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Ethics: Bedding Bass

A male smallmouth protecting it's fry, which if you look closely, you will see peppered throughout the photo (black teardrop shaped specks). This photo was carefully taken with a GoPro set up just outside the nest.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass are members of the Centrarchidae genus. They are a genus of fish that create circular spawning nests in the hard bottom substrate in the shallows of their many types of habitat across the country. There are years where the weather is all over the place, and over night it seems like bass are spawning without warning. Other years, the weather is so consistent you can almost set your watch to the bass, and you can almost predict the exact day they bed up. Bedding bass are very easy to spot, as they fan away the organic muck with their tails to expose clean sand and gravel sediment. The nests almost seem to glow, and within that "glow", there will also be a dark spot in the middle. That dark spot is the adult male bass, who has devoted the better part of mid to late May and early June to solely protecting the eggs and fry from predation. There are many animals that are looking for a bite-sized, easy meal. Bluegill, perch, fallfish, crawfish, large insect larvae, and other seemingly minor threats will be looking to either eat the bass' eggs or fry when the adult male has his guard down or his back turned.

At this time, the male bass guarding the nests will be extremely aggressive and attack just about anything that appears to be a threat to his brood. I once watched a smallmouth of about 3 lbs (the one pictured at the top) actually knock a rock bass unconscious while defending the nest. The rock bass actually went belly up and was stunned for a good 15 seconds before it came to. Male bass are not looking for food right now, they are looking to kick ass and take names of any threats to their young, in and around the nest. In fact, they will go weeks without eating while guarding the nest. This situation can be looked at a number of different ways by an angler.

On the one hand, we know almost certainly that if a threatening looking fishing lure is accurately placed in or near the bass' bed, chances are the bass will pick the bait up with it's mouth to try to remove it (bass don't have hands) and the fish can be landed. On the other hand, we have to think about the consequences of taking that fish off the bed, even for just a minute or two to snap a picture and release the fish. What if the fish is fatally injured with the hook or during the fight somehow? What if bluegill come and raid the eggs or fry while the nest is not protected? What if the lure you threw into that nest damaged eggs or killed fry? There are a lot of factors that can lead to a poor bass spawn, and we should do everything we can to not be a part of that percentage that don't make it to adulthood. Most anglers want to catch more bass than they sometimes do on any outing, even the really good outings. Wouldn't you agree that leaving spawning fish alone would in turn create a larger population of catchable sized bass?

During the spawn, tournaments where fish must be livewelled and brought to weigh-in at the end of the day is, in my opinion, the worst thing any bass angler can take part in. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Think about it. The Connecticut River (for example) is an absolutely huge body of water. Bass fishing can be good in the entire watershed down to the brackish zone. In the lower river, the majority of largemouth bass will spawn inside of coves and creeks, which for the most part are pieces of water that are minimally effected by wind and current, in comparison to the main stem. Say you are fishing a tournament that launched from Haddam Meadows during the spawn. You fished all over the river, taking a fish here and a fish there, and put them into the livewell, with most of caught off of spawning beds. The fish will be weighed and released into the main river, miles upon miles from where their nests were. Depending on what stage of development the eggs or fry in the nests are in, the angler responsible could have potentially killed the entire nest, making the bass' effort to spawn all for not. Dually, that adult male bass has gone from a protected, comfortable backwater to a swift moving river habitat and now must adjust to not only his surroundings, but must snap out of the bedding bass mindset and start to hunt in that less forgiving habitat. Main river water temperature could be 10°F less than where the fish was caught, adding further stress to the fish. Tournaments held during the bass spawn should be 100% catch-measure-release, as most kayak tournaments are structured.

The defending male bass has a big job to do, and there are many stressors in a bass' world while defending it's fry. Bluegill are relentless in their efforts to feed on the fry. Osprey are diving on bedding fish. I feel that fishing for these bass is just an added stressor to the fish that they don't need at this time. Also, there is absolutely nothing sportsmanlike about fishing for bedding bass. There is an obvious, glowing circle on the bottom, and what appears to be a fish in the middle of it. How much skill can it possibly take to get that very keyed up, agressive bass to take your offering, and not for sustenance but to defend it's fry? I try not to look down my nose at anglers who fish for bedding bass, but the shortsightedness is sometimes baffling. With fishing becoming ever more popular, there are more people with little to no experience on the water every year, and social media is a driving factor. I feel veteran anglers should try to teach some of these "up and comers" what is ethical and what is not, and a little effort in teaching conservation can and will go a long way. Some anglers just don't care, and are just out for glory, tournament checks, and internet "likes". Personally, I'm never impressed by fish caught off of spawning beds. Bottom line, bedding bass are easy to catch, but there are consequences. If bed fishing is something you do take part in, please practice catch and release, and release those bass as quickly and as close to their nests as possible so they can find their way back and protect future stocks.

Bass are more susceptible to predation and being caught by anglers at this time of year more than any. If you do catch a bedding bass, make sure to return it to the water quickly, in hopes that it finds it's way back to protect it's eggs or fry.

Here are a few links to illustrate my points made in this article:

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