This is the time of year when every angler must face a question on ethics. Do you, or do you not, bed fish?
Spring is when fish of all species move shallow, fan out spawning beds and lay their eggs.
This also means that this is when they are most vulnerable to all sorts of predators, including humans.
Many states have a closed season with different opening day dates based on the reproductive habits of a particular species.
This does not mean you cannot catch those fish during the closed season, but if you do catch one, you must release it immediately so it can complete the spawning process.
You might be asking what is the ethical question? Each angler must decide whether they will deliberately target fish on the spawning beds.
A bass that is caught off the bed and returned still leaves the nest open to predation by ruthless panfish. When a nest has eggs on it, the panfish swarm around it and that lone male is left there to fend them off 24 hours a day.
It is an exercise in futility. He will chase off one thief, and then while that chase is going on, another sneaks in from the opposite direction.
He darts across the nest again, only to leave another portion open to attack. Yes, this is the natural order of things, but when the human equation plays into it, the fish may be taken off the bed for a much longer period. In just a few minutes, the nest can be nearly wiped out.
I’m not saying a person should or should not fish for spawners on the beds.
We just need to realize that it is our duty to return those fish to their bed as fast as possible.
Spawning fish are so tempting because you can see them, they are more susceptible to being caught, and large females are shallower now than the rest of the year.
Who wouldn’t want to drop a lure in front of an 8-pounder hovering in a foot of water?
If you are reluctant to target spawners on the nest, you can always focus on those fish that are in pre- or post-spawn phases. Large females often lurk in deeper water near spawning flats.
I always like to use the phrase, “just out of sight.” That is what they do. The big fish are wary and hang back in the shadows just where they are not visible from above.
Big crankbaits and bladed jigs are great lures to probe those zones. I also like to use regular jigs and Carolina rigs if I am fishing some long, tapering points.
Start by locating a visible spawning area, and then back off until you find where the water drops off of a break. Fish that break line in both directions, searching for any sort of edge you can find.
This edge could be created by a slight ditch in the bottom contour, or it even could be defined by a weed line. Fish follow edges just as most terrestrial game animals follow them.
Whether your favorite fish is a crappie, walleye, bass or some other variety, the spring is the time when real giants can be found and caught. Enjoy the magical time of year on the water, and be sure to let those spawners back to complete the process.
The future of our lakes and rivers is dependent on a successful spawn year after year. We can be sure to do our part to help guarantee that success.