If this past week has taught me anything, it’s this: Bass are not the only fish that undergo a spawn once the water hits that magical temperature range. It seems that numerous freshwater species evidently spawn then as well.
Last week I was fishing in the MLF Toyota Big5 Series on Lake Harris. When you put as much time as I have on the water for these events as I have, you start to see some things that you may not notice if you’re only getting out once every other weekend. But on this trip, I took note of all the things I saw and the different stages the bass were in as well.
The Harris chain of lakes offers all kinds of different waters to fish. Some lakes are very small but clear. Others are large but have stained water. Because the water flows through the chain (which is interconnected by canals), you can find clear water in those bigger lakes as well. This was the case in one or two of the areas where I had practiced and had some success before the tournament started — only to be thwarted in the competition by other species of fish spawning in those areas as well.
The shad spawn was in full swing leading into the tournament. Anywhere the water was clear enough, I could see large pods of baitfish. The bass, gar and all other predatory fish had large amounts of bait to feed on. Shiners up to six or seven inches in length could be found as well, running the banks.
While the bait spawn was on, the bass had almost completely spawned out. In some prime spawning areas, I did see a couple on beds — but very few. I did see results of the spawn, though: There were bass fry everywhere in and around the old spawning beds.
But the bigger species that can ruin your day were just getting started on their spawn. Huge numbers of gar were appearing in shallow water. I have never seen gar take over an area like I saw in the tournament.
On the first day of the event, I found a good spot that was holding bass. The plan called for running back to that spot and catching another limit on day two. But the bass were gone, replaced by hordes of spawning gar. I was a bit disappointed to break off so many rigs when I set the hook, only to find I’d hooked yet another gar.
Throw in the fact that I had to lock through to get there and run for just over an hour before I could even start fishing, and it took the wind right out of my sails. Expecting a quick limit of bass, only to get to the spot and see that they had been run out by a bunch of amorous gar, was something new to me.
When things like this happen, you need to accept them as reality and move on. But I must admit, this was something that I was not prepared for. It does go to show you the tremendous competition for food among these fish within a lake system. I’ll be honest, I am not up on the spawning patterns of garfish — but if it’s anything like bass or bluegill, they eat everything in sight before and after the spawn. To find that toothy critter in the same feeding frenzy and scaring off all my catchable bass was a bit disheartening.
But life goes on. I didn’t get a limit that second day, but I really should have gotten out of that area sooner than I did. However, since I knew there were bigger bass in that area, it was tough to abandon it and move on. It’s just another lesson learned in what is actually going on under the water. While I may have been honed in on one species of fish, there are still many others that live in that lake system. It might pay to understand the areas and what is going on as a whole, rather than just focus on the fish I’m targeting.
It did make me wonder, though: How much bait can bass and gar go through? After watching them work during my practice days, I believe it’s quite a lot.
I had never really seen how one species can basically run another one off and take over an area, but I can understand that it can happen. At least I’ll be better prepared to handle that situation next time I encounter it.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.