Bed Fishing 101

Class is in!

In hunting, nothing is more intimate than a man and his bow taking down his prey. There is something primal about this style of hunting more so than firearms or other methods. You feel more connected, it’s always close quarters and one on one, man against beast. In bass fishing, this same connection can be achieved through one of my favorite times to fish. The spawn.

Nothing else can compare to bed fishing. It is exhilarating and equally frustrating at times. Often you acquire your target, pitch on the bed and may be immediately disheartened as the fish turns tail and swims off. This is not a method for the impatient or those easily dismayed but can be all the more rewarding for those who persist.

Whether you are on the deck of a $50,000 bass boat or on the bank of a farm pond, a bass is a bass. What I am eluding to is that the fishery may vary, but the way a fish thinks or responds to certain stimuli is instinctual for them regardless of being in a lake, river, canal, or pond. During this time they have a one track mind, and all they’re thinking about is the spawn. This means finding some prime real estate, making a nice cozy bed of pea gravel or sand, and “hooking up” (literally) with big momma.

So I know what you may be thinking, if they are solely thinking about spawning and nothing else, how am I supposed to catch a fish that isn’t hungry? The answer? Capitalize on his weaknesses. As mentioned previously, when you pitch on a bed a bass will respond in one of a few ways:

  1. Swim off;
  2. Ignore it;
  3. Stare at it;
  4. Nose on it;
  5. “Blow” or fan it off the bed with his tail;
  6. False charge it;
  7. Attack it.

Obviously, the most ideal of these scenarios is the fish attacking your bait and  you the angler capitalizing; however, there are 6 other options that leave you without an initial bite. Let’s dive into how to handle some of these scenarios and how to tip the scales in your favor.

He Swims Off…

You make your first pitch on the bed and the fish is having none of it; he swims off. Do not be dismayed, this is a common response. What is paramount, is the amount of time it takes him to return. If you pitch on the bed and the fish swims off and shortly returns or doesn’t even fully leave the bed, this is a good sign that this is a catchable fish. I refer to this fish as “locked on.” This means that likely, the female has moved up and laid her eggs and he has fertilized them and is now in “over protective dad mode.” In my mind, a fish that is locked on is 100% catchable. It may take some time…a lot of time or it might not, BUT he IS catchable. The amount of time it takes to catch him will be determined by his aggression level, which will be evident by how he reacts upon returning to the bed after your initial pitch i.e. numbers 2-7.

Now what happens if you pitch on the bed and rather than immediately circling back to return to the bed, the fish doesn’t return or maybe equally as frustrating, he returns to find your bait on the bed and swims off again. If he doesn’t return after waiting a minute or two, you can make the choice to move on (e.g.  you are in a tournament and don’t have time to wait) or pursue the fish. Regardless of how skittish the fish is, if he returns consistently, I have confidence in getting that fish to bite. If he doesn’t, or takes his sweet time to return, I will evaluate the amount of time I want to invest based on my confidence in getting that fish to bite. In tournament situations, I will spend a decent amount of time if the fish is a toad, if not, I will likely move on to find more aggressive fish.

The fish returned but is not interested…

This is not uncommon to experience while bed fishing.  You may pitch on a bed and the fish may simply ignore your bait but as soon as a bluegill comes within 2 feet of the bed, they charge the bluegills like a freight train and chase them off. This can be very irritating but it is actually a good seeing  signs of aggression. The reason they chase the gills off is often to protect the eggs so despite the fish not being interested in your bait (e.g. not showing aggression), this does not mean this fish isn’t aggressive, they may just need some coaxing…

In this situation, I have one of two responses; my first choice being to make the fish mad. I will start by insulting him, “You call that a bed? Is this your first year spawning bro? Yeah I saw your girl, 2lber… not enough of a fish to handle the big girls huh?” I’m totally kidding, but what I will do is make the fish angry by being a thorn in his side…literally.

One of my favorite tactics for aggressive fish that are tight lipped is hitting them with my bait. I will pitch past the fish and sweep my rod to hit him with the lure. I prefer to aim for the tail. This is out of his line of site and is like seeing a guy hitting on your girl and you approach from behind and tap him on the shoulder; what will his response be? He is going to turn around and see who tapped him; the same goes for a bass. Now, unlike my analogy, it may take a few times of you hitting him with the lure to get the fish to commit, but in my experience, they only get more and more mad the more you hit them (probably pretty annoying for the fish.) When pitching on the bed and shaking or hopping your bait isn’t doing it but the fish is fairly locked on, this is a good option to really tick that fish off and get him to bite; often as a reaction. Remember fish don’t have hands like you and I, and many times will use their mouths as a way to investigate what hit them; make sure to capitalize on this if the fish makes this mistake.

My second option for a seemingly non-aggressive fish is to change up my baits. Making a change can flip a switch and really set a fish off, or have an adverse reaction and turn the fish off; choose wisely. The fish will tell you what they want. If you start with a Senko and they aren’t interested, but are chasing bluegill, maybe try some kind of bluegill bait; match the hatch…or in this case, copy the enemy. I would suggest a Jackall Gantarel,  Deps Bullshooter or a Imakatsu Gillroid with a weighted nose to emulate a bluegill attempting to eat the eggs off the bed. If the fish seems intimidated by this bold approach, try downsizing (e.g. shakey head, fluke, drop shot etc.).

The fish is staring at my bait/ nosed down on my bait/ blew my bait off the bed/ charged my bait but is not committing…

These are some of the most common issues I have come across while bed fishing. In any of these instances, I will try one of the following:

  1. Pitch on the bed and let my bait sit until I can sweep the rod and jerk my bait right in front of the fishes face to illicit a reaction
  2. Shake/hop my bait in front of the fishes face
  3. Quiver my bait in front of the fish
  4. Pitch my bait on the bed and do nothing

Let’s go into a little more detail regarding situations when each of these would be an appropriate course of action.

 If you reread these options, you may notice that the tactic goes from a very aggressive tactic to the most passive thing you can do, which is leave your bait on the bed and do nothing. Once you have established a relationship with the fish, use your best judgment to determine what is the best option for you given the situation. As mentioned, the fish’s’ response to certain stimuli will give you the knowledge about how to get the fish to commit.  A more aggressive fish may require a more aggressive tactic and the reciprocal applies to the point of absolute passivity. I know some of you may be scratching your head on the thought of pitching your bait onto the bed and literally doing nothing. Let me elaborate.

Leaving your bait on the bed and doing nothing can be good for a number of reasons  but has certain applications as well. I generally use this tactic for very skittish fish or fish that are locked on but aren’t falling for my more aggressive tactics. I have had fish that you can hit with your bait and just do it over and over and they never get any more aggressive. It is rare, but usually happens with what I call “educated” fish. These are the fish that have done this spawn thing a time or two and been caught in the past and aren’t falling for the easier tricks. I generally have the best luck with the “dead sticking” technique after watching the bass for a bit. You will usually will notice that the bass may favor a particular spot on their bed. It may be a rock, a stick, some grass, a clump of algae or whatever on their bed but more times than not, the fish will favor a particular spot and when you pitch on a bed to do this technique, make sure your bait ends up in their little sweet spot. This is not a technique for the impatient as it may take some time, but most fish just can’t stand it and will use their mouth to move the bait and that’s when you capitalize. The smart ones however will use their tail and try to fan it off or out of their spot so this isn’t always the answer but is an option worth a try in this situation. Persistence is key as the more you annoy and do what you can to make these fish mad, the better your odds become in getting a chance to capitalize on the fish.

The fish attacks!

This is obviously the best outcome for this scenario and is your best chance to catch this fish without committing to spending a decent amount of time working this fish. Your first impression needs to be your very best, so make sure to capitalize on this opportunity. If you blow your opportunity, don’t be dismayed! This is your best chance, but not your only chance. If you fail to capitalize on this opportunity, try one more pitch and if the fish is disinterested, switch baits immediately and try again. The failure to capitalize on this chance will elicit any of the options mentioned above.

The young “buck” males will undoubtedly be more aggressive and more forgiving to your tactics, but if you are fishing a seasoned fish, make sure you bring your A-game. Bed fishing can be frustrating, but if you persevere, the reward will be that much sweeter!

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