By Mark Reese
Recent warm and particularly dry weather has enticed me to take trips to local creeks and the upper South Fork of the Kentucky River. With the weather we have had even the wet leg wading entailed has not been too cold. I would like to say the fishing has been off the charts, but reality reveals that it takes a little longer for creeks and rivers to hit peak fishing stride before ponds and lakes.
And now there is another fly in the ointment for all who like to fish. Recent weather patterns have brought an earlier spawn to fish. As you look around birds are already nesting and pushing their offspring out into the world. And in talking to a biologist from Wisconsin this week revealed that he has encountered grouse and woodcock chicks about three weeks earlier than usual.
Most of the fish that have been caught on recent trips are male smallmouth bass. And I have been closely guarded by these males swimming around me as I waded the water. When a female fish lays her eggs the male is always close by to fertilize them. The eggs develop more rapidly in warmer water and conversely slower with colder temperatures.
Water temperature is the key factor as to when fish lay their eggs but there are other factors such as day length and moon phase that are involved as well. Research has indicated to me that small mouth bass nest when water temperature hits about sixty degrees and the moon is full—conditions that were present this past week.
In the world of mammals the male is generally the larger of the species but in the aquatic world of fish the opposite occurs with the female generally being the larger fish. The spawning female is especially quite a bit larger before the eggs are laid. But in almost all cases it is the daddy that guards the nest.
Characteristics of some of the local fish spawning are as follows:
Crappie: Spawn near vegetation on soft bottoms with the males protecting the nest
Bluegill: Males establish the territories for the next and build and tend to the nest, eggs, and young once the female lays
Largemouth Bass: Nesting begins at 60 degrees with the males being territorial and aggressive. The young may be guarded by the males for up to one month.
Smallmouth Bass: Males return to the same spawning area each year in late spring. The nest is two to six feet in diameter and females lay eggs in several nests with the males again acting as guards.
Channel Catfish: Spawning late spring or summer when water temperature exceeds 75 degrees. Nesting occurs in undercut banks or roots. Again the males guard the nest.
Something to keep in mind are that fish, most notably bass, consume less food during the spawn. Soft lures and polarized sunglasses to spot the fish are generally the way to go. While fishing the other day, the largest smallmouth I caught picked up a soft plastic lure I was using, and I would not have known it if I had not seen that fish pick it up. Strikes by fish are generally soft and quick during this time.
Finally catch and release quickly during the spawning season. Fish are distressed and the longer they are out of water the odds of survival decrease. Catch and release is generally the practice to follow during this time of the season.