David A. Brown|Mustad
Everyone knows that postspawn finds the female bass slipping into deeper habitats to lounge in cooler water, eat when they can and recover from their strenuous reproductive ritual. But what about the males? Well, the ones that charmed their way into a female’s favor find themselves left babysitting.
In what’s known as “fry guarding,” male bass are tasked with keeping the newly hatched bass (fry) safe from a wide range of threats from other bass, to bluegill, crappie, turtles, shorebirds and anything else with an appetite. Late spring through early summer defines the general period for finding fry guarders, but Mustad pro Kevin VanDam knows that jittery little bass will reveal their position — and that of their catchable guardian.
“When you see fry running from your spinnerbait, you know that’s going to be happening,” VanDam said. “Also, when you see the bluegill spawning, that overlaps with the fry guarding period.”
Where to Find Them
VanDam expects to find fry guarders around some type of cover, as the males need to be able to stash the kids in a quick-access hiding spot when danger’s close. Sometimes, you’ll see the little guys first and then spot the male bass circling nervously; other times, you’ll see the adult fish clearly on guard before you notice the babies he’s he’s protecting.
Good thing about this seasonal occurrence is that the clusters of fry won’t be far from the spawning areas. Because bass often bed in common areas, spotting or scattering one group of fry often means several more — and their guarding parents — may be just down the bank.
Generally, your basic shoreline cover such as grass, lily pads, bushes and dock pilings are good places to look. VanDam’s keep to check gaps in the cover, such as holes amid grass beds, as fry tend to treat these like a backyard with quick access to the safety of dense vegetation.
In simplest terms, anything that threatens the babies will draw that fry guarder’s wrath; but VanDam notes that what he throw is largely determined by where the fish are located.
“A topwater or a jerkbait — soft or hard — are really good choices, depending on the type of cover,” he said. “If I want something that’s really efficient at covering a lot of water, it’s hard to beat a buzzbait, especially if you have grass, bushes or anything like that where you need something weedless.
“If it’s more open, you can use a (walking topwater). A swim jig is something I use a lot if there’s a lot of cover or if I need to skip my bait around boat docks.”
For his topwaters and hard body jerkbaits (Strike King KVD J200), VanDam insists upon retrofitting his bait with No. 4 Mustad KVD Triple Grip trebles, which securely snare any fish that so much as slaps at the bait. Holding power is also key, as the males have much more spunk this time of years than the exhausted females.
Lastly, for targeted casts and pitches to fry guarders he sees, VanDam likes a Strike Ocho (stick bait) Texas rigged on a 3/0 Mustad KVD Grip Pin Flipping hook, or a Strike King Caffeine Shad on the 5/0 version.