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A reservoir bass mystery
I took this largemouth on a soft plastic lure fishing Liberty Reservoir from a kayak. (Bill May photo)

So what's up with these reservoir bass?

Over the years, we've seen a spring fishing sequence in the reservoirs and all waters containing bass. Most anglers divide spring fishing into three periods: pre-spawn, spawn, post-spawn. This sequence is usually tracked in terms of water temperatures. (All those listed are approximations for largemouth bass for our area.) Light levels may also be a factor.

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While many anglers swear by a correlation of moon phase, specifically a full moon and spawning, limited scientific studies I've seen debunk this notion for bass in non-tidal waters. (We're not going to get drawn into another Solunar Tables debate.)

Phase 1 Pre-Spawn

Temperatures begin to rise in the spring, and the waters begin to warm. As surface water temperature reach roughly 52 degrees, bass enter the pre-spawn stage. Bass begin to move up from winter depths, first along break lines off points, then into coves and shallows. Often these bass are actively feeding after the winter slowdown and in preparation for spawning.

This is the time when some of the biggest bass of the year are caught, with egg-laden females usually the biggest. Catch this magic period and astounding numbers of bass can be caught, including some big ones.

Reservoir bassing buddy Harry Pippin and I annually hearken back to a day about a decade ago when we hit a magic time when bass moved into the shallow en masse. After a prolonged cold winter, Harry called me at work, excitedly spouting all kinds of meteorological data, including the moon phase. The bottom line was a sudden spell of several 70-degree days and mild nights meant we had to take off the next day and hit Loch Raven.

I've fished some famous bass waters and had some good days, but nothing could top that spring day on Loch Raven for numbers. Our biggest fish was probably between three and four pounds, but the total number of bass in the 1 1/2- to 3-pound range probably hit 100. Fishermen often throw that number around, when the actual number is half that or less. This was a case where it may have been accurate.

We had bass on with every other cast in every cove we hit, and simultaneous hookups were more the rule than the exception. This went on all day, and bass were still active when we had to go in. We used shallow crankbaits, jigs, a variety of plastics; it all worked. Things reached the point where Harry said let's try a cove that had never produced for him. It did that day and at the same pace as the good coves. We've been trying to match that day ever since.

We've had some good pre-spawn days, but nothing like that one. Our first reservoir trip this spring, to Loch Raven, was largely a bust due to dying batteries. We did get some pickerel and bass up to 2 pounds before limping back to the launch ramp with the aid of the nose motor.

Phase 2 Spawn

As water temperatures rise above the mid-50's male bass invade the shallows and begin to clear nests, often under overhanging brush, for the females. The aggressive feeding of the pre-spawn slows. Nests will begin to appear as clear spots but are not yet occupied though males will linger in the area.

This seems to be the stage many bass have reached in much of Liberty and Loch Raven, while some are still at the first stage. Slow, gentle presentations close to bass may draw strikes.

But often the bass turn away, either spooked or saying with their body language, "I'm here to spawn, not to fool around."

About the time temperatures reach the 60's the females will be on the nests and begin egg-laying. Males will zoom in to fertilize the eggs. Fishing for spawning bass used to be considered unsportsmanlike and detrimental to bass populations. That taboo has largely vanished.

Both male and female bass are in a mode of defending the nest, so anglers often resort to pitching and flipping large, plastic lures like "creatures" or lizards, trying to provoke a strike intended to drive away or carry away the invader. Often the fish will move off a short distance then return when the lure is withdrawn. This is tedious fishing. Hooksets must be made instantly.

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After spawning, the female bass will leave the nest and often deposit eggs in several more nests before the spawning period is completed. Males guard the fry on the nests for a couple of weeks before moving off. Not all bass are spawning at the same time so the spawning period can last for several weeks, and you can expect a mix of active bass and spawning bass. However, extreme fluctuations in water levels or temperatures can disrupt the whole process.

Phase 3 Post Spawn

Bass will often stay in the same shallow areas and resume feeding for a period as long as water temperatures are in the comfortable range of 65-75 degrees, and there is adequate oxygen, food and cover. Shallow water fishing can be good though not as frantic as the pre-spawn period. However, these shallow water fish have seen a lot fishing pressure in popular waters, so angling techniques must be subtle, and stealth is a must.

Harry and I will hit Loch Raven once more with a new set of batteries allowing us to access prime areas. After that we'll probably head to Prettyboy, where water temperatures are considerably cooler, and hope for pre-spawn bass.

Those of us with multiple kayaks will continue to explore Liberty and Piney Run this spring.

As water temperatures and light levels increase, bass move into their summer pattern of deeper waters or into deep cover such as pad fields.

410-857-7896

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