By M.L. Anderson
Post-spawn bass can be tough to catch — but not all the bass in the lake spawn at the same time. Different areas of the lake warm up at different times, and there are usually several waves of spawning fish over many weeks in the spring. Bass are constantly moving in the spring and you may be fishing pre-spawn, bed fish, and post-spawn fish all on the same day, so a variety of tactics can help you put fish in the boat.
Fish usually move off the beds somewhere between April and July depending on where you live. Fish tighten up during this period and the bite can get tough. You can catch them with finesse (more on that later), but you can also go in the opposite direction and use bigger crankbaits and lipless crankbaits. Crankbaits cover water quickly and can help you eliminate unproductive areas, and you can also often pick up better fish on them – because when they do decide to eat, they are more likely to go after a better meal.
A swimbait is also a good reaction bait for post-spawn bass, especially when the big females have moved off but they aren’t deep yet. They’ll come off and sit on flats or small points in fifteen feet or less and you can often trigger them with a swimbait. Go for a bait designed to fish the middle of the water where the main weight is the plastic — you can almost slow-roll these baits at about ten feet deep. When a fish hits one of these, it almost feels like catching a fish on a crankbait — don’t jerk, just increase your cranking speed and turn to the side with your rod. This is also good for those cruisers you see in the shallow water. You have a good chance of catching those fish when you’re covering water. Another benefit of using a reaction bait is that accuracy is not as crucial as it is when you’re targeting fish that are locked on the beds.
A jerkbait is another reaction bait to try — shad are more active this time of year, and the bass chase them. You can fish them a little faster this time of year. As a general rule of thumb, the warmer the water, the smaller and faster the jerkbait. Braided line can rip the hooks right out of a fish, so mono or fluorocarbon are safer bets for reaction baits. Remember that fluorocarbon tends to sink, and mono tends to float.
Why on earth would you throw topwater baits post spawn? Well first of all, right after the bass spawn there are balls of tiny bass in the water — almost clouds of them sometimes. The male bass stays around to protect the babies, and he will attack anything that appears to threaten the spawn, including noisy poppers that sputter around the fry. A topwater popper is the perfect lure to throw over those balls of baby bass.
Another reason is that the big females get tired, so they move out and suspend. It’s hard to catch these fish from below, but a topwater bait can make them come up. Sometimes there are many females in an area, so watch for multiple fish when you hook one — you might see a bass follow the one you’re reeling in. For those fish that only seem to follow the bait and not commit, throw the same bait back out there, or use a front runner. I’ve actually caught two at a time doing this. Put the front runner about 18 inches in front of your topwater bait.
I’m sure you’ve heard people say that you should wait to feel the fish before setting the hook on a topwater bait. I used to believe that, but I’ve had too many fish take a topwater and I never felt it. Wait too long and they’ll swallow it. My rule is: if you think a fish is on, set the hook. Too many times they take it and swim toward you. You’ll never feel that. If the lure is gone, assume a fish has it. I was throwing a Pepper (a topwater stick bait with no bill, pointed in the front, and worked like a Spook) at Lake Pleasant once and just as it passed a single twig sticking out of the water, it disappeared. I stopped and waited. And waited. Didn’t feel a fish. So I gave up and started to reel fast so I could re-throw, and discovered a seven-pounder on the line with the Pepper so far down its gullet that it didn’t survive. I should have hit that thing the instant the lure disappeared.
One more thing: it’s easy to lose a fish on topwater, so make sure you change out your hooks for good ones. Upsize a little if you can. Also, put a small split-ring on the eye. Sometimes those eyes can be rough or sharp and they can damage your line. Use 15- to 20-pound-test mono – it casts well and it doesn’t sink, so when you stop, the lure keeps floating. With a topwater like a Zara Spook that is moving all the time, you can use braid. A high-speed reel will help you get the fish to the boat, and since you move the lure with the rod, the reel won’t make your retrieve overly fast.
Post spawn fish are in recovery and a finesse bait is easy for them to take. During the spawn you may use a 6-inch plastic, but for post-spawn, downsize that to three or four inches. Find the closest deep water to spawning areas — the fish can disappear from a bay like magic, so look for deeper water — not too deep, because they suspend quite a bit. They may move quite a bit as well.
A small Shad Shape worm or a little Senko will do the trick, especially in colors that look like bluegills or even bass fry. Everything is just slow motion and you have to tease them by dead-sticking or moving the bait very slowly. Use 6- or 8-pound Sugoi Clear Flippin’ and Drop Shot Line on a spinning rod with a fast tip.
Points are good places to start, but I find that post-spawn bass spend more time on the sides of points than on the tops, and usually a little ways out. Cast across points a lot before moving on — different angles are important and so is covering a large range of depths. They can be all over a point in various stages of recuperation and transition. Drag the bait very slowly with the rod, and watch the line. If the line stops or goes slack, especially on the fall, pull up. The key is to discover how far out or how far in to shore they are. They can be very far offshore post-spawn. If you’re rigging your bait on a dropshot, use a shorter leader, like six to twelve inches. Same thing with a split-shot rig. Covering different depths and different angles is key, and don’t neglect fishing uphill either. You may be able to sit up shallow on a good point and catch one fish after another, just fan-casting the point.
Fishing in current adds another dimension to post-spawn fishing. I can tell you what generally happens at Lake Havasu on the Colorado River in Arizona, and you can apply that to current in your neck of the woods. Just change the dates.
At Havasu, the lower part of the river warms up first around January to February, where it backs up against the lake. The current gets slowed down quite a bit there from what is upwater. The bass move into backwaters in that area to spawn in protected areas -- like tucked in behind hills where the water gets lots of sun. The spawning areas don’t have much current. Some current seeps through tules and such, but not like on the main river channel. Once they are through spawning, the majority of the bass will move back into the current.
The females move out into the main current not necessarily to swim, but they’ll be scattered along within 40 to 50 yards of those bays. Key in on areas with good spawning sloughs — if there are several good spawning areas on a stretch, you might be able to find a lot of fish along there. The key is deep water next to tules. If you can’t see the bottom, fish there. Sometimes they are back two or three feet into the tules and they can be hard to get out of there, but you need to get your lure in there. If they are on the outside, they can see you and they won’t bite. They feel safe in the tules.
Mostly what you’ll be doing is flipping. Use a ½- to ¾-ounce weight and a good flipping bait like a Fat Baby Craw or a PsychoDad. Too many thin flapping parts tend to get hung on the tules, so I like the craw baits better than creature baits for tules. You also need to use good strong braid and a powerful flipping stick. The instant you get bit you need to hit that fish hard and haul him out of those tules. If you give them a chance to pull you down, you’ll never get them out.
After the fish recover from the spawn many of them start moving right back into those same sloughs to eat shad and bluegills and other baitfish. They seem to like the off-colored water better than the really clear stuff. Many fish, though, spend their whole life in the tules except for the spawn. The tules are loaded with craws and they eat those. In the sloughs, vegetation starts growing and you can use cranks and jerkbaits to tick the tops of the vegetation. The bass will only move out of the sloughs at this point if they can’t get enough to eat where they are.
If you are fishing tules in current, just go with it. Get close enough to see where they are coming from. If they keep swimming in front of you, you know they’re on the outside. If you don’t see any, they’re in the tules. In that case, go up-current slowly, and cast along the tule line in front of you with a jig, spinnerbait, jerkbait, or even a dropshot rig. If you don’t pick up any fish, you’re going to have to go right into the thick stuff with your bait and put it right in front of them.
Post spawn gets a bad reputation as a super tough time to catch fish, but if you remember that there are fish all over the lake in all different stages of the spawn, you can use a variety of tactics to find and catch them. Give some of these techniques a shot, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.