Spring can be an exciting time for bass fishermen because this is the season when we have our best access to the biggest fish of the year. With fish moving up, or getting ready to move up, throughout much of the southern states, anglers are getting ready to match wits with wily bass and that’s very often a pretty challenging deal.
It’s great when you spot a big bass on the bed, make a couple of pitches and catch her. But a lot of times, we find these fish extremely spooky. They’re easily disturbed and they’ll run away from the bed when they feel uncomfortable.
Running is the biggest telltale sign of a spooky bass. If the fish keeps coming off the bed and not wanting to come back up, then it’s not really in a relaxed mood.
In many cases, if I inadvertently spook a fish, I’ll just back away from the bed; give it a few minutes and then return. If the fish is relatively calm, it will ease back onto the bed after a couple of minutes.
But sometimes, you spook them and they never come back. That will tell you what type of fish you’re dealing with.
TIMING AND HABITAT
Those frustrating cases of extreme spookiness happen a lot when the bass first come up. They’re fresh and they haven’t locked up yet. They don’t know if they’re supposed to be spawning and they have a tendency to move.
The other major factor is highly pressured fish. When tournaments start pounding the lakes, these fish very quickly become conditioned to the sounds of trolling motors and the splash of baits. You can’t do anything about the other boats on the lake, but you can do your best to minimize your intrusion and avoid disturbing the fish.
I’ve found that usually the shallower the fish are, the greater their tendency to be spooky. They can see you coming a lot farther away, so there’s less of a buffer zone. And the other thing is that a lot of people see those shallow fish and they tend to get picked on more.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that if you find some fish that have been heavily pressured and they’re showing signs of being spooky; it’s likely that all of the fish in the area are going to be that way.
On the other hand, if you have a lot of fish in many stages of the spawn, you’ll have ones that are rally easy to catch and ones that are really tough to catch. So, if I encounter several spooky fish in an area, my best move is to relocate and try to find fish that are more cooperative.
Bait selection is one of the key factors in fishing for spooky bed fish. I’m a firm believer that there is a right bait for each scenario, so I’m going to select a bait that gives me the best opportunity to tempt that fish into biting.
First of all, I’m going to look at the fish and that usually depends on the lake I’m fishing. For example, at Clear Lake, I’m fishing for 5- to 10-pounders, so I’m going to use bulky baits. By comparison, in Beaver Lake, a 2 ½-pounder is a good one on the bed. I let the fish size be the main criteria so if I’m only seeing 2-pounders I’m not going to use a giant profile bait.
In some cases, I might use a Yamamoto Flappin Hog, but the Number One bait for bed fishing is the Senko because it’s so subtle and it looks natural when it’s falling. You can cast it a long way and bed fish don’t seem to mind that soft fall.
I might rig my Senko wacky style and drop in into the bed, or I might use a weightless Texas rig and drag it through the bed.
In most places I fish, my favorite bait for finicky bed fish is a dropshot with a 3- to 4-inch Yamamoto Senko. One thing I like about Yamamoto baits is their salt content. This is something that actually works in my favor when I’m fishing my dropshot for finicky bed fish.
I like to use a longer leader – about 12-18 inches – which allows me leverage the Senko’s natural weight. I’ll pitch the rig onto a bed and keep a taught line to hold the bait above the fish. Then I give it slack to make the bait fall subtly – almost like a wacky rig.
The longer leader gives me more room to work the bait up and down. When bass are spooky on the beds, this allows me to drop a bait into the bed, pull it out, drop it again and repeat as many times as I need to tempt that fish. This technique is much less intrusive than making repeated pitches with a jig or a Texas-rigged bait.
If I want a little more action from my dropshot bait, I may go with the Yamamoto Thin Senko or the Pro Senko. Both are longer baits, but their thinner, subtle profiles keep the presentation light.
Another of my bed fish dropshot baits is the Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm – a small, subtle profile that can tempt tough fish. Nose hooking works with all of these bait, but I might also wacky rig the Senkos for a different look.
With color selection, I like to go natural for spooky fish, but if I have a fired up fish, I go with a brighter bait to make sure the fish has the bait in his mouth. Basically, when that bright figure disappears, the fish has it.
A bright color also helps when if I’m a ways off and I can’t see the fish. And that moves me into my next point.
GIVE IT TIME
Sometimes, a finicky bed fish will make you work a long time for the bite. Knowing how long to stay with it is a matter of experience, but in most cases, the fish has to tell you what to do.
The way you become a good bed fisherman is by being able to read the actions of the fish. If a fish spooks when you pull up to the bed and it won’t come back, you shouldn’t waste any time there. But if a fish runs off and it comes back to the same spot, then you might just want to approach it from a different perspective.
In this scenario, I might try presenting my bait from different angles. A lot of times, this will make the fish think the bait is a different intruder and increase the fish’s sense of protection.
Another strategy is to just leave for about five minutes and give the fish time to settle down and come back to the bed. If you remove the big profile of a boat and an angler, the fish often feels more relaxed. When you return to the bed, you might find the fish a little more cooperative, as opposed to just sitting on the spot and watching a spooked fish ease its way back into position. In the latter case, your chances of catching that fish are pretty low, because the first thing they see upon returning is that big figure that spooked them in the first place.
Here’s a strategy tip that I use when a big fish is too spooky to approach. Before I leave to see if the fish comes back, I’ll put the bait on the bed but let out a lot of slack line to the distance that’s reasonable to get a hook set.
I might sit there a long ways from the bed and just shake the bait. That way, I can continue working that bed fish without the fish being able to see me. Sometimes, just getting the boat back off the bed can work, but the key is getting that bait right on the bed so you know when you shake the bait, it’s right there.
This is a very effective tactic because you’re not casting and making a splash. Bass get accustomed when they hear a splash and then the bait comes down. They know what’s going on.
With my distant technique, they just come back to the nest and when they find a bait there, they just think a bluegill or some other predator has invaded the nest.
A few more key points on spooky bed fish:
Line Watching: When I leave my bait in a bed and then back away, I have to detect the slightest movement in my line if a fish picks up the bait. This can be very difficult at a distance because the thin braid can get lost against the background of vegetation.
To help me see my line better, I’ll stripe the braid every three inches. This contrast is easier to spot so I can watch for any movement.
Positioning: The farther you can stay from a bed the better. Once you know where the bed is, try kneeling to decrease your profile. I’ve even seen guys lay down in the boat.
Shallow water anchors like the Minn Kota Talon are can be very helpful in this scenario. When you’re fishing a shallow bed, bumping the trolling motor can disturb silt and blow out the bed. But being able to stop and see the fish without disturbing the bed is a huge factor.
Prime Time: I find that spawning fish have a tendency to lock onto their beds better in the afternoon. We’ve all seen it: You have a bed with nothing on it in the morning, but you come back in the afternoon and there are two 5-pounders. The afternoon warmth is what motivates the fish to commit.