"Fry guarders", or bass protecting their newborn offspring, pose a unique opportunity for bass anglers. Immediately after bass finish spawning, they spend a select few hours or days protecting their fry before moving to their summer haunts. During this period bass are very catchable, but targeting fry guarders is different than fishing for spawning or pre-spawn bass.
Your tactics may be similar, but like many things in bass fishing, details are everything. The subtle differences between fishing for bass in the spawning phase, versus bass guarding fry, or bass feeding on spawning shad is what makes a consistently successful angler.
Understanding how to target bass protecting fry, such as what lures and presentations work best, will make you a better angler. We talked fry-guarding bass with professional anglers Matt Lee and Terry Scroggins to shorten your learning curve and help you catch more fish on your next trip.
Scroggins swears by keeping things simple
Team Toyota pro Terry Scroggins lives in Florida, where waves of bass pull up to spawn several months before the rest of the country. Scroggins spends a lot of time on the water in his native state when not competing in tournaments and has a plethora of experience on catching fry guarders and spawning bass.
Scroggins preaches keeping it simple when targeting fry guarders and uses a two-pronged approach he's found fruitful whether he's fishing around Florida in January or he's competing in the northern states in late May.
While there are certainly windows of opportunity during the spawn and even pre-spawn when topwater lures can excel, they really begin to shine as bass begin guarding their young and transition to the post spawn phase.
"Unless I'm fishing around heavy grass, a popper type bait is the first lure I pick up if I know bass are guarding fry," Scroggins said. "Usually, I want a topwater I can work slowly like a Rebel Pop-R. Fry guarders are pretty aggressive, but a lot of times they'll just slap at a topwater moving quickly across their zone. With a frog, a prop bait or a Pop-R you can cover water while having the option of slowing down when you get around finicky bass."
Bass guarding fry are acting off of their protective instinct rather than feeding when they bite your lure. Which is why Scroggins thinks topwater presentations are so effective for bass in this phase. A popper, even when worked slowly, makes quite the commotion around shallow cover. Bass see a topwater splashing in the vicinity of their young as a threat that needs to be eliminated.
Scroggins second go-to technique for fry guarders is a wacky-rigged worm like a 5-inch Yamamota Senko or one of his home-poured creations he calls The Kicker Tail. A wacky-rigged worm may account for catching more shallow bass around the spawning phase than any other rig the last five years. Bass can't stand a finesse worm or Senko slowly undulating as it sinks in front of them.
"If you know the exact area a ball of fry is hanging out there are few baits better than a wacky-rigged worm," Scroggins admits. "I use this set up as a follow up bait if I have a fish miss my topwater, but I'll also pitch it around good looking bushes, docks and other shallow structure. Most of the time I'll go weightless with this rig but you can also add a nail weight to the head of the worm to create a Neko rig."
Lee's top picks
Matt Lee considers fry guarders to be extremely similar to bedding bass in that each fish has its own unique mood. Relatively speaking, most fry guarders are willing to bite quickly, while others may let you look at them for hours without ever committing to a lure.
"To combat this randomness I've got a handful of baits I am most confident with," Lee said. "I know one of these three baits will work with the aggressive ones, but I also have supreme confidence they'll fool the tricky ones."
Similar to Scroggins, a topwater was among Lee's first choices. Alternating between a Strike King Sexy Frog or a KVD Splash Popper based on the abundance of aquatic vegetation, Lee agrees a topwater should be in your arsenal when covering water focusing on fry guarders. A 3/16-ounce Owner Flashy Swimmer with a 3/0 hook is another lure Lee covers water with for fry guarding bass.
"I like covering water this time of year and the Flashy Swimmer gets the fishes' attention," Lee said. "I don't think it's something they see a lot and I've caught a ton of fish on it. I put a 3 to 4-inch Strike King Rage Swimmer on it and start running down the bank. I like the small size simply because fry guarders are reacting out of instinct. When they see a small little swimbait coming through their area they can't help themselves."
Lee also values the option to change the Flashy Swimmer provides. Noting that some fish react well to a white or shad colored swimbait, while other days they'll be more aggressive towards a bluegill pattern. With this setup all Lee has to do is swap out swimbait colors and he gives the bass a completely different look.
Fishing pressure affects bass in all phases, and fry guarders are no different. Lee lives near and regularly guides on Lake Guntersville during his off-season and is all too familiar with heavy fishing pressure. Experience has taught Lee that fry like to be around some type of shallow cover for added protection, and he believes increased fishing pressure pushes bass and fry alike even tighter to cover.
"Heavily pressured fry guarders will hold super tight to something like dock pilings or a weed line," Lee said. "If I'm not getting bites covering water, I'll go back through and pick whatever cover available apart with a drop shot. I've been able to catch a lot of bass guarding fry with a drop shot that wouldn't touch a jig or Texas rig pitched to the exact same spots."
Lee rigs different soft plastics on his drop shot based on the scenario but believes most finesse style worms work perfectly. He keeps his drop shot leader length short anytime he is fishing shallow with this rig and is a huge fan of a 3/0 Owner Cover Shot Hook for this presentation. Citing the bait keeper being imperative so he can Texas rig his lure on the drop shot, which makes his rig weedless.
Bass guarding fry can be tricked into biting with a plethora of lures, but this short list from Lee and Scroggins have proven to be some of the most effective. As bass finish spawning or you see schools of fry swimming around the shallows, give these presentations a try. They have caught fry guarding bass from southern Texas to New York and will help you catch more fishing, too.