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Bass season opens today; spawning soon

Today marks the 2009 Minnesota bass opener. Anglers looking to catch a largemouth should concentrate on shallow, weedy areas. However, catch and release is encouraged to protect spawning fish. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

Some anglers contest that bass are not the smartest fish in the lake. Due to their often substantial populations, bass are encountered inadvertently while fishing for other freshwater species. Walleye anglers are often fooled by bass when they readily inhale their live-bait offerings.

Those looking for a hefty northern pike or muskie sometimes hook a bass on oversized baits, though a largemouth bass' gaping maw is adequately designed for such purpose. Yet big baits aren't necessarily the fish's forte, since crappie and sunfish anglers recall tales of heavy largemouth tempted by tiny jigs and battled on light line.

But where does a bass land along the hierarchy of desirable, noteworthy fish?

First of all, it should be understood that every species is important to someone. Even the lowly bullhead or aptly named sucker has a place in the hearts of certain anglers. Bass are no different and while some anglers detest their presence, others are affectionate "seekers of the bass".

Largemouth bass are a close relative of the sunfish, which characteristically desire, you guessed it, the sun. Although largemouth are often associated with thick vegetation such as lily pads, pencil reeds, cane, rice, and grass, they don't necessarily desire shade, but instead utilize cover as an asset for ambushing prey such as minnows, frogs, salamanders and smaller fish in the sunfish family.

Anglers looking to catch a big bucketmouth this weekend, Minnesota's bass fishing opener, might encounter the stripe sided species in the throes of reproduction. Though a number of Minnesota's gamefish are protected during their respective spawning seasons, largemouth reproduction often coincides or falls shortly after the bass opener.

Smallmouth bass, on the other hand, are quite different in their appearance and mannerisms, not to mention their spawning characteristics. While largemouth look for shallow weedy bays to lay and fertilize eggs, smallmouth diligently eradicate silt and muck from gravel bottoms, creating an easily identifiable nest that looks like a dark circle on the bottom. And since smallmouth often create nests in somewhat shallow water, they are highly susceptible to harvest during the spawning period.

Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are dedicated to the reproductive process and readily attack intruders that encroach upon their nest; which ironically can result in their demise through angler harvest. Bass often attack angler baits dropped onto their spawning nests, even if the lure is not a typical largemouth or smallmouth favorite.

Some anglers are committed to the catch and release philosophy, which seems more prevalent among bass fishing circles, but anglers can impact reproduction when a bass is pulled, even temporarily, from its nest. Bass prey, such as bluegill, perch, crayfish and salamanders now become the predator, eagerly gorging themselves on the bass' eggs while the angler battles the fish, even if the end result is catch and release.

So what can bass aficionados do to limit their impact on the reproductive cycles of bass? First, try to curtail the time spent targeting spawning fish. Though a number of bass might be on patrol for nest invading predators during their spawning period, not all fish spawn at the same time. Some will have already completed spawning while others may still be preparing to do so. Targeting bass that aren't on nests can help protect the ones that are currently guarding their eggs.