Although air and water temperatures are still relatively cool, longer days and increasing air temperatures are slowly warming area lakes. Increasing lake temperatures begin to stimulate natural spawning instincts of many area sport fish. In preparation for the upcoming spawning season, most sport fish undergo increasing levels of activity. When one mentions increased fish activity, anglers are never very far behind. Those that pay attention to spawning requirements of targeted species can better their springtime fishing success.
There are several fish reproduction characteristics common to many fish. For fish that spawn in shallow water, which include crappies, black bass, sunfish, and catfish, the males of the particular species are the more devoted parents. They usually construct some sort of nest, fan the eggs to provide oxygen and reduce siltation, and guard and protect the fry (larval fish) after hatching. Open-water spawners, which include white bass, do not construct nests and provide no protection for the eggs or fry. Regardless of the species, as a rule less than 5% of fry will survive their first year. Therefore, the females of most species produce extremely high numbers of eggs to combat the high mortality rate. For a particular species, age of sexual maturity varies and depends on growth rates and population densities. Given these generalities, let’s examine the specific spawning requirements of several of the popular sport fish of the area.
One of the earliest spawners in the area is the white bass. When the water temperatures approach 53-55oF (typically late-January and February), this species makes spawning runs up accessible rivers. The males migrate first, sometimes a month before the females. Often, spawning takes place at the surface, as fish are observed splashing and rolling. Several males attend one female and the eggs are scattered in midwater. On average, each female produces about 500,000 eggs. White bass eggs are adhesive and sink to the bottom. The eggs are not protected by either parent. Spawning in a given area usually takes place over a period of 5-10 days. Some white bass reach sexual maturity by age-1 and most by 2 years of age.
In the spring, crappies (both black and white) start spawning when water temperatures reach 56oF, but activities usually peak around 62oF (March-April). Nests are constructed by the males near some form of cover (usually hydrilla in Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend) in shallow protected areas absent of wave action. The depth of nests depends on water clarity; in stained and turbid water they will be relatively shallow. Females contain 10,000 to 160,000 eggs and spawn repeatedly in the nests of several males, which defend the nest until the fry disperse. Most crappies mature at age 2 or 3.
Largemouth bass may spawn when water temperatures range from 60 to 75oF (March-early May), but peak time usually occurs during a full moon when water temperatures range from 65-70oF. Nests are constructed by the males on firm substrate in shallow water in areas of no current or wave action. A male seeks out a ripe female and induces her to spawn through repeated physical contact. The spawning pair makes repeated passes over the nest, depositing eggs which sink and adhere to the bottom. Several females may spawn in the nest of a single male. Males devote considerable time to guarding the nest, sometimes for several weeks and do not feed during this time. Sexual maturity is usually reached within 2 to 3 years. A female may produce 2,000 to 145,000 eggs.
Two sunfish species which may be of interest to area anglers are redear sunfish and bluegill. The redear sunfish spawn usually peaks around 68-70oF (April-May), while bluegill start later in the season and peak around 72-78oF (May-June). Both species may spawn more than once each year. Colonies of nests, which are round depressions about twice the diameter of the constructing male, are found in shallow water in various substrates, but gravel is preferred. Females spawn in the nests of several males. The males guard the nest only until the eggs hatch. Both species sexually mature at ages 1 to 2 and each female produces 2,000 - 80,000 eggs.
Blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish all require a shaded depression, cavity, or some form of shelter to construct a nest. Typically, undercut banks, hollow logs, barrels, or rodent burrows are selected and prepared by the male. All three species usually spawn from May - July, but blue catfish usually spawn first when water temperatures range from 70-77oF. Channel catfish spawn when water temperatures range from 72-80oF. Flathead catfish usually initiate spawning when temperatures reach 75oF. Males of all three species guard the nest; age at sexual maturity usually ranges from 2 to 5 years. Each female may produce 2,000-100,000 eggs.
Todd Driscoll is a district fisheries management biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department where he has worked for 10 years. He received a B.S. in Fisheries Biology from Kansas State University and a M.S. in Fisheries Management from Mississippi State University. His primary responsibilities include fisheries management of Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend reservoirs in Southeast Texas. Todd is an avid bass angler and participates in approximately 25-30 local and regional bass tournaments per year. He also represents Lowrance Electronics as a Technical Pro Staffer, working tournament support and service at BASS, FLW, and owner’s tournaments across the country.
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