By Brandon Card
After the bass spawn, some stay shallow and some head to deeper water immediately. Knowing whether you should fish shallow or deep is the big debate for me and I have learned that it usually boils down to water clarity and shallow cover.
The Guessing Game
On the Bassmaster Elite Series, we get two and a half days of practice and that really forces us to commit to either shallow or deep water. If you split it up and try to do both, you may not do either of them justice. What I like to do is get a layout of the lake and then take a look at the water clarity when I start my pre-fish. Rainy spring weather, the wind and many other factors could change the clarity from year to year, even on a lake that you are very familiar with. Generally, if the water clarity is less than two or three feet I stay shallow, as the dirty water tends to keep fish shallow longer after they spawn.
Elite Series Examples
Our Ross Barnett Reservoir tournament this year in Mississippi was mostly post-spawn. The lake looked like it would set up perfectly for offshore fishing. If you looked at your Navionics charts you could see points, ledges, and offshore structure. The only problem was that the water was dirty. Bass have a hard time seeing baitfish in deep, stained water due to the light penetration and that forces them to stay shallow.
Our Dardanelle event this week is an example of a post-spawn tournament that might be affected by a rainy spring. They’ve had more rain than normal and my guess is that the water is going to be dirtier than normal. Water clarity changes year by year and you really don’t know what to expect until you launch your boat.
If there is healthy grass and plenty of shallow cover, the shallow bite may still be the way to go in the post-spawn, regardless of the water clarity. At the recent Sam Rayburn event, I would have guessed that the fish would be offshore since the water was relatively clear. Instead, the bass were everywhere in shallow bushes and healthy grass.
If you compare Guntersville and Kentucky Lake on paper they would seem the same. Both are Tennessee River lakes with similar layouts - ledges, river channels, and giant bass are in both of them. The difference is there is much more grass in Guntersville and that keeps a big portion of the population shallow since they have plenty to eat. Kentucky Lake has very little grass and that is why the ledge bite can be so good in the post-spawn and summer.
Offshore and Deep Water is Relative
One thing to keep in mind with offshore fishing is that it varies greatly based on the lake or river you are fishing. Lake Okeechobee in Florida is a great example of this. It is known for shallow water and thick grass, but there can be a good offshore bite in the summer. Six to eight feet may be considered deep there and there are some good offshore reefs and rocks in that range. On most places, I would not classify anything less than 15 feet as deep water.
The Current Factor
Another key this time of year is the current. It plays a big role in whether or not fish move deep after spawning. Current helps to bring baitfish together and the bass will follow. You really need some type of current whether from wind or rivers to get a good bite offshore, but at the same time, too much can hurt the offshore fishing and keep fish shallow. Bass do not want to fight the current and if they are forced to stay shallow they may be in an eddy or right on the bank.
Shallow vs. Deep Bait Selection
Once you figure out whether the fish are going to be shallow or deep, bait selection becomes the other piece of the puzzle.
For deep water, I most often rely on a deep crankbait and a football head. The crankbait is a good tool to cover water and it is also one of the best ways to quickly get your bait back in the water after catching one. A 3/4 ounce football head jig with a 5” Yamamoto Double Tail Grub is a good “clean up” bait after the bite dies down. With both of these baits, bottom contact is key. The deflection is what usually gets the bite with a crankbait.
When fishing shallow I usually use a Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencil topwater and a ChatterBait with a Yamamoto Zako as a trailer. I really like the Zako as a trailer because it has a subtle, tight action that looks just like a baitfish. Both of these baits are great for covering water when you are looking for shallow post-spawn fish and the ChatterBait is also great when you want to skip your bait under cover and into shady areas.
The next time you are faced with post-spawn conditions, take a look at the water clarity and account for shallow water cover and the condition of the grass. It will help you catch more bass during a time of year that is challenging for many anglers.