By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan

In nature’s perpetual cycle of give-and-take, perhaps the fiercest of freshwater dramas plays out in the adversarial relationship between largemouth bass and bluegill. To say the two do not play nice; well, that’s a monumental understatement.

The annual “bream bed pattern” usually starts around late April in southern waters and extends into summer (varying by location). However, as APEX Pro Tour angler Ken Mah from Elk Grove, Calif. points out, the ruthless relationship begins well before those honeycomb clusters of panfish procreation first appear.

“When those bluegill beds start showing up, a lot of those (panfish) are looking to eat bass fry, so those fry-guarders, those postspawn bass are looking to take them out to save their offspring,” Mah said. “Those bass are conditioned to hate bluegill – it’s just a basic predatory deal.

“When the bluegill are spawning, it’s a role reversal. I think the bass become more aggressive toward the bluegill. When they’re in that protective mode, they’ll attack them just to kill them. It’s like lions and hyenas.”

Narrow it Down

When it comes to finding bream beds, protected areas with hard bottom are ideal. As Mah points out, it’s no coincidence that bass often go from bedding and guarding to bluegill-munching.

“Using the (California) Delta and Clear Lake as examples, later in the year, I’m going to find those beds in and around the places I had found the bass beds in March or April,” Mah said. “From (late spring through summer) bream beds become a major bass forage.”

Jumping over to the East Coast, Bassmaster Elite Series angler Patrick Walters knows bream beds can be a big deal on lakes with well-defined creeks and pockets, especially those with docks. Norman, Murray and Hartwell come to mind, while broad, flatter bodies like Santee-Cooper spread the fish out and make it harder to track down the wolf packs.

“I’ll target bream beds on lakes where I can find them in higher percentage areas, where you kind of narrow them down a little bit and you can run them a lot faster,” Walters said. “It’s hard to run bream beds when you have to stay on the trolling motor. You need to run and gun.”

From the California Delta to the Potomac River, Mah notes the importance of factoring daily tidal ebb and flow into the picture. As long as bass can reach the bream, they pose a constant threat; however, moving water throttles aggression, so plan accordingly.

David A. Brown
Photo: David A. Brown

Well known as bass fry-eaters, bluegill live with a target on their backs.

“You may need a lower tide to locate the beds because the lower the tide and the clearer the water, the easier you can see how that area is laying out,” Mah said. “Forward-facing sonar like the Lowrance ActiveTarget I use can help you find little depressions and indentations along a flat.

“Technology helps you scan an area and be more efficient, but the bass are going to be up there regardless of whether we see them or not. When there’s more water, they may feel safer and more comfortable to feed.”

What to Throw

It's a no-brainer that bream-color baits are going to be most effective here. Mah favors cranking deeper bream beds with a Bill Lewis SB57 squarebill, while a Bill Lewis Echo 1.75 gets the call for shallower spots.

Mah also does a lot of bream-bed work with a 3/8-ounce green pumpkin vibrating jig with blue and chartreuse in the skirt. Enhancing the ruse, he’ll add chartreuse to the tail of a Big Bite Baits Swim On trailer in green pumpkin or sunfish swirl colors.

Walters starts his mornings with topwaters – a frog, a buzzbait, a Pop-R or a Zoom Horny Toad – and as the day heats up, he’ll switch to a Texas-rigged Zoom Brush Hog or a wacky-rigged Zoom Fluke Stick and pitch them to shady areas.

“They’ll be in the bream beds, but they’ll also be in the closest shade to them, or they’ll be there right off the drop,” Walters said. “When the sun gets up, there may be a little bush hanging over the water with two feet of shade. The bream bed will be close by and the bass will be in that little (area) of shade.

“That’s when I’ll pick apart that (shady) cover with a worm. In the afternoon, I’ll pick up the topwater again. It just all depends on how much shade is present. The more shade you have, the more moving baits you can throw.”

A subtle microcosm of his high-percentage-area strategy for finding bream beds, Walters treats shade the same way. Not such a big deal at daybreak, but once the day’s warming draws definitive boundaries, shade zones are pure gold.

Mah adds this to the mix: Punching may not be a common bream-bed presentation, but during this time of year, bass that become dialed in on the panfish form maintain this mindset while cooling their heels under mats adjacent to the bream beds.

Knowing this, Mah adds purple and green pumpkin to his punch skirt and uses a green pumpkin plastic. When that familiar pattern suddenly breaks through the heavy cover, bass respond with brutal instinct.

Don't Get Too Close

“Distance is always your friend and if you can approach from shallow and stay shallow, they can’t see you as often, as if you approach them directly from deep water,” Walters said. “Sometimes, that’s the only option, but if you can come from shallow, they have a harder time noticing you.

David A. Brown
Photo: David A. Brown

Bream-colored baits are naturally effective around bluegill beds.

“Also, try to use a piece of cover; try to blend in and sneak up on them. Try to see them before they see you.”

Worth noting, Walters said the stealth priority lessens as the season progresses.

“The later it gets in the summer, the deeper the bream beds get and you have to use (side-scanning electronics) to find them,” Walters said. “In this case, I’ll mostly be dragging a worm or a football jig through them.”

Don't Miss the Moment

So what’s the biggest mistake anglers make in the bream-bed game? Walters says it’s staying on a bed too long or not hitting enough of them in a day.

“Stay until they stop biting,” he said. “It’s a wolf pack, so once you catch one or two and they see you, roll out and come back to them. Once they’ve seen you, even if you don’t catch a single one, don’t stay on those fish.

“Put that spot in your rotation, go hit some other bream beds and come back in 30 minutes to an hour and try them again.”

Mah agrees and notes that finding a bluegill bedding zone devoid of bass could simply mean the tide’s not right.

“If I see bass wolf-packing shallow, I may not catch them, but it solidifies that I’m in the right area,” he said. “This gives me the confidence that there are more up there, so I may come back in a low-water or a high-water scenario.”

Using another African savannah allusion, Mah concludes: “If you have a herd of zebras or wildebeest, you won’t see the lions in the herd – they’re on the edges,” he said. “When they eat, they don’t have to work as hard.

“So if I see a bunch of bream beds with no bass visible, I’ll target areas right on the edge of where you can or can’t see the bottom. It may be 5 to 6 feet or 10 to 20 feet, but it’s nothing for a bass to cover that distance in no time. That’s a flick of the tail.”