No Yawn in Post-Spawn

Though many of the bass have already dropped their eggs on Toledo Bend, they can still be persuaded to hit what you’re throwing.

Catching bass after spawning season ends can present quite a challenge, but Toledo Bend anglers can also catch some of their largest bucketmouths all year.

“Sometimes the post-spawn can be tough or it can be really good,” said Joe Joslin, a Toledo Bend guide. “Post-spawn can be difficult to pattern fish, but it also can be very productive. In post-spawn, fish can be anywhere and nowhere. That’s challenging.”

After huge females drop their precious cargo of roe, shedding a few maternity pounds in the process, many lunkers still lurk in shallow waters. Some bass stay shallow all year. Spawning doesn’t all happen at once. Just as different people demonstrate diverse personality traits, individual bass also behave differently.

In general, though, male bass enter the shallows two to three weeks ahead of females to look for spawning spots and to prepare the beds for their mates. In Toledo Bend, this usually happens in mid-February to early March, but some bass might look for beds as early as December. Large female bass hover at channel mouths 8 to 15 feet deep until water warms sufficiently. When temperatures reach about 68 degrees, they swim up creek channels until they reach the spawning grounds.

“Males begin setting up territories, finding good substrate to scour out nests and defend them against other males or other species,” said Bobby Reed, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries district fisheries biologist in Lake Charles. “When the water temperatures hit 68 to 70 degrees and females become physiologically ripe, they’ll move up along the shoreline.

“Male bass put on a show to impress the females. Females select their males, and they go through a series of body postures and minor color changes.”

Females stay with the males for two to three hours before releasing their eggs. Then they leave the nests for the year. Males stay on the nests to guard the eggs and fry until they can fend for themselves.

“Eggs hatch in eight to 10 days,” Reed said. “After hatching, fry lay in the bottom of the nest for five days. At that time, fry swim up as a group and begin feeding on plankton. They stay very close to the nest until they are about a half-inch long. The male stays close by. When fry reach about a half-inch long, the male runs through them, eating as many as he can. The remaining fry get the idea that it’s time to move on.”

In Toledo Bend, spawning typically occurs during the full moon of April. Since the full moon falls in the last week of April this year, a considerable number of bass probably spawned during the full moon in the last week of March.

When spawning, bedding bass probably won’t chase high-speed baits. They strike more out of anger or defense than hunger. They guard their offspring against predators and remove any annoying intruders from spawning beds.

“During spawning season, bass are bad about not chasing baits,” said Larry Nixon, who guided on Toledo Bend before turning pro and becoming a BASS Masters Classic champion. “In that case, I use soft plastics, like a 6-inch straight-tail worm or a tube bait. I do a lot of pitching and skipping to get baits back where I want them. If they are spawning in 3 to 4 feet of water, slide a wacky worm under there and float it really slow. Bass go for it very well.”

Hooked through the middle, wacky worms present a subtle morsel, resembling night crawlers washed into the water. As a wacky worm sinks, the ends wobble, shimmy and shake. It also spirals down like a dying baitfish. The ends fold back and almost touch each other in an undulating motion. Even when not actively feeding, few bass can resist gobbling such a temptation drifting past its nose.

“I use a 5- to 8-inch straight worm on light spinning tackle with just a 1/0 or 2/0 hook through the egg sack,” said George Cochran, a two-time BASS Masters Classic champion. “When it hits the water, it floats a little then barely sinks. Twitch the line.

“I work it around buck brush, the inside grass lines and anything in the water that might attract a fish. It’s deadly around bushes and fallen trees. I work it almost like a topwater bait. Twitch it a little and stop. It sits there just a second. Twitch it again. If a bass is in the area, it will suck it up. When it’s really sunny, they might not come up to hit it, so I let it sink a little deeper.”

While just about any color might attract bass, many Toledo Bend anglers prefer bright colors, such as orange, white, pink or yellow, to provoke sight bites. Other anglers throw junebug or black neon in murky water or color the tails of green pumpkin worms with garlic-scented chartreuse dye for clear water. Other hot colors include sour grape or watermelon. Anything with a chartreuse tail works well when bass feed on bluegills, notorious nest raiders.

Salamanders and crawfish also rank among the worst egg-stealers in Toledo Bend. Therefore, jigs, tubes and lizards that imitate salamanders, crawfish or similar creatures work extremely well for enticing bedding or post-spawn bass. Small red or red/black Rebel crawfish-pattern crankbaits, with bills digging into the mud, wobble seductively in the face of shallow bass. Put lures as close to bass as possible to provoke reaction strikes.

While many people consider it a deep-water bait, a drop-shot rig tipped with a lizard or curly tail grub aggravates the stuffing out of bedding bass like a small kid tweaking the nose of the neighborhood bully. A drop-shot rig simply consists of a soft plastic bait tied about 12 to 36 inches above a bell sinker like an old catfish bait rig. It makes a reverse Carolina rig. Toss the rig beyond a bass hole, and let the lure dangle over the bed until a bass smashes it.

“Judge the amount of line you need to keep the bait in the strike zone,” explained Rich Tauber, a California bass pro. “This gives you the ability to shake or vibrate the worm any way you want. The beauty of it is to be able to leave the bait in one area or keep lures over a bed. If a fish strikes and misses it, you can still rattle that line, and the worm shakes in his face. The bass bounces right back on it.”

Male bass may spawn with four or five females and may remain on the beds until June, losing considerable weight and strength. By then, physiologically spent and hungry, males start to gorge themselves on anything they can catch. Anglers can catch post-spawn males along weed lines, near logs or other structure on spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwaters or other traditional temptations.

On the other hand, after a single rendezvous, females leave the nesting area to the guardian males and return to deeper water to recover. The spawning process saps them of strength and energy. Because females leave the beds and males won’t eat, many people almost give up on catching post-spawn bass. However, not all females drop into 30 feet of water. Some still remain fairly shallow in familiar territory. Anglers just need to find them.

“Bass don’t necessarily go deep after they spawn; they just scatter,” said Alton Jones, a professional angler with six BASS Masters Classic appearances. “Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that bass have already moved from their spawning waters when they finish spawning. Often, bass actually stay where they spawn.

“When I’m looking for post-spawn fish, the first thing I need to figure out is where did these fish spawn. Like deer and other creatures, they absolutely follow pathways. I look for a creek channel, roadbed, treeline or something that bass follow to get into spawning areas and backtrack along the pathway until I eventually intersect that school of bass. Following these underwater highways will help you catch bass all year long.”

After the spawn ends, recovering bass need to rebuild their energy and strength. Bluegills and other bream species provide an almost unlimited protein source. Moreover, bream savagely raid bass nests. Many bass attack bream with a vengeance, gaining a meal and satisfaction against an enemy at the same time.

“After bass spawn, bluegills spawn in the same area,” Jones said. “It’s payback time. Now, the big bass are going to eat the bluegills while they spawn. Female bass don’t want to expend a lot of energy because they are worn out from the spawning process. They just stay in the shallows and fatten up on bluegills.”

To imitate bluegills, throw shallow-running firetiger or chartreuse crankbaits. Also use crankbaits with blue backs or splashed with a bit of gold or red for extra enticement. Toss these near logs, weeds or other cover. Try running them parallel to drops or other bass pathways. When possible, bump structure. After a crankbait hits a log, it bounces back and slowly rises. Bass often can’t resist smashing such a “helpless” morsel.

“At Toledo Bend, bream are the prime forage for largemouth bass,” Nixon said. “Bluegills are also the No. 1 predators of bass eggs and fry. Large bass hate them and kill them whenever they can. That’s why a gold crankbait with a red belly is the No. 1 color to throw at Toledo Bend. The darker the water, the darker or brighter the bait to throw.”

Besides crankbaits, buzz baits work very well when tempting post-spawn bass, especially during calm, cloudy days. Buzz baits work best in grassy flats. A buzz bait can also locate bass easily over long stretches of shallow water even if fish don’t strike it. Just the noise might provoke lunkers into movement. Many anglers on Toledo Bend prefer a white buzz bait with a chartreuse head and gold blades.

“On the south end of the lake, almost all of the post-spawn fishing takes place around the grass,” Joslin said. “I like to start with a Stanley titanium buzz bait for the first hour or two in the morning, but bass may hit a buzz bait all day.

“Another awesome bait for post-spawn bass is a 1/8-ounce chartreuse/white spinnerbait. I pull it right over the tops of the grass. If bass don’t hit a buzz bait, I retrieve it with what I call ‘waking,’ just barely submerged to make a wake disrupt the surface.”

Spinnerbaits work better than other lures on windy days. When stiff spring breezes whip the huge lake, many anglers run to protected coves. While anglers should never risk their lives on the potentially treacherous lake during strong storms, a stout breeze could put more post-spawn fish into a boat.

In early spring, bass often gather on the breezy side of the main lake or major coves because winds stack the warmest water against those shorelines. The northern end of a lake or cove normally warms fastest because south winds blow water that way. During the spring, anglers who find the warmest water frequently find the most active bass.

“In the post-spawn period, wind plays a major factor,” Nixon said. “Dead-calm post-spawn days are the hardest times to get bass to strike. I look for windy areas, and fish into the wind. Wind blows bait around and moves water. It camouflages lures and gives things a different appearance. Waking a big-bladed spinnerbait through grass on Toledo Bend is an excellent way to catch post-spawn bass. Often, I look for the roughest water I can find, and wake a big spinnerbait through cover. Bass come chasing out of cover to bust it. Sometimes, I jerk a spinnerbait throughout the grass or rip it out of cover to trigger a strike.”

As spring warms, grass grows thicker on Toledo Bend. Bass seek grass for shelter, food and oxygen. Early in the morning, tempt them with topwater baits such as Zara Spooks, Tiny Torpedoes, Pop-Rs, Spit’N Images, Chug Bugs or Frenzy Poppers. Black/gold Rattlin’ Rogues, Rapalas or other minnow imitations also produce strikes around the grassy edges where minnows and other forage species hide.

“Toledo Bend is an extremely good topwater or buzz bait lake in post-spawn,” Nixon said. “Grass grows close to the surface, and bass become very aggressive, especially in the morning or on windy days.

“Another good post-spawn bait is a minnow bait. Minnow baits resemble natural food for bass. When bass are in 5 to 7 feet of water, hit the grass with a floating minnow to get that reaction strike.”

Anglers can use topwaters over submerged grass or next to grass lines, but sometimes bass burrow too deeply into thick grass. Soft plastics, like floating jerkbaits, weightless lizards rigged Texas-style or similar baits, slide easily through thick vegetation.

“Often, a floating jerkbait backs up away from bass,” Nixon said. “They think it’s running from them and that gets them mad. Pause it, and they eat it when it starts floating up to the surface.”

As temperatures warm, some bass seek deeper waters. Main-lake points offer access to both shallow and deep water. Bass may move into the shallows at night or early in the morning and retreat back to the depths by mid-day. When bass go deep, tempt them with a Carolina rig before grass grows too thick.

“In post-spawn, I fish weedy transition areas close to deep water where bass have access to shallow or deep water,” Joslin said. “Fish can be as shallow as 2 feet or as deep as 18 feet. After the banks have been pounded to death in late spring, I usually fish main-lake points, submerged islands and grassy humps. During the post-spawn, it’s hard to beat a Carolina rig tipped with a French fry or a ReAction Gator Pup. I fish watermelon red, watermelon, watermelon blue or junebug, throwing shallow and working down the point into deeper water.”

Sometimes, bass suspend near points. For these fish, throw deep-running or lipless crankbaits in shad/black, chartreuse/blue, crawfish/red, blue/chrome or chartreuse/chrome. Try Norman DD-14s, DD-22s, Excalibur Fat-Free Shads, Bomber Model As, Flat As, Rebel deep crawfish or 1/2- to 3/4-ounce Rat-L-Traps.

Throughout Toledo Bend, anglers can find quality post-spawn action if they find the right combination of depth, oxygen, food and cover. Hot lunker honeyholes include the points in Housen Bay or channels in Six-Mile Creek. McGee’s Flats and the 1215 area also produce excellent catches. Find an area and work it thoroughly.

“The key to post-spawn fishing on Toledo Bend is to figure out a small area,” Nixon explained. “Usually, it’s right near the spawning grounds, but out a little bit before bass go into summer patterns.”

 

For booking trips with Joe Joslin, call (337) 463-3848.

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