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Bed Fishing
By Brad Jones

There are two distinct bed fishing seasons in northern Indiana .  One is the smallmouth spawn and the other which occurs a little later is the largemouth spawn.  For people who think that this is easy picking, they have probably never bed fished. 

Smallmouth bass are extremely aware of their surroundings while on their beds and if you aren’t paying attention you will see an empty bed and pass it up.  On most of our lakes, smallies will bed anywhere from 2 feet to 14 feet deep.  A lot of anglers think that the bigger fish will spawn deep but that isn’t always the case.  On clear water lakes, I regularly catch nice smallies up super shallow where most anglers won’t even bother looking because their trolling motors have to be raised to navigate. 

These bass will fan a rather large bed and it is usually discernable when the water is clear in the spring.  A likely spawning area for smallies is a sandy bottom that has hard rock under it and next to cover.  Many beds will be around boat lifts and docks.  Some will be in the washout of docked boats.  On Mullett in northern Michigan , any piece of timber in the water is likely to have a smallie spawning at its end.

 The key for me to catch these fish is to see them before they see me.  This requires a good pair of polarized glasses.  I wear glasses regularly and bought an expensive pair of prescription polarized glasses.  Once I spot a bed from afar, I look for the fish or the fish’s shadow.  I do this as I make a long cast past the bed. 

I like to pull my bait into the bed and drag it through.  I don’t hop my bait.  Each fish has a different demeanor though and you have to figure out what “upsets” the fish.  If the fish follows my bait out of the nest, I will make another cast past and repeat.  It is important to make rapid succession casts to keep the fish’s interest.  The more rapid the casts you make, the “madder” the fish will become and more likely bite your lure.  I like the smallmouth that will speed off the nest and go five to ten feet and promptly turn around and freight train the lure – that is aggression. 

For extremely finicky smallies, I will toss my lure onto the bed and free spool line as I troll away from the bed.  A few minutes later and several feet, I will feel for the fish.  Smallies seem to be meticulous housekeepers and that bait on their bed is the equivalent of dumping a clothes hamper in front of the television.  It has to go away!  When going along a break, you will rarely see the smallie as it has seen your boat and moved away.  Again, dropping a lure on the bed and moving away, will usually produce the fish. 

Now largemouths are a different story.  They are the typical high school boy who barely makes his bed.  Largemouth beds can be extremely hard to see.  They like to bed on hard surfaces and will spawn on lily pad roots, stumps, by docks or seawalls.  They can be found in channels and on the break. 

I categorize largemouth into two categories – locked and not locked.  Largemouths that don’t leave their beds are very catchable.  If a largemouth leaves the bed and hunkers down in the weeds, I won’t mess with it but I may come back to it later in the day.  If the largemouth leaves the bed but quickly turns around, it is semi-locked and I will spend some time on it.  If it is locked, I will stay until I catch it. 

Where almost any soft plastic and sometimes even hard baits will catch smallies, I use crawfish imitations, tubes, and stick baits to catch largemouth bass.  And if the location is in a place filled with snags, I will use a finesse jig.  Repeated casts are the first thing I try.  Here I try to swim the bait over the fish’s head and let it drop on its nose.  This will sometimes cause a reflex and the bass will inhale the lure.  You have to be fast, because the fish will blow the lure quickly.  I will also burn the lure by the fish’s mouth which will sometimes cause a reaction.  I figure if the bass stays on the bed, I can catch it.  I have spent up to 45 minutes on some fish before they bite.  It is important to remember that not all bass will react the same on their bed and you have to change tactics until you elicit a response from the fish.

Another tactic used in largemouth and a lesser extent on smallies is to find the sweet spot in the nest.  This is the place where the eggs reside.  By paying attention to the fish and your presentation, notice gills flaring when the bait hits certain spots or the fish begins finning.  You can then begin to narrow down where to cast and how to retrieve it to get the bass to pay attention and eventually bite your lure. 

Catching bass off their beds is like a game of chess; you have to analyze your opponent and react to its moves.  Each bed is different.  Make sure you use a lure you can see because many bites will not be felt but you will see your lure disappear.  By approaching each bed fresh and being willing to try different lures and approaches you will become a better bed fisherman.