For some, the post-spawn is a period of dread. Yes, it's supposedly a time for bigger bass. And yes, they can be taken in a variety of ways. Then, why is it so hard?
In our opinion, it all comes back to perceptions and expectations. Post-spawn bass move back out no faster, no farther and no more predictably than pre-spawn fish on their way in. It's still all about timing and location.
If conditions during the spawn have made it a strange one, don't expect things to get more understandable anytime soon. In fact, you may still be fishing for spawners while the post-spawn is in full swing.
The standard rule of thumb is to retrace your steps going out of spawning areas to intercept bass moving out. Not a bad idea since points, ridges, flats, humps and creek channels will always be productive places.
However, there is one small problem that's rarely discussed: At the same time bass are moving out, the baitfish that supply their sustenance are often moving in.
Like an outgoing tidal flow meeting an incoming surge, it creates and interesting push-pull situation between hungry bass and easy meals. Some fish react to it and some do not. The obvious places to start looking are those points, ridges, flats, humps and creek channels. Of course, these are the very same places that attract other fishermen.
The less obvious spots are located somewhere in-between, particularly areas where the cover or structure create subtle zones where bass are willing to suspend. If you can make any assumption about post-spawn bass, this willingness to suspend has to be high on the list.
The key is to de-tune your expectations. Don't look for complex cover or structure. Instead, locate those simple places where two elements intersect: i.e. a laydown off a flat, a submerged tree with limbs going horizontally and vertically or, better yet, buoy cables that branch off in different directions. All of these can be temporary holding spots for bigger bass.
"Temporary" is the key word in that phrase, because these bass are more interested in the suspending part of the equation than being near cover or structure. Move up too fast or too close and the big girls will simply melt away into the gloom. This is one time when stealth does matter.
Although topwater lures and jerkbaits can produce quality strikes – not to mention their speed in covering water – they demand a relatively aggressive fish to be successful. In other words, consistency with these baits depends on forcing fish to do something. In particular, a topwater lure requires the breaking of that invisible barrier between water and air. Make no mistake, these lures can be effective – if you're willing to sacrifice consistency.
The more dependable standard baits for larger, post-spawn bass are the Fluke-style soft plastics. Remember, post-spawn is when deadsticked lures dominate, and it's also the time to focus on the upper zones of the water column.
If you recall our discussion concerning the top-middle-bottom approach, we noted how each section of water has a top-middle-bottom of its own. In post-spawn, your efforts should be focused more on the middle or bottom sections of the top layer, and the top section of the middle layer. (You might want to reread that sentence a few times.)
If you're having trouble gauging where the top section ends and the middle begins, simply find the depth at which the most significant cover or structure tops out. Whether it's 6, 10 or 12 feet down, at least you've got a starting point.
What's in a Name?
Perhaps the biggest problem with deadsticking is in its name. Although some anglers seem to derive great pleasure in relating stories about how they "deadsticked" a lure for 5 or 10 minutes, in 99.9% of all successful presentations, there is a cadence to deadsticking.
The actual definition should be "subtle movements of the lure followed by varying periods of no movement." Even the phrase "no movement" is a misnomer, because the bait will still exhibit some motion in all but pure, dead-calm conditions.
The problem with Flukes – especially in post-spawn - begins with the rigging method. The standard format of hook-through-nose-up-through-back just doesn't produce the desired effect. Instead, by turning the bait on its side and Texas-rigging it, several things happen: 1) The bait keels on its flat side and creates a gliding effect, 2) The Fluke tends to fall faster (better yet, use a heavier-wire hook or position a swivel 6 inches ahead of the lure to gain more control), and 3) There is less plastic to penetrate on the hookset.
But of the all the advantages to flat-rigging Flukes, none compares to the upside of directional changes. With this simple switch in rigging, Flukes become weapons capable of multiple direction changes – subtle or sharp and in nearly every direction. In creating the illusion of realism, this means everything.
Attacking the dainty cover or structure that holds – temporarily – big, post-spawn bass, your Fluke presentations need to be very cautious. For instance, the buoy lines mentioned previously are notorious for attracting giants. If the water is clear enough and you can see the fish, you've probably blown your chance.
While the buoy line example is one of the most extreme, all of these post-spawn targets require careful and accurate presentations. The object here, unlike swimbaits, is to take the bait to the bass. In essence, you're not asking them to do anything except strike. This is why you want to focus on the middle or bottom sections of the top layer, or the top of the middle layer.
But if you think that swimbaits aren't a part of the post-spawn repertoire, think again. As with Flukes, you're trying to make a fish do less. During the post-spawn, less is indeed more. The difference with swimbaits is that you're also trying to get more of the bass involved. We call this "daisy chaining."
In any season, swimbaits are remarkable for moving the strike zone. And, as one bass begins the stalk, others join up in a daisy-chain effect. Many times a fisherman won't catch the bass he sees, because another daisy-chained fish come out of nowhere to strike the lure.
In post-spawn, the response of bass seems to be more lethargic, yet the daisy-chain method still yields results. It may not look like the fish are very competitive, but it's competition nevertheless. In reality, by daisy-chaining bass, the angler is creating the competition.
Often, the competitive frenzy doesn't get started until the lure gets near the boat. Somehow the bass sense their quarry is running out of real estate. Only one problem: you've run out of line.
In most cases, anglers recommend "the crouch" – lowering your body position to milk out as much time as possible before the fish realize their folly. Forget all that. Drop to your knees in an homage to Paul Elias and do the "kneel-and-don't-reel." This is when you may be forced to run your foot-operated trolling motor by hand – anything to move the bait enough to draw a strike.
If it all sounds crazy, just wait until you start getting big, daisy-chained bass within a rod's length of your boat. So many bass, so little time.
One last thing: Post-spawn bass rarely hammer swimbaits. Therefore, any tick, flash or bump should be dealt with swiftly. The reel-down-and-set method that works with Flukes gives you a big bag of nothing with swimbaits. Any questions?