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The Spawning Urge

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><> ><>       BASS MATTERS - February 1, 2006        ><> ><> 

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Comment The Post Below...

Hello Anglers,

When fishing spinnerbaits use a single blade design when you 
want to fish deep or if you encounter extremely clear water. 
Single blade spinner have less resistance so they are easier 
to fish deep.

Remember you can comment on any story or read comments   
by visiting: Bass Matters Blog

Enjoy a week of fishing!
email Brock

The Spawning Urge: What Scientists Say
By Russ Bassdozer

Is it based on temperature? Whereas many anglers often ask 
each other if they think the bass are ready to spawn on this 
or that full moon, most biologists do not look up at the 
night sky, but rather look at the seasonal thermometer. 

I do think the moon phase means something, but it's just not 
something bass biologists are prone to experiment with or 
study. True, the moon the sun, other planets and their 
relationship to our spinning earth can and do exert forces 
that influence life here, but bass biologists are often in 
laboratories, and even in the field, they typically focus on 
more down-to-earth causes and results, such as trying to 
determine what influence the spring weather, water temper-
atures and water levels will have on the bass spawning in 
this lake or that region.

So yes, I do think "more" bed fish will be found on the 
moons after a certain water temperature is achieved, but 
like I said, scientists do not care about the moon, they 
care about other more measurable factors to which they can 
attribute the year's spawning success or failure.

Are you having your photoperiod yet? There are also occasion-
al discussions of photoperiod (length of daylight and angle 
of sun in the sky) among anglers, as if there is a magic day 
on the calendar when bass wake up that morning and begin 
spewing milt and eggs. True, I have occasionally heard of the 
photoperiod cited as a factor in many fish movements (spawn-
ing, mustering, migration) for a number of differnet species, 
however, it was not in my notes of the studies that I came 
across when preparing this article for black and brown bass 
spawning. However, since seasons, temperatures and weather 
are all results of earth's orbit, I do believe photoperiod 
is probably mixed in there somewhere. It's kinda like when 
my wife asks me why I love her: "No big reason, honey, but 
many countless small ones that all add up!". That seems to 
satisfy her.

But...most studies see spawning primarily as a function of 
water temperature - the stability and duration (taken 
together, the persistence) of the average daily water 
temperature over time, the velocity of the season's overall 
warming water trend over time, the average delta of daily  
low and high temperature extremes, the frequency of sudden 
changes in water temperature. All these temperature factors 
have measurable effects on spawning success.

And while temperature seems to be the biological controller 
here, studies also indicate that oxygen, PH, salinity and 
other factors can measurably affect spawning. This article 
will tell you a bit about all these factors. Are you 
interested? Please read on!

Green versus brown. In the field, you may find smallmouth 
and largemouth spawning in different places and at different 
times. In general, smallmouth nest building may start a few 
degrees colder on average, and may be in slightly rockier 
areas on average than largemouth. These factors are different 
- but not different enough - to warrant much special mention 
in this article. Most studies have not indicated a major 
difference between largemouth and smallmouth spawning in 
terms of temperature, nest substrate, dissolved oxygen, PH, 

North versus South. Studies do not show dramatic differences 
based on water temperature, areas used, oxygen, PH, etc. In 
general, bass in the deep southern ranges may get their urges 
a few degrees warmer than their far northern counterparts.

Nest Building. Studies show that the urge to build nests 
occurs in males at lower temperatures than when females are 
ready to lay eggs. Most studies indicate bachelor males will 
begin to build nests in water temperatures as low as 54° - 
57° and surely by 60°. There is a "magic number" above 60° 
when females begin to reveal their interest in the boys and 
the nests that they've built!

Males dig nests by dishing out the softer top layers of 
sediment with their tails to ideally get down to harder 
ground. After sweeping it out vigorously, the bottom of the 
nest may be scoured down to clean chunk rock, gravel, roots, 
etc. Where the bottom is sand or dirt, the sweeping will 
tend to remove all the finer granules, leaving behind a 
slightly raised floor of pebbles, twigs, shells, rubble, etc.

The nest-building urge in males is thigmotrophic. Given a 
choice, they will build nests that are protected on one or 
more sides by "things" - logs, rocks, pilings, stumps, 
ledges, etc. This may provide partial protection from preda-
tors and egg robbers, or a break from wind or water current.

Bass can spawn in main lakes and rivers or ascend tributaries 
to spawn. They typically migrate up the tributaries on 
periods of high water levels. This makes navigation easier, 
and allows bass to claim the highly-preferred gravel, stone 
and hard sand bottoms that have been flushed clean of silt 
by the high water's passage.

Both smallmouth and largemouth bass nests are commonly in 
shallows, backwaters or tributaries of either streams or 
lakes. Nests are commonly close to shore in protected bays 
and creeks, or on the sides and tops of mid-water shoals. 
Nests are usually in areas of quiet water. Nests are usual-
ly in areas of very slow current. Nests are usually on the 
leeward shore or sheltered from prevailing winds.


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Male bass instinctively prefer not to build nests wherever 
turbidity may be a concern. Not only may a soft bottom 
composition (mud, silt, clay) be avoided if possible, but 
areas that are prone to have wind disturbance or water flow 
are also avoided, since both wind and water action can 
induce fluctuating temperatures, raise turbidity and deposit 
silt that can suffocate eggs.

Bass may spawn on depth breaks (edges of pools, cliffs, 
ledges, etc.), provided these areas should have minimal wind 
and current exposure, and at a depth sufficient so that wave 
action will not destroy the nest.

Water levels. Some studies indicate that a high water period 
may trigger bass migrations towards the spawning grounds. 
Once they've arrived on the scene, then relatively stable 
water levels are preferred before bass dig nests, drop eggs 
and hatch fry. Dropping water levels can result in poor 
spawns for various reasons including desertion by males, 
wind-driven wave destruction, and nests ending up high and 
dry. Rising water levels (barring floods) usually do not 
have major negative consequences, although quickly rising 
waters may usher in cold or turbid water that stalls egg or 
fry development.

Depth. Most studies indicate highest spawning success off 
nests covered in from 1 to 3 feet of water, but deeper nests 
may occur in very clear warm water. Although uncommon, stud-
ies done on clear, deep-sided impoundments report males 
still maintaining nests from 20 to 27 feet deep that were 
covered with slowly but steadily rising warm water. I do 
believe there is a concept of bass becoming "committed" to 
a nest that is covered by rising water, and so long as the 
bass feel the nest has a chance to draw females or hatch 
eggs, they'll stick with it.

More depth. Although shallow nests are "scientifically" more 
successful, nests down to 6 or more feet are not that 
uncommon, particularly for smallmouth in deep, clear impound-
ments. Rationales for deeper nests include that:

1) Deep clear lakes simply have very little littoral benthos 
(shoreline bottom) in the 1-3 foot range. Often just a small 
rim that smallmouth in such lakes do not normally live in 
anyway, except to visit for brief feeding periods at those 
magic moments of half-light at dawn and dusk. If there is 
any livable littoral benthos...other species will usually 
dominate it if they exist - largemouth, panfish, pike, 
pickerels, muskies, etc.) Smallmouth cannot compete against 
largemouth or even panfish for food in such areas, and 
they'll be heavily predated by the water wolves.

2) Deep clear lakes characteristically have more wind 
surface (which causes stronger waves and more forceful 
underwater turbulence) that would upset shallower nests. 
So, the added depth provides stability.

3) Deep clear lakes often have rock sides and bottoms which 
amplify any heat gain/loss as sun (or lack of it) is trans-
mitted easily into the nearby water. Hence, deeper nests are 
buffered better from some of this daily temperature fluctua-
tions in such areas. So, the added depth provides stability, 
but also causes the incubation and hatching process to take 
longer than in shallower water.

Mating. The actual laying and fertilizing of eggs can range 
higher or lower, but it usually takes place when the water 
temperature is stabilized above 60° and rising slowly 
between 60° and 70°. Dropping water temperature will tend to 
keep females off the nests, and rapidly rising temperatures 
have been reported to delay spawning until the warming trend 
slows down and stabilizes too. 

Sharp drops in water temperature, followed by increases, 
will cause repeated waves of mating, but that doesn't 
necessarily mean multiple crops of viable eggs or fry. Sharp 
drops in temperature will also kill eggs, and studies report 
increased frequency of males deserting eggs in water dropping 
below 60°.

I had no notes of studies detailing how long females lay, 
but I have seen plenty of them doing it in the wild. The act 
itself is beautiful and fleeting, often under ideal environ-
mental conditions...water like glass, pleasant day, flowers 
blooming on shore and all that. Maybe I'm romanticizing here, 
but both bass seem to appear to have heightened body colors
...Dare I say an aura? She lays on her side and shudders 
with the male also, then moves off the nest. It's not long! 
She'll often do some inspecting and tidying up the nest when 
she comes onto it and she often acts more aggressive to 
intrusions by nearby egg-robbers like sunfish than will the 
male at that moment. 

The male seems more intent on keeping her there, and will 
often circle her and positon himself to cut her off from 
leaving him. She'll do a lot of enticing lingering near the 
nest both before and after, usually at the nearest weedline 
or slope, sometimes slipping back up for another quickie or 
two or three. She'll usually be present in the area for 
days, especially so if there are several males with nests 
nearby. I might add she'll often "smoke" a smoke-colored 
finesse bait (tube, etc.) after the act when she returns to 
the weedline, and she'll often snap it right off the nest 
before the male if you interrupt them during the act.

Incubation. Fresh eggs need time to "harden" and become 
acclimatized after fertilization. Studies show eggs will 
become temperature tolerant after 12-15 hours. Then the 
males will become fathers and caretakers of the egg clutches. 
Males defend their clutch from predators and fan eggs with 
their tails to keep a small flow of aerated water circulation 
and to keep sediment from settling and suffocating the eggs. 
Clutches can also get infected by fungus that destroys them, 
and fanning also prevents fungus from getting into the eggs.

Once acclimatized to moderate temperature fluctuations, 
desertion of the male is the factor most harmful to eggs.


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Hatching. Studies usually indicate optimum incubation and 
hatching temperatures to be from 66° to 72°. More eggs will 
hatch, and they will incubate quicker in this temperature 
range. For instance, almost all eggs will hatch in 3 to 4 
days in this temperature range. That seems to be the ideal. 
Far fewer eggs will hatch and will take much longer to do 
so at lower temperatures. 

Dissolved Oxygen. DO must exist in all life-giving waters. 
Normally, there is a saturation point - how much oxygen can 
remain dissolved - which rises or falls based on water 
temperature, water/air pressure, altitude, depth, PH and 
other factors.

Some lab studies have pumped up DO levels far above what's 
reasonably expected in nature. These lab results have not 
seemed very stressful to adult bass, although eggs and fry 
clearly thrive best when oxygen stays near nature's normal 
level - the "saturation point".  In fact, normal, healthy 
levels of DO can reduce the bad effect of other adverse 
conditions. For example, if water temperatures rise rapidly 
and get too hot, it is not as harmful if DO also climbs 

The difficulties arise when there's not enough oxygen. As 
other survival factors worsen (too low/high temperature, PH, 
etc.), DO becomes critical. Low DO will dramatically worsen 
the effects of other bad conditions. There is also a problem 
anytime when DO is reduced suddenly. For instance, there is 
a marked difference (called the "diurnal DO flux") between 
oxygen levels from day to night. If this daily change is 
severe, it can hamper the ability of fry to hatch or grow.

In summary then, studies show bass (adults, fry, eggs) 
better able to handle other stressful factors when DO remains 
high or increases. A higher percentage of eggs will hatch 
and fry will grow quicker in optimum, well-oxygenated water. 
Keep in mind that well-oxygenated water usually occurs as a 
result of when all other conditions (temperature, depth, etc.) 
are also optimum for egg incubation and fry development. On 
the other hand, when DO is unfavorable, eggs will take much 
longer time to incubate, many eggs will not hatch, and fry 
will develop more slowly or not at all. This problem is 
compounded in that low levels of DO are usually associated 
with other unfavorable factors (too low/high temperature, PH, 

PH. Yes, some of us may have learned about PH back in school 
and biologists are always talking about it as one of the 
factors for life. If PH is too high (alkaline) or too low 
(acidic), an environment cannot support life easily if at 

As we mentioned about oxygen above, there is a normal range 
that can be tolerated by adults, eggs and fry. PH that is 
too low or too high can be avoided by non-spawning adults 
who will move to better conditions. But spawning adults, 
eggs and fry will be stressed by PH above or below the 
normal range. As we also mentioned above, there can be a 
diurnal flux in PH levels from day to night. In areas where 
vegetation becomes far too abundant, the PH can become very 
high in daytime as plant photosynthesis peaks. The dramatic 
daily change, plus the daily peak in PH can both badly 
affect the urge to spawn, and affect the survival of bass 
eggs and fry.

Salinity. Although adult bass may live in brackish water 
environments, studies show it is not always the best 
environment for adult bass to prosper. As for the more 
vulnerable bass eggs and fry, studies indicate that even low 
levels of salinity (far below an adult's tolerance) will 
greatly impair the survival of bass eggs and fry. Therefore, 
it is presumed that adult bass in brackish water will seek 
out fresher tributaries and headwaters for spawning purposes.

Turbidity. Clear water is preferable for spawning. Studies 
have shown that there is limited survival and success in 
moderately turbid water, and eggs may not hatch in highly 
turbid waters.

Hatchlings. Fry are usually better able to survive 
temperature changes that would destroy eggs. Fry become 
independent from their father and optimal growth metabolism 
for fry is achieved during early summer at water temperatures 
between 78° - 85°.

Predation. The above are just a few of the more commonly-
recognized factors that have measurable effects on bass 
spawning. Many studies also show that predation on bass eggs 
and fry can be critical to the year's spawning success.

Food availability. As a final factor, studies also show that 
the timing and availability of a food supply is also critical 
to fry.

Preferences. This article, and the studies it is based on, 
deal with preferences and optimal factors. Keep in mind that 
preferences may not necessarily be limiting factors. For 
example, most studies indicate that bass prefer to spawn and 
live in clear water, however, studies also show that although 
turbidity is not preferred, it is not necessarily a limiting 
factor in bodies of water where it is the only option. That's 
what's so great about bass! Between largemouths and small-
mouths, you can usually find them everywhere!

        GopherCentral's Question of the Week

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Question of the Week

                  FISHING JOKES CORNER

Billy Bob and Jethro decide to go ice fishing. After 
arriving at the lake early in the morning, they cut two 
holes in the lake and drop their lines in the water. After 
fishing for a few hours, Billy Bob has caught dozens of 
fish while Jethro hasn't even gotten a bite.

Jethro asks, "Billy Bob, what's your secret?"

Billy Bob answers, "Mmu motta meep da mmrms mmrm."

Jethro asks, "What did you say?"

Billy Bob answers, "Mmu motta meep da mmrms mmrm."

Jethro again asks, "What?"

Billy Bob spits into his hand and says, "You gotta keep 
the worms warm!"

Questions? Comments? email: Email brock
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