For a fish that hits like a punch in the gut and fights without apology, it’s seems so out-of-character for smallmouth bass, even briefly, to come off as, well, tidy.
Typically, sometime in May in North Dakota when water temperatures allow, male smallmouth bass move into the shallows to build nests bigger than a Frisbee, and nearly as perfectly circular.
But let’s back up. Smallmouth bass males, according to biologists, simply don’t settle. They build a couple of nests with a sweeping motion with their tails before finally deciding on one that is most fitting. Larger objects that can’t be finned aside are picked up by the mouth and discarded.
When a suitable nest is constructed – I read where one fisheries biologist said he never saw a smallmouth bass nest that wasn’t – the male bass waits for a female bass to show up and enrich his construction. His diligence doesn’t end there as the male sticks around to guard the eggs from predators.
Of course, with a medium to lightweight spinning rod in hand that will cast bait wholly appropriate to the experienced smallmouth angler, but comically too big to those who aren’t, you don’t think about any of this stuff. You simply pitch into the shallows – varying your retrieve, obviously, to find what will entice a strike on this day – hoping the bass are still hanging around, before moving off to deeper digs as the season dictates.
It’s early June on Lake Audubon and the fish are scattered. The idea of spying bass or their circular, neat and tidy nests through Polarized sunglasses in the shallows is impossible even if you wanted to because of the wind. Our host, who knows this game better than we do, lines his boat into casting range with the trolling motor despite the occasional gust that threatens to blow my ballcap into the lake.
Lake Audubon is arguably one of the state’s top smallmouth bass lakes, and I’m certain you’d get some argument from anglers who hang their hats on Sakakawea, Darling or Ashtabula, to name a few. I’ve heard the stories and have seen the photos about this place, most notably from the guy manning the boat and currently catching fish.
Lake Audubon smallmouth bass are beautiful. When the sun gets low in the sky and hits them just so before being released back into the water, their bronzeback handle, one of many given to them from anglers around the country, is evident.
In a perfect world, I think to myself, my kid will hang his biggest smallmouth bass ever, experience the hard take and bulldog fight these McLean County bass are known for.
While things are far from perfect nowadays, he does get his fish and it’s a nice one.