot, I want to keep putting my bait in the same area. Sometimes that spot isn’t even in the bed. Recently I was working a fish bedded along a seawall, and repeated casts to the bed produced zero reaction. But a cast in between the fish and the seawall would elicit a reaction every time until I caught the fish. Other things I look for are whether the fish seems to be guarding more aggressively against threats up in the water column or on the bottom. The higher a fish is positioned in the water column, the more likely it is you’ll catch it on something off the bottom. Also it’s best to see the fish “locked” on the bed and the more fin movement it has going on, the better.
Once I’ve found one I want to work, I’ll determine the most efficient angle to approach it. I’ll make sure I can get the fish out of any cover it may be bedded in, and also I want the angle I can see the best. I’ll then drop my Minn Kota Talons to keep the boat still, this keeps me in a consistent area and prevents me from ever drifting toward the fish and spooking it. Using some sort of anchor system is very important. It allows you to keep total focus on the fish and also keeps the momentum on your side. From there it’s time to go to work. I like to start in with a creature bait like the Nemesis Baits Bullet Craw. In a perfect world, bright white baits would make things really easy to watch it all happen. But when that doesn’t work out, I don’t hesitate to keep things natural and pay more attention to watching the fish and my line for the bite.
If what I throw in the bed first doesn’t work, I’ll keep switching it up. Often a particular shape/color combo will make a particular fish get aggressive. It can work just like a light switch. For instance, in a recent tournament, I had been working a 4-pound fish for around a half hour. I was making very little progress and had tried a lot of baits on him. But eventually I found something that worked, and instead of running from the bait he charged it on the first cast and ate it on the second cast. So while it can be a challenge matching a fish up to a bait, it is very rewarding when you find that match. However, it doesn’t work that fast all the time, but when I’ve found what agitates them, it’s my turn to get aggressive.
If it doesn’t seem like the fish is going to take a bait within a few casts, it’s time to start bumping him around. Repeatedly bumping that fish is the best way to get them going. Ideally I want to “spin” them, with a gentle bump to the head. When the spins start becoming quicker and shorter, a bite is likely coming. Being ready for it is so important because you may only get one crack at a bite before you have to start the process over again. One other thing to note is that I’m not soaking my bait in there for long periods of time. I’m making quick pitches to agitate the fish as much as possible in as little time as possible. Think of it as if someone kept poking you – the more relentless the pokes are, the quicker you are going to snap!
Sometimes I’ll need to use a little more finesse to actually catch them. When I can’t get them to eat the creature bait, I’ll drop in what I like to call a “catch bait.” Usually I use a dropshot for this with something small and natural. Nemesis Baits’ gobies and sniper worms work well for this, but when a fish is proving to be really difficult, I think a soft bait that has eyeballs gives me a little edge. The tricky part now is timing things right for the catch bait. If you put it in there too soon and the fish doesn’t bite, he has time to calm down a little and you may have to re-agitate it. If I throw a catch bait and get a negative response, I won’t ever throw that particular bait in again. I’ll go back to the Texas-rigged creature for a bit and then try a different catch bait. Another negative response, and I won’t mess with anything up in the water column again. I’ll keep working things on the bottom of the bed until I find what works or determine I can’t catch the fish at that particular time.
Fun, challenging, entertaining, frustrating, exciting, and stressful are all good ways to describe sight fishing for largemouth. While that’s quite the cycle, each of those can occur while working one fish. But it is a very rewarding feeling when persistence pays off and a hard-to-catch one bites!