Consider the catches. Bass guide Glenn Peacock's clients taking limits of Susquenanna flats largemouths running three to five pounds per fish. Mike Laird Jitterbugging 17 bass from a Manassas lake in five hours of fishing, two of them topping five pounds. Lake Anna releasing its grips on its first verified 10-pound largemouth. A 10-pound, 13-ounce bass for Sleepy Creek Lake, shattering West Virginia's state record for bass by nearly a pound.
It isn't coincidental that such extraordinary catches have been coming out of area lakes and rivers in recent weeks. There's a one-word explanation for it: Spawning. Depending on where you wet your line, largemouths either are on their beds spawning or have just finished. In both cases, excellent bass fishing is in store for the next few weeks.
"There's no better time of year than May or early June for bass around here," says Ranny Isenberg of Manassas, who leaves his bass boat ready at the dock during the largemouth spawn. "It's fantastic fishing. We catch them moving in, when they're on the beds and right after the spawn."
And that, in a nutshell, is the key: fishing's good before, during and after the breeding. The actual spawn itself brings individual bass onto nests only for a matter of days. All the bass in a lake may spawn over a period of four to five weeks. But the fish feed furiously before the spawn to build up weight lost during lean winter months. After the spawn, they also eat ravenously, to regain weight lost during the mating process, when little or no food is ingested. During the spawn, catches come from goading nestguarding bass into striking from anger and the desire to protect their young.
In all three phases the action is in shallow water, which makes this a glorious time to search for Micropterus. The structure boys can tout deepwater fishing all they like; the average angler still gets better results and enjoys himself more working water less than 10 feet deep, and near the shoreline. Right now you'll find almost all the largemouths in local lakes clustered in just such shallow water.
In clearwater rivers and lakes, this can mean sight fishing - seeing the bass before you cast - which adds still another bonus. To play up this visual aspect of fishing or spawning bass even further, Mike Laird and Ranny Isenberg, who fish the lakes around Manassas, use a lure many modern bass anglers consider as outdated as johnboats and oars - the Jitterbug.
Maybe it's because it's rejected by so many of today's trendy bassers as being "old-fashioned" that it's so effective. Whatever the explanation, Isenberg and Laird take exceptional numbers of largemouths in the coves of their local lakes on Jitterbugs during the spawn. This topwater fishing should be consistent for several more weeks.
A bass on its spawning bed strikes not from hunger, but rather from an innate instinct to protect its eggs or newly hatched fry from predators. No egg-stealer is more hateful to the largemouth than the salamander. Finding live salamanders locally is all but impossible. It's also unnecessary - plastic "lizards" do just fine. Rigged on a 1/0 or 2/0 worm hook with a light slip sinker threaded on the line, the lures are unbelievably potent fish-catchers during the spawn.
Ask local guide Glenn Peacock about plastic lizards. Lately he's been taking his parties to the Susquehanna River flats near Havre de Grace, where he's been duping good numbers of largemouths, including two-man 10-fish limits weighing up to 40 pounds.All of the bass have been caught on brown and black Fliptail lizards fished in shallow water.
Bill Mathias uses a three-prong approach on spawning bass at Lake Anna, where he guides fulltime. His first offering is a topwater buzz bait. If this doesn't work, he tosses a Fliptail or Mister Twister lizard at the spawners. "When everything else faiils," he says, "I rest the bass for about an hour and then come back and throw a small Rapala on real light line, staying well back from the fish."
Look for bass beds in coves with sand or gravel bottoms. The beds appear as oval areas, 20 inches in diameter and six inches deep. They are typically found in one to three feet of water, fairly close to shore. Males build the beds and then entice a female on, who lays part of her eggs and then departs to spawn again later, possibly in another nest.
The key to fishing sighted spawning beds is accuracy in casting and a cautious approach. Keep the boat a good distance away from beds to avoid spooking the fish. Mathias recommends dropping the lizard just beyond the nest, or even up on shore, and pulling it into the bed.
The bass won't tolerate such despicable intruders and will pick the morsel up to carry it out of the nest. Seldom do the bass try to eat what could be an easy meal. Rather, their sole desire is to get it out of the nest quickly. Often this means they will pick up the lure gingerly by the tail, carry it out of the bed, and daintily drop it, never getting the hook in their mouth. Dropper hooks sometimes help, or you can simply keep casting until the fish takes the lizard solidly.
After the spawn, bass have usually worked up a healthy appetite from such fastidious behavior. They often remain in the shallows until temperatures rise into uncomfortable ranges in the upper 70s. Since feeding is the main motive in striking after mating is complete, a wider variety of lures will work. Immediately after the spawn, Mathias recommedns working a Tiny Torpedo along the shoreline. As waters warm further, many bass will concentrate around long points fingering into the main body of the lake. Grubs, plastic worms and crankbaits excel here.
What about the ethics of fishing for spawing bass? That's a question each angler will have to decide for him or herself. From a biological standpoint, scientists have found that fishing for spawning bass does not harm the fish population, so it's not ecologically unsound. What is piggish and unsportsmanlike is to kill large numbers of them, particularly the big, egg-ripe females.
Not all of the eggs from a spawning bass will hatch and live, but with up to 35,000 eggs per five-pound female, that's alot of potential fish nipped in the bud for each egg-laden bass creeled.
Think about it the next time you twist your hook free of a big female bass' mouth. Letting her go back to her nest to carry out her sole desire at this time of year - producing baby bass - will make you feel marvelous inside.
Guaranteed. CAPTION: Picture, A LARGEMOUNT LEAVES LAKE ANNA. BASS ARE SPAWNING NOW ON ANNA AND OTHER LAKES. By Gerald Almy.