Getting tactical for postspawners
Updated: April 10, 2006, 11:13 AM ETBy Steve Price | BASSMASTER Magazine, April 2006
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It's mid-March at Toledo Bend, and in the back reaches of Housen Bay in the area known as 944, bass have been spawning in the north shore pockets. The fishing is relatively easy and predictable because it happens here every spring. And because it does, the area is well-known to Toledo's regulars and quickly located by visitors.
But by mid-April, it's over and suddenly, even on a reservoir as great as Toledo Bend, newcomers to the lake often struggle. This is the postspawn, and for many bass fishermen, not only on Toledo but also throughout the world, this has long been the most dreaded word in fishing. In essence, bass angling can change from some of the best to some of the hardest fishing during this late spring to early summer period.
"Bass not only move to a completely different location, they go through a short recovery period in which they're pretty inactive, too," notes Bassmaster Tour winner Matt Reed, who fishes Toledo's Housen Bay throughout the year and well knows its boom-or-bust cycle.
"Even after postspawn when bass start feeding again, they can be difficult to locate because they're often in large, suspended schools in relatively small areas. You can fish a point, a pocket or a grassline and go right through them if you're not careful. To me, the postspawn is all about locating bass that are in transition."
In some large reservoirs, especially those in the warmer South, there is actually a spawn/postspawn overlap during which time anglers may not have to worry much about the postspawn. Because the spawn may continue as long as two months in some areas, new arrivals to shallow water can actually outnumber those leaving.
"That's the ideal situation to be in," laughs Reed, "because by the time the spawn has completely ended, you can go straight into summer patterns. In most instances, however, this is not the case. You can have a great time in shallow water one day but the next day the action is suddenly much slower, and the day after that it's slower still.
"Another key that tells you when the spawn is over is that you'll start to see bass fry in the shallow water you've been fishing."
During his years of fishing not only Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn but also other Tour and Open lakes throughout the United States, Reed has developed an easy-to-follow three-step approach in dealing with postspawn conditions. Because the primary problem is simply locating these fish, Reed's techniques can be helpful practically anywhere.
Step 1: Trials and Tributaries
"The first thing I suggest doing wherever you're fishing is identifying spawning areas," emphasizes Reed, "and for this I concentrate in major tributaries of the lake. As a tournament pro, I frequently fly lakes I haven't previously fished to look at their overall configuration. But if you have a good map and study it seriously, you'll get the same information.
"The main reason I choose a large tributary is because not only does it contain a population of resident bass, but it also offers more potential postspawn habitat. Remember, postspawn bass may travel two miles or more from their spawning site, especially if there isn't suitable habitat closer.
"That's a lot of water to cover on a lake you may not have fished before, especially when you're trying to catch bass that might not be very aggressive."
Once he's chosen a tributary to fish, Reed goes to the back and tries to locate a spawning area. After he's found what he's looking for, he quickly begins fishing his way out, spot-checking different places. This is where step two in his three-step approach begins.
Step 2: Finding The Forage
"I start looking for baitfish," emphasizes Reed. "Essentially, you want to find bass that haven't eaten, or have eaten relatively little for a number of days, so they're hungry. Bass are going to relate to baitfish, and you'll see schools of bait on a depthfinder more readily than you'll see the bass themselves.
"At this time of year, too, baitfish will be suspended over a wide depth range, but they won't be quite as deep as they may be later in the summer. The bass will be underneath them."
As an example, Reed describes what happens at another Texas reservoir, Lake Fork, where the late May to late June postspawn fishing has become legendary. "At Fork, the bass move out of the creeks and concentrate out off the ends of a few major main lake points," says Reed, "but you find them by first finding the shad, which also are out off the points in incredible numbers.
"You may not see any bass on your depthfinder, but the screen will be black with baitfish. All we do is start fishing deep crankbaits and swimbaits through the shad to start catching the bass."
Step 3: Dig A Little Deeper
The fact that postspawn bass move from their spawning flats toward deeper water provides the third and final step in Reed's approach to locating postspawn largemouth. Basically, he fishes his way out from the spawning area to the first breakline or depth change he locates.
This depth change, which can be less than 24 inches, is frequently the first stopping/holding spot for the traveling fish. This can be a ditch, creek channel or even a point, depending on the lake's configuration.
"Bass will hold on a simple depth change, but if that depth change also has cover, more bass will tend to gather on it and remain there longer," Reed explains. "This cover can take the form of vegetation, standing timber, bushes, a roadbed or even a boat dock.
"The cover helps attract the baitfish, and that is what makes vegetation like hydrilla probably the most important type of cover. If I'm looking for postspawn bass on a lake with hydrilla, I just fish the grassline out from the spawning area until I run into the bass, and it may not be very far."
On lakes like Toledo Bend and Rayburn, bass frequently spawn on the shallow inside edges of hydrilla, continues Reed, then move to the deeper outside edge after they've spawned. On Toledo's Housen Bay, for example, the bass move from those north shore pockets out to the edge of the hydrilla in the middle of the bay; depending on the water conditions, Reed may find them as shallow as 8 feet or perhaps as deep as 15 feet.
"At Toledo, the postspawn bass suspend on the edge of the hydrilla, and then as they gradually evolve into their summer pattern, they move into the vegetation," says Reed. "One of the best techniques I've found to catch these fish is a deep diving suspending jerkbait that I retrieve very fast along that outside edge. A lot of fishermen think of these lures as winter baits, but they'll certainly catch bass in late spring, too."
On other lakes that may have a lot of shallow, reedy shoreline cover, postspawn fish may not swim very far away from those reeds at all, but instead reposition themselves on it. Again, seeing baitfish may be your best indicator of where the bass have gone. Although shad usually spawn a little later in June, you also can look for bream or bluegill, which often spawn in May.
If vegetation is not present, Reed's search for cover on the first breakline includes bushes, standing timber or boat docks. Any of these will be as attractive to baitfish as they are for bass.
"We associate bushes, like Rayburn's famous buck brush, with shallow water," notes Reed, "and for this type of cover to hold postspawn bass for any length of time, I think there not only has to be a lot of it, but the water also usually needs to be dingy and off-colored, although this isn't always true.
"It's a great time to throw a buzzbait or a small spinnerbait, because if the bass are using this type of cover at this time of year they'll generally hit it."
Standing timber is much more obvious, and frequently a line of trees in the water marks the location of a creek or river channel. During the postspawn, bass suspend around the limbs of these flooded trees as swarms of baitfish move back and forth between the open channel and the trees.
"For me, the most productive lures for standing timber are either a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce spinnerbait with a No. 4 or No. 5 willowleaf blade, or a big deep diving crankbait," says Reed. "With either lure you can fish slow and deep, letting your lure hit the tree branches, bounce and rattle at different depths until you get a strike. You'll need to cover a lot of water, and both of these lures let you do that.
"This isn't easy fishing and can be very discouraging, but just remember, postspawn bass tend to be school fish, so when you do catch one, you may have just located a school. I've had 30- and 40-fish days during the postspawn after I found them."
Sunken roadbeds are frequently used by postspawn bass as travel routes, schooling areas and recovery areas, which makes them one of Reed's favorite places to fish. Needless to say, he has several that he visits regularly whenever he's on Toledo or Fork.
"The ideal situation is a hardtop road coming off a shoreline and running through a bed of hydrilla or other cover," he smiles. "Bass like irregularities along that road, like dips, bends or old bridges, so when I'm fishing a roadbed, I get on it, then cast at an angle so my lure always comes across it. Depending on the depth, I'll use either a deep diving crankbait or maybe a big plastic worm."
Boat docks can offer another postspawn fishing alternative, particularly those close to the mouth of a spawning cove since they'll be near deeper water. Reed likes both permanent as well as floating boat docks.
"This is a great place to swim a white jig," he says, "because docks always have baitfish around them, and they're also spawning areas for shad. All I do is use a slow, steady retrieve with a 3/8-ounce white jig right under the water.
"I know we use this technique a lot for the floating docks and tire break walls at Lake Texoma, but it works other places, as well," points out Reed. "Overall, I think boat docks offer the strongest postspawn pattern on lakes that either don't have a lot of other forms of cover, or on lakes where docks are the most dominant type of cover."
Postspawn bass tend to gather in large groups and they're hungry, concludes Reed. By looking for places that will attract with food, such as depth changes with cover, the chances are you'll also find the bass.
Just remember Housen Bay down on Toledo Bend. The fish move from the shallow, stumpy coves in 944 out to the edge of the hydrilla in 15 feet, and if you move with them, you'll catch them. The regulars do it every year.
- Reed believes the first step in finding postspawn bass is locating a main tributary with several depth changes and cover options.
- Troll over the depth changes keeping an eye on your electronics. When you find a school of baitfish, start casting the bass won't be far away.
- When you find a subtle depth change that features grass or some other form of cover, blanket the area with casts. This is the perfect transition area for bass leaving the spawning flats.
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