For most of the year we are after fish that we rarely see, but for about six to eight weeks in the spring we can actually watch and look at the fish we are trying to catch. It’s really exciting! A lot of fisherman will say that they can’t catch fish on the beds or that it takes too long. Well both can be true but I hope to shed some light on the situation. First and foremost I will say that bed fishing takes some practice/experience to get good at. You have to be able to find the fish, judge the fish’s mood/state and then catch the fish.
When I am looking for fish, I commit to looking for fish. That means I’m not casting another rod as I’m going down the bank, picking my nose or anything else that may cause me to overlook that big fish I’m looking for. So, trolling motor on high (water clarity affects the speed I can go), going down the bank, I try to stay out past the limit of visibility and keep the sun behind me. As I am looking there will be an angle or view into the water that will present the best view, it may be in front of or behind the boat but that is the area where I focus my attention. I learned long ago that the fish will almost always make their bed in or around something to mess the fisherman up! So I look very closely at stumps, trees, boat docks or anything else I see in the water. I will go through an entire cove/pocket, I don’t want to stop on the first fish I come to, look at all the fish in that area then choose the best/most catchable fish.
Once I spot a fish and decide the fish is big enough to warrant my attention, I want to judge the fishes’ mood/state. As I go by the fish, if he never leaves the bed (“locked on”) or swims out of the bed but stays within a few feet of the bed that fish is very catchable and can likely be caught quickly. If the fish swims out of sight, I will come back slowly and more quietly, if the fish still swims out of sight I go on to the next fish. Next, I gauge the fish by how it reacts to bait. When the situation allows you always want to throw your bait well past the bed, let it sink to the bottom and bring it to the bed this way. Splashing bait down right on top of the fish only makes the fish more wary and harder to catch. Sometimes the fish will swim off when the bait hits the water or gets close to the bed, that’s ok. Just bring your bait up to the edge of the bed and wait; you may have to back your boat off/away to get the fish to come in faster. The further I can keep the boat away from the fish the better, they tend to be more aggressive when they don’t have a boat sitting on top of them. If the fish swims in, sees your bait and races out of the bed, it’s going to be tough to catch that fish. When the fish pauses or addresses the bait by nosing down on the bait that is a good sign.
Now, we’ve found the fish, we think we can catch it so lets do it! Constantly observe the fish, where or how the fish goes into or out of the bed, where in the bed it focuses its attention. In a bed that may be eighteen to twenty four inches in diameter there is going to be a “sweet spot”. Watching the fish will help you identify the spot. I keep a couple of different baits on the deck, some fish will react more aggressively to one bait or another. My first choice is a green pumpkin Rusty’s Baby Bug from JAK’s Custom Baits, its small compact but moves alot of water but you have to judge the fish’s reaction to the bait.
There are two scenarios that usually take place from here:
The first is the fish addressees the bait directly. Be ready, it can go quickly at any point from here. It noses down on the bait. The first time it does this I will wait and not move the bait and it may pick the bait up. If it doesn’t pick up the bait, I want to move it slightly or shake it. When the fish continues to address bait in this manner it’s just a matter of time before it picks it up to move it away from the bed. Be quick and be certain the fish has the bait in its mouth; under most tournament rules a fish caught sight fishing has to be hooked INSIDE the mouth.
The second; the fish swims in sees your bait and circles around. I will shake it slightly, if the fish addresses the bait then scenario one takes over. If the fish doesn’t address the bait directly I will wait till the fish is facing the bait and pop the rod, causing the bait to hop/jump. This quick movement can generate a quick response. The bait will typically land outside the bed, reel it in and throw back past the bed. Again watch the fish as you bring your bait to the far edge of the bed. If the fish still does not address the bait but is in the path of the bait I will pop the rod and try to bump the fish with the bait. Be careful not to foul hook the fish. Repeat until the fish begins to address the bait. I want to aggravate the fish into biting. That bait making the fish move around the bed and bumping into it will anger the fish.
A couple things to note. This can take a long time, make sure the fish is going to help you otherwise it’s not worth the time. I have spent over an hour on a single fish several times. Be careful when you set the hook that the fish has the bait in its mouth, there’s nothing worse than spending thirty minutes on a fish and then foul hooking it and having to turn it loose.
Catching bedding fish is a battle of wills. The fishes will to guard its bed and not get caught versus your will to catch it. You just have to be more patient and determined than they are.
There is no substitute for time on the water!
Rusty White of Rock Hill is a professional fisherman and full-time guide on the Catawba chain of lakes, offering full- and half-day services. For more information, visit fishingwithRusty.com.