In winter, big lunker largemouths swell with roe in anticipation of the spring spawn. Cold weather finds large female bass stage in deep areas waiting for the right moment to head shallow for their annual Spring ritual.
"As waters warm, male bass move up along the shorelines first," said Bobby Reed, a fisheries biologist in the Lake Charles, La., office of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "They beat the females generally by two to three weeks. Males will begin setting up territories, finding good substrate to scour out a nest and defending it against other species or other male bass who want to build their own nest."
"When water temperatures hit about 68 to 70 degrees and females become physiologically ripe, they move up along the shoreline, Reed explained. Like males everywhere searching for a little companionship, male bass put on a show to impress the swollen-bellied babes. Finicky females pick the most impressive male, and they begin a courtship dance.
"The female may visit the nest two to three hours before releasing all her eggs and spawning is complete," Reed said. "At that point, she moves back into deep water. She's done for the year. The male goes about the duties of becoming the parent. Males guard the nest against potential predators and raise the young. He occasionally washes the nest with his fins to keep the nest clear of silt or foreign material and stays there for the eight to ten days required for the eggs to hatch."
After hatching, fry remain in the bottom of the nest for five days. At that time, fry swim up as a group and begin feeding on plankton. When they reach about a half-inch long, "Pops" teaches them a brutal lesson in survival by rushing through the school with his mouth open. He gulps down as many as he can catch. The survivors get the message that it is probably a good time to find their own territory. Male bass may go through this ritual four or five times a year.
In late winter, before the spawn begins, anglers should search for staging areas. Usually, large female bass and smaller male bass gather in lake humps, deep shelves or ledges, and along the drop-off edges before moving shallow. If anglers can find these staging areas, they can score with some of the biggest bass they'll see all year.
When temperatures drop, look for the warmest water for the hottest bass action. That's where they gather to stage in their pre-spawn mode. Ironically, the north side of any lake warms first. Biting north winds push frigid waters toward the southern end. Consequently, warm south winds push water against northern banks. Eastern shorelines receive more intense afternoon sunshine than shady western shorelines. Hard objects, such as riprap, rocks or logs absorb heat and radiate it to surrounding waters.
Placid lakes warm more quickly than flowing rivers. However, compared to clearer lakes, many rivers carry suspended silt in brown water. Particles suspended in dark, muddy water absorb more heat from sunshine, which simply passes through clear water. Dark, muddy bottoms absorb more sunshine and warm more quickly than white sandy bottoms, which reflect sunshine.
Anglers can catch winter bass in stable cold rivers, but sudden variations disrupt fishing considerably. Bassers might catch fish in cold, muddy water that has remained that way for a few weeks, but a sudden influx of cold, muddy water after a winter storm shuts down everything. Stay home or fish on lakes during those days. Fish can handle cold constant temperatures better than they can respond to sudden variations.
In lakes, shallow water obviously warms more quickly than deep water, which remains relatively constant. On warm days, fish shallow water or along the transition zone between deep and shallow waters. Points with access to both shallows and depths make an excellent place to throw a lure. On cold days, shallow water temperatures may drop considerably. Fish deeper channels with constant temperatures, even cold temperatures.
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