Four stages of the spawn

Florida bass fishermen learn to bed fish out of necessity, as did Elite Series pro Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla. Bass here begin making beds in January, and you can catch spawners on and off for the next six months. If you can't catch bass during the spawn in Florida, don't waste your money fishing bass tournaments here.

Scroggins was a dominating tournament fisherman in Florida before he embarked on his pro career, which includes five Bassmaster victories (four in Florida) and nine trips to the Bassmaster Classic. Much of his success stems from his ability to find and catch spawning bass.

For many anglers, fishing the spawn is singular in meaning: casting to bedding bass. Scroggins does this, too, but it's only one of his many tactics. He breaks the spawning cycle into four stages, and fishes each one differently.

Pay close attention, because what you're about to learn from Scroggins will vastly improve your success during all stages of the spawn.

Stage 1: When the bucks move up

In Florida, the bucks first move up onto the beds when the water temperature warms to 58 degrees or more, claims Scroggins. They make beds only 12 to 18 inches deep because the warmest water is in the extreme shallows. The bass spawn deeper as the water continually heats up.

"You'll see bucks on the beds four or five days before the females show up," Scroggins says. "The females are in the same general area, cruising around."

To catch the big females, Scroggins fancasts a white, double-bladed 3/8-ounce Booyah Bi-You Buzz buzzbait over submerged hydrilla, eelgrass or peppergrass near the beds. If bass refuse the buzzbait, he swims a Texas rigged 6-inch lizard or 7 1/2-inch ribbontail worm over the grass. He matches these baits with a straight shank 4/0 Owner hook and a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce bullet sinker. Scroggins makes a long cast over the grass with a 7-foot medium-heavy baitcasting rod and a Daiwa reel loaded with 16-pound Gamma fluorocarbon line, and then holds the rod tip at 10 o'clock and maintains a steady retrieve. The bait bounces through the grass and goads strikes.

"A lot of times the bait runs over a bed you don't see," Scroggins says. "That's a great way to catch a big female.

"You also catch a lot of bucks doing this."

Should swimming a lizard or worm fail to catch the females, Scroggins fishes ledges just outside the spawning area with a Carolina rigged 6-inch lizard (with a 1-ounce weight). These ledges are typically hard bottoms 3 to 5 feet deep that drop into 10 feet of water. Scroggins often finds such spots along the outside edges of grassbeds.

The heavy sinker helps him cast farther and feel the bottom. When the sinker taps shells or rocks, Scroggins slows down with short pulls and long pauses.

Stage 2: Bucks and females paired

"It's a hunting game when you start to see the bucks and females together on the beds," Scroggins says. "I run the shallows fast and find every big spawning pair I can."

A green pumpkin 3 3/4-inch Yum Craw Papi Texas rigged with a 1/4-ounce tungsten sinker tempts more strikes from bedding bass than any other bait Scroggins shows them. Before he begins casting, Scroggins shoves a bamboo tomato stake into the bottom at the back of the nest. Then he backs away far enough that he can't see the bass, which means the bass can't see him either.

Because many of the beds Scroggins fishes are in grass, he casts beyond the stake and pulls the Craw Papi through the grass into the bed. Then he lets the bait soak and barely shakes it on a slack line.

"It usually doesn't take long to catch her when you back away out of sight," Scroggins says. "But, sometimes they can be aggravating."

The moon phase influences how long it takes to catch a bedding bass, claims Scroggins. The bass are more aggressive during a full or new moon when waves of spawners swarm into the shallows. There are fewer bass on the beds during the first and third quarters of the moon, and the bass are more reluctant to bite then.

Stage 3: Females rolling

Scroggins calls it "rolling" when he sees a female bass locked on a bed and dropping eggs. She typically rocks back and forth on the bottom, and the male hits her in the sides to break the eggs loose. You can usually fish close enough to see rolling bass without spooking them. However, it's hard to get their attention with your lures when they're in this state.

Though it's hard to catch a female while she's rolling, it's now-or-never time. She will leave as soon as she finishes dropping her eggs.

Scroggins often starts working on a rolling bass by marking the bed, backing off and casting the Craw Papi to it.

If that fails to get a bite, he switches to a white, Texas rigged, 6-inch lizard and a 1/4-ounce sinker. The bright color helps him see the bait, which needs to be fished close to the bass' mouth. She's unlikely to move to get it.

The next option is to drop shot a 4-inch Yum Houdini Worm 5 inches above a 3/16-ounce weight. Scroggins nose-hooks the lizard and fishes it on 8- or 10-pound-test line.

"The great thing about the drop shot is that you can shake that worm for an hour if you want to and never move it," Scroggins says. "You have to keep the bait in there to get her aggravated."

The last resort is to bump the female in the head with a bait, which aggravates the bass and often triggers a reflex strike. Scroggins prefers the Craw Papi for this application because it has enough bulk that it won't accidentally hook the bass when he bumps it.

Stage 4: Females leaving beds

"When you see mostly bucks on the beds and clouds of bass fry, you have to switch gears to catch the females," Scroggins says.

Working a buzzbait tight to docks and dock pilings often puts Scroggins in touch with the females soon after they drop their eggs and leave the nest. As the big mamas vacate the shallows and head toward deeper water, they often stop at docks to rest and feed. They're famished after the spawning ordeal and receptive to a topwater presentation.

Heavy fishing pressure prompted Scroggins to downsize his bait when he fished the Bassmaster Southern Open at Santee Cooper, S.C., in May 2007. The bass were coming off the beds, and Scroggins found them on cypress trees in 4 to 6 feet of water just outside backwater spawning ponds.

Scroggins Texas rigged a 6-inch green pumpkin Houdini Worm with a 3/0 hook and pinched a tiny No. 8 split shot to the line at the nose of the worm. He estimates that the shot weighed 1/64 ounce.

After casting the worm to the base of a cypress tree, Scroggins let it sink slowly to the bottom, which took several seconds. If he didn't get a bite by the time the worm touched down, he reeled in and made another cast.

"That split shot rig has some of the same action that a Senko has, but it's lighter and better for pinpoint casting," Scroggins says. "A heavy Senko wants to carry past the target. It's harder to control."

Scroggins fished the split shot worm on 12-pound monofilament. He opted for limp Gamma copolymer line because he often had to skip the worm under limbs to reach the bass. Fluorocarbon line heavier than 8-pound test gives Scroggins fits on spinning tackle, especially when he's skipping.

Stepping up to 12-pound line proved to be a wise decision. Scroggins carried 50 pounds, 11 ounces of bass to the scales during the three-day event, and claimed first place.

Originally published March 2008