Georgia’s J. Todd Tucker has quietly gained a reputation as one of the best sight fishermen on the Bassmaster Elite Series. He showed off his bed fishing prowess at the St. John’s River, Florida in April 2012 when he led Day 1 and made the final day cut, all on the strength of fish caught from spawning beds. He believes that certain practices separate someone who targets spawning bass versus someone who is truly good at it.
Gauging the Fish
Tucker believes that each fish is different and there are certain steps that need to be done to determine whether a fish is catchable or a fish that will waste your time. “One of the first things I do is run over the fish with the trolling motor, I know it sounds crazy, but doing this will show me whether the fish is going to be aggressive or not. If I pass the fish and it turns around and heads back to the bed or gets in a defense position towards the boat, I should be able to catch that fish,” says Tucker.
J. Todd approaches bed fish with an arsenal of up to fifteen rods, rigged with various sizes of lines, different weight sizes and an assortment of colors and styles of soft plastic baits. “Each fish and each body of water is different, so I try to rotate through a selection of baits until I find the one that triggers that particular fish. Sometimes a color will really get them going or it will be the style of bait,” states Tucker. He adds, “I will often use what I call ‘teaser’ baits, which are big baits meant to agitate the fish and not necessarily hook them. Usually when I get them really mad and agitated with the teaser bait, I can cast a smaller bait in there and they will bite it right away.”
To Catch the Male or Not?
The practice of catching the male first in order to target the female is often debated and anglers seem to have their own preferences and beliefs on what works best. Tucker weighed in on his thoughts on this topic. “In Florida for example, if you catch the male first that female will leave most of the time. I always try to shake the bucks off so I don’t ruin my chances with the bigger females. In some other states, I don’t believe it makes as much of a difference for some reason.” When faced with this situation, Tucker will use a lure that is larger than the male bass can handle. “Sometimes that male will keep attacking the bait and not be able to get it in his mouth. The female will see this and think the male isn’t doing his job. With her instincts, this will get her fired up and it is one of the best ways to catch that female,” states J. Todd.
The way that the boat is positioned is a major factor in bed fishing. Tucker agreed with this statement, saying that “80% of bed fishing is how the boat is positioned; you have to remember that if you see the fish, they can definitely see you.” When approaching a bed for the first time, Tucker will make a note of the fish and how they are reacting. “If you notice, a fish leaving the bed will always make the same path as it leaves the bed and returns, this should give you an idea of where your boat should be positioned,” states Tucker. After he sees where the fish is going, he will make a note to keep the boat out of the “escape path” of the fish. He says, “Many sight fishermen think that just because they are in deeper water they are positioned right, but if you are directly in the path of that fish as it leaves the bed, you are hurting your chances of catching it. Sometimes I will back the boat into shallow water just to avoid being in that path and I know it helps me catch more fish.”
Keeping Your Distance
The distance between an angler and the bedding bass is another key in determining how easily that fish will be caught. Tucker likes to keep his distance from the fish and will often back away from the bed and make long casts to the area. In addition to not being seen by the bass, he believes that there are many benefits to this practice. “You almost always get better hook sets when you don’t see them. You are not going to react to seeing them and instead will rely on feeling the bite. Also they are almost always hooked inside of the mouth.” In tournaments where fish caught outside of the mouth must be released, this is a good reason to keep your distance.
The Push Pole Phenomenon
The use of a push pole in bed fishing was brought into the national spotlight a few years ago by former Elite Series pro Preston Clark. Since that time, it has become a must have for anyone targeting bedding fish in shallow, grass filled lakes. J. Todd has years of practice with the push pole and says, “You can really sneak up on the fish, and in lakes with a lot of vegetation, you have to have one. If not, your trolling motor will chop and grind up the grass and make noise. With bed fishing, you have to be as quiet and stealthy as possible if you want to catch the bigger fish.”
J. Todd Tucker has a large bag of tricks he uses for targeting bedding bass. When asked for a more tips on how to catch spawning bass he says, “Don’t overlook topwater as a way to catch bedding fish. Especially later in the spawn, for some reason they really key on things from above. I like to fish topwater and deadstick it over the spawning beds.”
Targeting spawning bass is often seen as an easy way to catch fish. In reality, there is skill and technique required to consistently catch big fish on beds. Taking J. Todd Tucker’s advice can be the difference between being someone who fishes for bedding bass and becoming good at it.