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Bass reproduce as season opens

The 2012 Minnesota bass season opens today for anglers eager to catch a big largemouth or smallmouth. Though some other states have bass that grow larger than those in Minnesota, our state has strong bass numbers and a very respectable average size. (Jason Durham / Enterprise)

The "real" fishing opener starts today for anglers infatuated with bass.

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, bass rank fifth in the most sought after species by anglers in Minnesota.

Though many people target species other than bass as a goal, incidentally catching a largemouth or smallmouth is common on Minnesota lakes.

And for those who specifically search for bass, Minnesota's resources are outstanding.

Though some southern states produce bigger largemouth, the number of bass in Minnesota coupled with a very respectable average size makes the state a great bass fishing destination no matter where you're used to fishing.

The two types of bass popular in our northern region are largemouth and smallmouth.

Identifying the difference between largemouth and smallmouth bass can be tricky for some people, especially since their coloration varies dependent upon their environment.

Bass don't necessarily change color like a chameleon, but they do transform skin tones.

Largemouth bass living around a sandy or rocky bottom will sometimes be so light that it's difficult to see the trademark stripe along their side. Conversely, largemouth found near floating bogs with a dark bottom beneath emerge fascinatingly dark hued.

Smallmouth experience color changes within a narrower spectrum but can transition quite quickly.

Tournament anglers often note the formation of dark "blotches" along the back of smallmouth that are placed into a livewell for even short periods of time.

In our region of the state, both species of bass are preparing to reproduce.

Largemouth spawn as water temperatures near 60-degrees while smallmouth begin the process once water temperatures breach 60-degrees. In the Park Rapids area, smallmouth typically begin to spawn when largemouth are finishing the process.

Both species lay their eggs on a firm bottom. Largemouth opt for sand, mud or gravel while smallmouth utilize gravel. Smallmouth prefer to abut their nest to a larger object such as timber, a boulder or even a forgotten cinder block.

Male largemouth and smallmouth construct nests by fanning their tail and fins to rid the area of silt.

Female largemouth expel 2,000 to 7,000 eggs per pound of body weight while female smallmouth lay 2,000 to 10,000 eggs in the nest which are then fertilized by the male. The male continues to guard the nest until the eggs hatch. During this period, the male doesn't eat, but will protect the nest by biting practically anything that comes near it.

Once the eggs hatch and mature into fry, the male leaves the nest.

Weather plays a major role in the spawning process. Cold fronts push males off the nest, making the eggs an easy target for predators. Though we often think of pike and muskies as the main predators of our lakes, male bass defend their nests from sunfish, rock bass, perch and crayfish.

Keep this in mind while fishing for bass over this Memorial Day weekend and in the weeks to come.

Though catch-and-release may be the intent, even a short absence allows predators to attack the nest.