RIGHT NOW, THE bass of your dreams is heading for the shallows. Her fat belly is almost bursting with eggs, but she'll continue feeding right up until she's on her spawning nest. And then, she'll attack anything that appears to threaten her eggs. You won't likely catch this lunker with the lures and presentations that fool average-size bass, however. Instead, learn these three proven patterns for landing the heftiest spring sows, from the prespawn through the spawn. Then hit the lake—and don't forget your certified scales. (Next month: three surefire summer tactics.)
JERKBAITS DOWN DEEP
LOCATION: Prespawn bass of all sizes stack up on main-lake points at the mouths of spawning bays, as well as secondary points within them. These are often the last stops bass make before they hit the shallows to breed. The key is to bypass the smaller fish available within 3 feet of the surface and specifically target bigger females in 5 to 8 feet of water.
BAIT: A long-billed, suspending jerkbait like Smithwick's Deep Suspending Rattlin' Rogue in clown color gets down to where the monsters hold.
PRESENTATION: Cast over the point and make the jerkbait dive quickly with two or three sideways pulls. Then let it suspend. To tempt the heftiest bass, keep the bait still for up to 30 seconds, twitch it once, and rest it again. Patience pays impressive dividends here.
FROGS IN COVER
LOCATION: When water in the shallows tops the magic 63-degree mark, the lunkers move in, gravitating to the heaviest cover available in a given spawning flat, including bulrushes, cattails, windfalls, brushpiles, and docks.
BAIT: Spro's hollow-body Dean Rojas Bronzeye Frog (2) is snagless. Black is always good, but try white and the basic frog pattern as well.
PRESENTATION: This comes from Dean Rojas himself: “Skip the frog into dense cover, let it rest briefly, twitch it once, and let it rest again. Then work it back with quick twitches and short pauses. Use a 7-foot medium-heavy baitcasting rod with 50-pound braided line, and set the hook hard when a big bass boils.”
MONSTER TUBES IN SHALLOWS
LOCATION: Once they begin spawning, the trick to catching giant bass is spotting them on or near their beds. Wear polarized sunglasses and slowly cruise sheltered shallows, looking for nests on firm bottoms such as sand or gravel—especially along sunny banks and near stumps, docks, windfalls, or other cover.
BAIT: Go with a 6-inch Ultimate Gitzit (3) in pearl, rigged Texas-style with a 6/0 worm hook and 1/4-ounce bullet sinker. This oversize tube rouses the extra-large fish that can ignore regular-size versions.
PRESENTATION: Slip to within casting range of the bed, and when that big female faces away, pitch the tube softly into her nest with a stout flipping rod matched with 20-pound fluorocarbon line. Lightly twitch the bait in place. Experiment until you find an action that aggravates the bass. Then keep it up until she inhales it.
How to Release a Spawner
Ensure the survival of every bedded bass you catch by following these five rules
1. Handle the fish gently. Hold it upright and support the belly. Don't suspend it by its lower lip.
2. Have your camera ready before you start fishing. The less time spent on the hook, the better.
3. Keep the fish in the water (or a live well) until you're ready to take a picture.
4. Don't let the fish touch anything dry, such as boat carpeting, which will remove its protective slime.
5. Put the fish back in the water quickly. Chances are, it'll go right back to its bed.