The moment the Zara Spook hit the water it was gone. Not with a slurp or a splash, but in a swirling vortex. Where a lure once walked across the surface, nothing but a hole remained.
It was May 1984, and even then we lived by the credo that the post-spawn period is bad news for bass fishermen. It was universally accepted that bass require some vague recovery period, during which they are anything but cooperative.
While one fish doesn’t necessarily negate a theory, a stout rod bent double and monofilament cutting the water gets you to thinking. A 13-pound, 4-ounce largemouth that went medieval on my Spook pulled me across an invisible line, and I made a silent pledge to myself that from that moment on, in all things bass fishing, I would question everything.
In the intervening years, the incredible flow of bass-fishing information has exploded some myths yet curiously encouraged others. For whatever reason, the idea of post-spawn doldrums persists. Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of it.
First the disclaimer: If you’re the kind of person who needs a fail-safe set of options, then the post-spawn period could be better spent painting the house. There is no prescribed formula for always finding largemouth bass in the post-spawn. The fish are where they are, and where they are is usually related to the baitfish. However, there is an orderly progression an angler can take in searching the water column from shallow to deep. Let’s begin.
**Start Shallow **
As far as Jay Yelas, the 2002 Citgo Bassmasters Classic champion, is concerned, the negativity expressed about post-spawn fishing is pure bunk. While the opportunities to jack-pole heavyweight largemouths may not compare to those during the spawning frenzy, the post-spawn period does not disappoint when it comes to numbers. The first thing to keep in mind is that in the post-spawn, the early bite is crucial. This is the one time of year when it pays to be an early riser.
“Because early morning is key, I like to hustle and cover a ton of water early with a spinnerbait or topwater lure to find areas with fish and patterns that are working. I move fast because by eight or nine o’clock you have to hunker down and try some different things,” says Yelas. So in the post-spawn, start at first light by checking the pockets with a topwater lure or something that runs near the surface, like a Lake Fork Magic Shad or a weightless Ring Fry.
Usually you’ll run into all sizes of fish, says John Tanner, a Lake Fork, Tex., guide. Tanner explains that you might catch 10 three-pounders before you hook a really big one, because they’re all running together. From there, move out to a nearby point, run your graph and throw a Carolina rig or whatever you want to use. Part of the confusion that surrounds the post-spawn comes from the fact that this is the one time of year when you can catch fish on just about any lure in your tackle box. Whether it’s flipping, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwaters or floating worms, if you stick with your strengths you’ll catch fish.
The topwater bite doesn’t last long, and anyone who isn’t on the water at oh-dark-thirty will have to look elsewhere. The reason for this is that shad will generally move up early around docks, riprap or other structure to feed or spawn, but they probably won’t hang around for long. When the early action tapers off by mid-morning, you’ll have to turn around and look for bass away from the shoreline.
Follow the Funnel
Bass routinely follow routes like funnels, and will use the same one to go out that they used to come in. If you know their route, you can follow it back out. If you’re in a big bay that has a decent-size secondary point with a creek channel real close, they’ll be right there. If not, they’ll be on the first main lake point that has deep water close to it at the mouth of that particular bay, ccreek or pocket.
Don’t buy into the misconception that post-spawn bass have moved on to their deeper summer haunts. This is not necessarily true. If there is a single reason why dislike of the post-spawn has endured for so many years, this might be it. In this transitional mode between the shallow spawning zones and deeper summer structure, bass will reposition over deeper water but will still be in relative proximity to shallower structure or cover.
For post-spawn naysayers, this doesn’t translate as good news. After all, if bass are suspended over deeper water, doesn’t that make them more difficult to catch? The error in this thinking is the fact that most bass caught with topwater lures are suspended fish. And during the post-spawn, these bass are still fairly shallow and feeding on the surface most of the time.
Water clarity is yet another consideration. In a clear-water fishery, you may have to follow the funnel into deeper water because clear water makes fish feel less comfortable near the surface. Yelas, who is quick to point out that post-spawn bass have not yet moved to deepwater structure, counsels that in these clear- water lakes you’ll find bass suspending off long, slowly tapering points that stick out into the main lake, or on secondary points.
Track the Forage
According to Yelas, the character of the post-spawn bite is linked to the amount of shad in a given fishery. In lakes with an abundance of shad, bass tend to suspend more. In lakes with less bait, the bass will move up to the available food source, which may be bluegill if shad are not plentiful. Knowing the amount and type of baitfish in the waterway you are fishing is key.
The fact that forage species such as shad or bluegill spawn just after the bass makes the presence of bait an important consideration when patterning post-spawn bass. This is especially true because the spawning baitfish aren’t as spread out as they are at other times of the year.
You can catch these shallow, suspended bass on topwater lures, but there has to be a lot of shad around. Crankbaits are typically the way to go with these fish. Cover the water column but don’t linger; you’ll know if the bass are there.
This need to be multidimensional in the post-spawn can be a jolting reality, one that comes on the heels of a time when looking shallow may be the only requirement. In fact, Tanner says, “Many anglers cling to the shallow bite for so long they miss the best of what the post-spawn has to offer.”
Even with a meticulous game plan, a fisherman may wonder what happened to the fish. If a weather front wasn’t responsible for the change, it may simply be timing. Just like the brief surface flurries in the morning, activity levels can shift throughout the day, forcing anglers to keep checking back on certain key areas. Post-spawn bass fishing forces you to figure out what the fish are up to at the same time. This, in my opinion, makes more sense than just throwing at the bank.