April is probably the primary spawning month for bass in South Carolina - it's prime time to find big female bass bedding in the shallows and to try and figure out how to make them bite.
Depending on the lake you're fishing, the spawn may start as early as the last week of March or as late as the first of May, but in general, April is the peak of the spawn - sort of like the peak of the deer rut. Not all of the bass in a lake spawn at the same time; it's often dragged out across a whole month or longer.
When I feel like the spawn is approaching and it's time to start looking for the big female bass that'll be moving onto the beds, I try to pinpoint areas that will likely hold spawning fish. Normally, the first things I look for are protected coves and pockets - northeast pockets. Those are the places where fish will spawn the first.
I also try to learn how the spawn progresses at certain lakes. If a reservoir is big enough, you can have water conditions that vary enough from one end to the other that the spawn may start much earlier in one area.
At my home lake, Lake Murray, for example, the spawn moves from west to east, and the fish at the north side of the lake spawn before those at the south side - up to an entire moon cycle. Fish at the north side of the lake may start to spawn during the full moon in March, but at the south side, the water may be cool enough that they won't go until the full moon in April.
The pockets I'm looking for will normally have some kind of a hard bottom - pea gravel or sand. That's preferred habitat for spawning bass, but it's not required.
Obviously, at the upper end of a lot of our reservoirs, you've got a ton of silted bottoms. In those areas, bass will find a place to spawn. I've seen 'em spawn on the tops of stumps and on the tops of rocks. But all in all, they prefer a sandy bottom.
So I'm looking for protected pockets with sandy bottoms at the northeast sides of lakes.
Where will bass set up in those pockets? That's when I start to look for areas that have the best cover.
Cover depends on the lake you're fishing. It could be buck brush or willows, and at some of our lakes that have been heavily developed, it might be boat docks. But they'll normally spawn close to some kind of cover.
Knowing what kind of cover fish will attract spawning bass becomes extremely important when you're fishing a lake that's too stained to offer much visibility as far as sight-fishing is concerned. But most of the time, when you're fishing for spawning bass, you're going to be visually looking at the fish you're trying to catch.
Then it's just a matter of putting your lure in front of the fish and getting it to bite. There are no absolutes when it comes to tactics. Pro bass fishermen approach it from all kinds of different angles.
One thing that's consistent is, if you can see fish spawning, you want to concentrate on the better quality fish, the kind of fish you can count on in a tournament.
I don't want to spend a lot of time on a 2-pounder if I'm gonna need to catch a limit of five bigger ones to do any good.
When you don't have the clear water you need to see fish, your tactics have to change. Here are some things I consider:
- The dingier the water is, the shallower fish will spawn. If you find shallow cover, fish it.
Try to visualize where a spawning fish will be near the cover, then flip in a 4-inch Berkley tube, a 6-inch lizard or a little Berkley Power finesse worm.
This is probably the only time of year you'll catch me dead-sticking a bait, that is, just leaving it on the bottom without moving it.
I fish faster and cover more water than most fishermen the rest of the year, but I'll let a bait sit a lot longer when I'm fishing for spawning bass.
- A lot of times you can fish that finesse worm as a search bait, pitching it in and working it slowly, hoping a bass will reveal her position, even if she doesn't bite.
That happens a lot of times. You work a bait through an area where a fish is spawning, and she'll roll on it, even if she doesn't eat it. But when she does, she's given away her location, and I can make pinpoint flips or pitches to that area.
- Another trick I use (in different situations) is dyeing my baits. I'll use green pumpkin most of the time when I'm fishing for shallow, spawning bass, but I almost always dip the tail of my bait in a chartreuse dye.
But in stained water, I think that also gives the bass something to look at. And in clear or stained water, if I get a fish to pick the bait up a couple of times but keep missing it, I'll put on a new bait, and I'll dye the head of the bait. That way, if the fish is keying in on and picking up the dyed part of the bait, that's where the hook is.
If you look closely at most soft-plastic baits, if you miss a fish, a lot of times, you can see the little scratches where the bass picked it up in his teeth. That can tell you if she's just picking up by the tail and moving it out of her bed.
- About the only other thing I'll do is switch to a very bright, gaudy color if I'm having trouble getting fish to bite.
If I'm fishing green pumpkin and I just can't get a fish to bite, I'll go to a finesse worm in something like pink or yellow or chartreuse, and sometimes, the fish will see that different color and be alarmed and hit it.
Generally, I'll use a 3/0 or 4/0 wide-gap Owner hook when I'm fishing for bedding fish. I'll change size depending on the size of the bait I'm fishing. And as far as line size is concerned, I'll fish as heavy as I feel like I can get away with.
The clearer the water, the smaller the line, because I think a bass will pay more attention to your line when they have time to study a bait more closely - like when it's sitting in the middle of their bed. But normally, I'm going to fish 14-pound test.
The only other thing a fisherman can learn about spawning fish is which ones are ready to bite and which ones won't.
What I look for is a bass that sits tight on its bed when I approach it with my boat. If it doesn't leave when I get close to it, that fish is locked on the bed, and she'll be good to go for at least a little while.
If you pull up on a bank and a fish takes off, or if it acts spooky, that fish is either just going on or just coming off the bed. Keep in mind that, just because you see that fish spook doesn't mean you won't come back in 12 or 24 hours and find her locked on the bed. And if you see a smaller buck bass locked on the bed, you have to know his girlfriend isn't far away. If the male is that committed to the bed, she's still around.
I am occasionally asked, which lake in South Carolina is the best for sight-fishing bedding bass. I'd say it might be Lake Hartwell. Lake Murray is good, but I'm not saying Hartwell or Lake Wylie aren't better.
One question I ask myself is, "Can you catch a bigger stringer on a certain lake when the fish are bedding or during the prespawn?"
At places like Hartwell and Jocassee and Keowee, your biggest catches normally will come at the peak of the spawn. At Murray and Santee, your bigger catches are likely to be during the prespawn.
Davy Hite is a 40-year-old native of Saluda, S.C., who now resides in Ninety Six, S.C. He has fished professionally since 1993, when he qualified for his first Bassmasters Classic. He was the BASS Angler of the Year in 1997 and 2002, and he has won the 1999 Bassmasters Classic and the 1998 FLW Tour Championship. He is sponsored by Triton boats, Evinrude outboards, All-Star rods, Pfleuger reels, Pure Fishing (Berkeley), Owner hooks and Solar-Bat sunglasses.