STICK MARSH & FARM 13 BASS and CRAPPIE SPAWNING PERIODS
In late November and early December, we started seeing a LOT of small bass in the shallows, especially in the prime spawning areas all along the western levee shoreline, the southwest portion of the Farm and the northwest portion of the Marsh. They acted nuts, to say the least, and attacked just about anything that came by. Often, the lure was bigger than the fish. This told us something, too. From many years of seeing this phenomenon happen, we recognize it is a prelude to the spawn and it helps us SET THE CLOCK.
Past experience shows these exceptionally small bass are trying to spawn, but are probably not at a reproductive age yet. However, Nature says to go do it anyway. One thing we know is that the small fish of a species always seem to go to the spawning areas first. Whether it is bass, crappie or bluegills, the small ones always show up first. With Stick Marsh bass, this influx of small bass has historically been 45 days (+/-) before we started to see the 2-4 LB males making beds. So, I expect to see the larger bass heading into the spawning zones around the first of Dec. This tells us we may see some large females around the beds 1-2 weeks from that. In a nutshell, I expect to see decent, catchable bass really pick up in the spawning zones between 1-10 Dec and some genuine "Oh, Son' giants in there by mid-month. And, it should continue until about mid-Jan.
Bass spawning actually goes on all the time, but the primary period is usually over a 60-90 day range. If you drew a graph, it would be a bell curve and this year's peak on that curve would be around Christmas to the first of the year.
In mid- to late December, we did in fact see some larger bass showing up in the shallow zones we were fishing. Whereas before, we had to wade through 10 small fish to get a 2-4 pounder, now it is only 5-6 small ones first. I fully expect this to get better next week. But, it will peak on 5 pounds and under fish, in that males rarely get bigger than 5 (rarely bigger than 3 in the northern states). In that it is the male that builds and guards the nest, as well as who stays and protects the area and the eggs later, he is the one that is aggressive and gets caught. Females on spawn DO NOT actively feed much. About the only way to catch them is to be able to see them and then goad them into striking by repeated casts right to them.
There is one way to get the big females, but it is a 'find them first' technique. As the males build nests, the female gather outside the nesting zones. How far is a guess. But, those I have watched are usually within 100 feet or so. They seem to lay close enough for the males to be able to make short excursions from the nest to find them. In looking at the areas we typically find spawning bass well in the Stick Marsh (and Farm 13, as well), we have usually found the females in open water where a grass bed or such separates them from the spawning zone. In some cases, that was right in a canal. If you look at farm 13, west side/north to south, you will see a small canal (interactive map coordinates B2 to B7) that runs along that western-most levee. Yes, the big egg-carrying females have most often been right in that canal. That canal is MUCH smaller than the others are than run north/south in the Farm are. It is little more than a ditch from the shack on the west shore back to the north (coordinates B4 to B7; also see picture with map pop-up). It is a bit larger in its southern half (B4 to B2; again, see the related picture), but still small. It also has an oddity about its shape in that southern half.
Most canals are dug with a taper down both sides and the deepest location in its center. Not so the lower half of the Farm's western canal (B4 to B2). In this section, it was dug in a wedge shape, with the deepest location right on the west side. And, there is NO levee on that west side of the canal. All the dirt from digging that section of the canal was piled on the east side and that is a wide low levee. So, it gives the females an open water drop-off to use for reference and cruise along. Absolutely ideal in distance and location from the western shore spawning zones. If the grass lets you, think 'Rat-L-Trap parallel to the canal drop' really hard. Until they are herded to the bed area by a male, a female will still feed (or is aggressive in possibly protecting the 'spawning-area-to-be' - who knows).
The north half of this canal (B4 to B7) is, as stated earlier, basically a ditch. It is not much more that a boat width wide and has some old stumps underwater right in the ditch. The spawning flats are 4-5 feet deep and lots of wood. The grass has thinned a lot recently. Fishing this ditch is a front-of-the-boat-fishing trip. The person in the back just can't do it and you can basically only bring one lure along its narrow trace anyway. But, like its southern counterpart half, this portion of the canal has NO levee on the western side. And the ditch is only a couple of feet deeper than the spawning flats. So, you can expect the females to use the ditch, the edge of the levee to the east along the ditch, and the edge of the spawning flat (i.e., don't confine your search for the big females to just that small ditch; they are not bounded as much as they are in the southern portion).
Lets turn to the Stick Marsh. Spawning areas are all along the western shoreline (A8 - A13) and the north treeline (A13 - G13). Some will also spawn along the north side of the north canal that borders the Marsh (not the exit flow canal; I am speaking of the canal that runs from the ramp to the western side of the Marsh). In that canal, the females simply stage in the open water of the canal, which is full of submerged stumps and brush even in the middle. Along that tree line, between the canal and the Marsh waters, the females may be anywhere in the stumps and grass, but will not be far from that tree line and its levee.
The western shoreline of the Marsh does not have a rim canal. It was never farmed, so there was no specific drainage plan. BUT, (BIG SECRET) there is a ditch that runs parallel to the western shore from A8 to about A11. It is about 100-150 feet off the shoreline. Using a depthfinder and looking slowly, it is found to be about 6-8 feet wide and 1-2 feet deep from A11 to A9. Here, its small levee (maybe a foot high) is on the east side of the ditch proper. From A9 to A8, it enters a wider, deeper 'hole' for a short distance (maybe 30 feet). It has a small section that gets 9-10 feet deep, then comes back up. I suspect this was a sump hole to catch drainage. The sump hole has a higher, well-defined section of submerged levee on its east side (deeper hole = more dirt removed = more levee). Along the east side of that sump hole levee used to be a prime shiner hole in the early days. From the defined sump hole to its intersection with the main east/west canal between the Farm and the Marsh, the ditch is ill defined and basically just a depression that channeled the water out. I can't say that the females use this ditch for anything. BUT, at pre-spawn, they are usually staged between it and the shoreline.
In any of these western-spawning areas, it will be exceptionally rare to see a fish on a bed. The watercolor and the background vegetation just won't allow it. If you get the sun just right, you can see one occasionally - but again, rarely. So, without sight, that means fish a worm or tube very, very slowly, allowing it to lie still for periods of time. If there are reeds, fish in and around them well. Cattails grow in muck; reeds like hard sand bottoms. Bass spawn around reeds a lot.
So, those little goodies of detail will give you something to think about and possibly try out. They have worked well in the past.
As to predictions, it looks like an excellent spawn coming up. The water is clean and high and the bass are exceptionally active. I have found crappie hitting the edges of grassline and the open water in the submerged canals well since November. The egg sac development indicates the spawn should be right on time, around the 15-20th of February. If the weather continues with its exceptionally cool trend, we may see that moved up more towards the end of February.
Keep in mind that, even when the peak of the bass spawn is going on, there are still lots of bass that are not spawning and are in the usual haunts. And, you can expect them to be active.
PLEASE, handle all fish even more carefully during the spawn period. Don't injure or stress them. Give them a chance to do their thing. We all benefit from that.
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