Smallmouth Bass Spawning Cycle

Smallmouth Bass Nesting Characteristics

Every species throughout the world has its own way of reproducing. Unique to its nature, some species produce offspring’s through asexual reproduction and others require both male and female sexes. When it comes to fish, their process is a little different. In this article, I will break down the spawning process of Smallmouth Bass and the effort that goes into their reproduction process.

Every spring, when water temperatures begin to rise, fish start to spawn. Spawning is the process of releasing sperm and eggs from both sexes of fish. Females will release their unfertilized eggs into the water onto its bed or nest. The males will then come in and fertilize the eggs.  

Pre-spawn

When winter finally comes to an end and spring arrives, bass begin to snap out of their lethargic winter ways. Warmer water temperatures have smallmouth bass move from the deep ends of the lake and work their way towards the shallows. Environmental changes play a huge factor in the spawning process for smallmouth bass. Such as the length of days, sun, warmer temperatures, and increased food.

When water temperatures reach 55 degrees, smallmouth bass will then start their spawning process. Smallies will usually spawn when water temperatures reach between 55-60 degrees. At this point, male smallmouth bass will then begin constructing the bed. Males are responsible for selecting the bed location, building the bed, and then protecting it. Males will choose a location usually west or north shore-side of the lake. They look for spots and points where there is shelter from direct wind and waves.

Smallmouth bass will choose nesting locations with fewer vegetation. Most smallmouth bass will choose an area that has a gravel or sand bottom. They sometimes choose spots with rock bottoms, rock boulders, and open areas that have pebbles and rock mixtures. Smallmouths will also use beds that were created from the previous year. Once a spot has been chosen, males will then construct a nest by sweeping a layer of mud off the bottom floor of the lake, pond, or river. They clean a oval shaped area and construct a nest. The nest may include rocks, roots, gravel, sand, snail shells, and stone rubble. Studies has shown that the better constructed beds can improve the ability to produce more fry. Larger and more experienced males will create the best beds.

Spawn

Nesting areas are usually spread out within lakes. Depending upon where the smallies choose to spawn, the beds are usually constructed between 15-50 feet apart. However, if smallmouth bass move into harbors or much shallower grounds, they can nest much closer. Beds in a harbor can be anywhere from 3-6 feet next to each other. Once the nest has been created, females then move in to lay her eggs. At this time, spawning begins. Spawning is when a female smallmouth bass lays her unfertilized eggs in the water. At the same time, a male smallmouth bass will release his sperm into the water and fertilize the eggs. 

After the female releases her eggs, she will then leave the nest. Female smallmouth bass head back into deeper waters after she releases her eggs. The females will often head back into the open water and suspend around 15ft to 25ft deep drop offs. This all depends on the water structure where the smallmouth is. This period is when the females rest and feed when there is opportunity. The males will stay back and protect the nest.

Females will lay anywhere between 2,000 and 20,000 eggs. Some reports have shown smallmouth laying up to 27,000 eggs. Males will protect the nest until the smallmouth fry hatch. The nesting period for males protecting their beds usually lasts between 10-14 days. Once the fry hatch, males will still protect the fry for a short period of time as the predators will come in and eat the fry.

Post Spawn

When the spawning and bedding processes is over, the males and fry head back into the deeps. The males will leave the beds empty and at this point spawning is over. When the the males and fry head back into the deeps, they will separate. At this point in the year, it is difficult to catch smallmouth bass. The first two weeks after spawning they spend their time recuperating.

Once this recovery period is over, smallmouth bass will usually spend most of their time now in deeper waters.  Hot summers and warmer waters will keep smallmouth under docks, around rock structures, and in deeper parts of the waterway. Summertime smallmouth bass will usually spend most of their time suspended in 20ft of waters and come into the shallows at night to feed. This behavior will last through summer, fall, and winter. All the way up until next year’s spawn where the smallmouth move back into the shallows to spawn.

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