Post-Spawn Pros

Got the post-spawn blues? These guys sure don’t. Follow their tips to put big bass in the boat this month.

The spring is one of the best times of the year to catch bass, with fish up shallow and aggressively protecting their spawning beds. Anglers simply love picking big sows off the nests.

And then the fish just seem to disappear. For a few weeks after the spawn peters out, fishermen struggle to put bass in their boats.

So Louisiana Sportsman asked a handful of pros — who have to produce no matter the time of year — about how they approach post-spawn fishing. Here are their thoughts, techniques and lure choices.

Gary Klein

This Bassmaster Elite Series pro said anglers often intimidated by the changes brought about by the end of the spawn need to access the waters in which they are fishing to be able to effectively target post-spawn bass.

“There are four types of water: manmade reservoirs, natural bodies of water, current-influenced waters and tidal areas,” Klein said.

The two-time BASS Angler of the Year said that fish behave differently on each of these waters.

For example, bass in deep man-made reservoirs like Toledo Bend don’t hang around in the shallows long after they drop their eggs.

“When the fish come off the beds is when I find them moving to the deepest parts of the lake,” Klein said. “The thermocline hasn’t developed, and for some reason, the sows want to lay their eggs and just get away from it all.

“They go to these deep-water refuges.”

That could account for many North Louisiana angler’s difficulties in finding bass after the spawn — they simply don’t look deep enough.

Klein said it’s fairly easy to find bass once you understand their pattern of movement.

“You can look into the bays and see the major spawning areas,” he said. “What I try to do with my electronics and topo maps is find the routes the fish use to into the shallows and out again after the spawn.”

That simply means locating old creek channels or ditches leading from the spawning flats, he said.

“I’ll follow them all the way out to the main channel,” Klein said.

That’s where the fish will be suspended on drops, on the ends of deep points and around humps as they shake off the effects of several weeks of spawning.

Because they’re so deep, one bait stands out as Klein’s post-spawn favorite for man-made reservoirs.

“This is one of the best times of the year to fish a big crankbait,” he explained. “I’m throwing 14-foot, 20-foot, 25-foot models.”

But it’s not just a matter of casting and reeling big-lipped cranks, he said.

“Depth and speed are most critical,” Klein said.

Cast distance is key to achieving the maximum depth with a crankbait.

“That’s why we have invented crankbaits that are so big — the weight allows you to make long casts,” he explained.

Speed of retrieve can make the difference between getting a workout and battling fish to the boat.

“Probably the worst thing I see fishermen do with a big crankbait is reeling too fast,” Klein said. “Big crankbaits will go deeper if (anglers) keep a slow, steady pace with them.”

The slower retrieve also relieves some of the fatigue many associate with reeling in these huge baits, he said.

One other important tip for deepwater cranks is to include a change of direction in the retrieve, Klein said.

“We bang them into brush or rocks or pilings, and that triggers bites,” he said. “What people don’t understand is that it’s the directional change is what triggered the bite.”

Klein said that there are a few ways to incorporate this strategy into deepwater cranking.

“You can achieve these same things by getting in contact with the bottom,” he said. “If fish aren’t on the bottom, you can change the direction of a crankbait by popping the rod tip, or you can just jerk a crankbait. A stop-and-go technique also is very effective at times.

“You’re just looking for something that creates a reaction out of the fish.”

If crankbaits won’t elicit strikes, Klein said his next go-to lure is a spinnerbait.

“If I had to pick a second technique, it would be slow-rolling a spinnerbait,” he said. “I can get maximum depth without long casts.”

While many associate this tactic with spinnerbaits that seem heavy enough to use in a gym, Klein said he actually uses every size from very light to more than 2 ounces.

“As I’m reading my electronics, I’m seeing how the fish are positioned on that structure,” he said.

So if bass are right on the bottom, he might turn to the heavy mud-digging spinnerbaits. If fish are suspended, however, he can use a smaller lure, allow it to sink to the appropriate depth and then slowly retrieve it through the bass.

Shallow-water systems such as natural oxbows call for a different strategy, Klein said.

“It seems there’s a mood change in the fish,” he said. “When the spawn is over, the big girls like to get out and cruise.

“I know they’re really going to go on a good feed: They’re finished spawning, and they’re hungry.”

Because there often is much less really deep water than in manmade reservoirs, that means bass are still in relatively shallow water. Klein said this means they will fall for faster-moving baits.

“Buzz baits, Ribbit frogs and Johnson spoons are great baits for that time,” he said. “Anything I can cover a lot of water with.”

It’s important to be able to cover as much water as possible because bass in these systems often simply cruise around looking for food and don’t orient to structure.

Klein said he’ll begin working his lures near any natural channel because the bass will pull back to the deeper water as temperatures rise in the shallows.

“You can see the grass edge or the line of cypress trees,” he said. “That’s where most of my post-spawn fishing is going to be.”

Current and tidal waters are treated pretty much alike, he said. Bass in these systems move off the beds, leave the backwater canals and take up position on points, logs and any other structure that breaks current in main channels.

“Current makes it even easier because fish position on structure in those little current breaks,” Klein said. “It makes my cast and where I’m going to get the bites more predictable.”

While crankbaits and spinnerbaits will catch fish in this situation, flipping and pitching come back into play because bass are so locked on structure.

He said he fishes both upcurrent and downcurrent of structure, but pointed out that it’s vitally important to try different tactics until discovering what triggers the bite.

He used his experience in the 2003 New Orleans Bassmaster Classic to illustrate just how even a change in lure weight can make a big difference.

While targeting current breaks, it was evident that flipping a ½-ounce jig wasn’t working. Instead of turning to a different bait altogether, Klein simply lightened his jig.

“I went to a 3/8-ounce jig, and my bite ratio went up 50 to 60 percent.”

The reason? The heavier lure was sinking straight down, overcoming the current. That wasn’t the case with the 3/8-ounce version, which Klein was forced to pitch well ahead of a current break because it would drift with the flow.

“The bass wanted a bait that drifted into them,” he explained. “Instead of flipping to the target, I flipped past the target and let the current drift my jig to the target.”

By carefully analyzing the conditions and figuring out what would trigger a bite, Klein finished less than a pound behind winner Michael Iaconelli.

Klein said the only real difference between a current-influenced system (think river) and a tidal-influenced waterway is that direction of flow on a tidal system, obviously, flops sometime during the day.

“On a tidal system, the fishing seems to be best on the swings: either the low-tide or high-tide swing, when the water begins moving,” Klein said. “I know I can find some really key areas and not get a bite because I’m there at the wrong time — either there’s no tide or it’s moving too fast. So I make sure I’m there on the swing, when the fishing is best.”

Greg Hackney

Greg Hackney has made a name for himself plucking big sacks of bass from shallow-water areas throughout the country, so it’s no surprise he loves to fish South Louisiana waters.

But Hackney said his experience has taught him that, no matter if he’s on a shallow coastal system or a deep-water reservoir, bass don’t leave their beds and immediately head for the depths.

“Normally, they’ll hang around awhile shallow, either guarding beds or eating fry,” he explained. “That’s the first ones I’m targeting.”

He said slow-moving topwaters and floating worms are the best bets for snagging these bass because they’re not overly aggressive.

Of course, fishing floating worms is slow work, but Hackney said using lures such as Strike King’s 7 ½-inch 3X worms can result in heavy sacks when bass first come off the beds and aren’t running baits down.

“It normally takes about two weeks or so for them to start chasing a bait,” Hackney said. “They’re feeding, but they’re weak so they’re not chasing baits.”

Poppers like Strike King’s Popping King are excellent topwater choices for this period, he said. But eventually he can switch over to faster-moving walking-the-dog-type lures.

“Right after the spawn, I like the popper the best, but once they start to get off the bank and get into a feeding deal instead of a guarding deal, I go to walking-the-dog-type lures,” Hackney said.

How long bass hang in the shallows after spawning depends on the weather.

“If it’s a gradual warm-up, they tend to stay longer,” Hackney said. “If it gets hot quick, it seems to sull them more. If it gets warm more gradually, they seem to stay active.”

The shallow bite might last a week, or it could last only a couple of days.

Once that bite peters out, however, he knows the bass have moved out a bit.

In the southern portion of the state and on relatively shallow oxbows, Hackney said this just means fishermen should switch their focus from waters less than 2 feet to structure just a little farther out.

“On a laydown on the bank, those fish will bed against it in 2 feet of water, and when they finish, they just move to the (deeper) end of it,” he explained. “The water might still only be 4 or 5 feet deep.”

Sometimes, however, movement might be defined by simply swimming from the top of a stump to the root system around the stump.

“A lot of times, there’s not a hard bottom for them to spawn on, so they’ll spawn on the top of those stumps,” Hackney said. “Then they just move off the top of the stump into the deeper water around it.”

On backwaters along rivers, this also holds true for logs, which get flooded during spring rises.

“They live and spawn in the same place,” Hackney said. “They don’t migrate to offshore structure like the reservoir fish.

“They just live on that stuff.”

If a bass’s spawning bed is on the bank, this fish still won’t move far, Hackney said. He just looks to the nearest trees in 4 to 5 feet of water.

“That’s a great time to catch 3- to 5-pounders,” he said. “I can remember going to Henderson and catching big post-spawn fish off those deeper trees. One trip, I had five that weighed 25 pounds.”

He said the bass won’t be around every tree, but finding one fish around a cypress could mean multiple bites.

“I’ve caught them on one side of the tree, and then hooked another one on the other side,” Hackney said. “They’ll all be school-sized fish — 4- to 6 pounders.”

Jigs like the Strike King Elite Pro jigs are a favorite for picking off fish once they get on the trees, he said. Weight choices range from ¼- to ½-ounce.

“It depends on the depth,” Hackney said.

On both shallow-water systems and deep-water reservoirs, Hackney said he’s always on the lookout for spawning shad. These baitfish normally begin their spawn about the time bass wrap up their breeding activities.

“A lot of times, that’s a big deal,” he said. “The first couple of hours in the morning, the shad will be spawning, and bass will be up feeding on them.”

The shad congregate around any solid structure — seawalls, logs, dock piling, trees, etc. — and swim around it, he said.

“They’ll be in daisy chains,” Hackney said. “They rub against whatever they find and deposit their eggs.”

He reaps big benefits during his spring tournament schedule, as shown in the Bassmaster Legends tournament on Texas’ Eagle Lake last year.

“I had 15 to 20 pieces of hard structure, and I just ran back and forth the whole tournament,” he said.

The tactic earned him a sixth-place finish and a $17,000 check.

Crankbaits (Strike King Series 3 and 4 Tour Grade) and 3/8-ounce Premier Elite spinnerbaits carefully chosen to match the spawning shad are best, Hackney said.

“You’re taking spinnerbait blades and matching the size of the shad, and matching your crankbaits to look like the shad,” he said. “Realistic is best at that time because they’re keying off that shad.”

Once reservoir fish completely abandon the shallows, Hackney said he relies on Carolina rigs and crankbaits to put together limits.

“Carolina rigs are better than a crankbait at first,” he said. “They just want that slow bait while they recover from the spawn.”

Water clarity dictates the size of the plastic lure used with the Carolina rig.

“The dirtier the water, the larger the bait,” Hackney said.

He said reservoirs like Toledo Bend offer bass grass and humps around which to congregate during the post-spawn recovery period.

“They’re going to pull out to the first good contour change,” Hackney said. “That’s where they’re going to live the rest of the year.”

The first thing he’ll do in the mornings, however, is probe the shallows.

“There’ll always be a few hanging around in the shallows, but after a couple hours, I’ll have to pull back,” Hackney said.

His general formula is to move to the outside edge of hydrilla in 8 to 15 feet of water. If he can find brushpiles or drop-offs adjacent to the grass line, that’s even better.

Again, Carolina rigs and crankbaits will result in bites, but Hackney also said big worms, jigs and spinnerbaits can be effective.

Alton Jones

Post spawn is time for Elite Series angler Alton Jones to focus on catching females.

“The males have usually been on the beds for a long time, and are just exhausted,” Jones said. “They’re on the nest sometimes for a month as they guard the nests.

“There’s a period of time of just recovery.”

That usually means these fish are lethargic and fairly inactive, grabbing food and lures only when placed right in front of them.

Females, however, haven’t been quite as fatigued by the spawning process.

“They come in for a day or two, drop their eggs and leave,” Jones said. “They might come in one or two more times during the month, but they don’t stay on the beds.”

That makes them much more catchable than males, he said.

A post-spawn fishing day generally finds Jones in shallow water early, hunting for active females that haven’t made the transition to suspending in deeper water.

“There are times when you can stay shallow all day long,” he said.

His favorite tool for fishing these shallow waters is a buzz bait.

“The females still have a lot of energy,” Jones said. “They don’t weigh as much because they’ve dropped their eggs, but they’ll chase a bait.”

Once the bite in the shallow water drops off in reservoirs, Jones starts looking for fish in a little deeper water.

He said females are the first bass to begin moving offshore as the spawning season draws to a close. However, he said they don’t run straight to deep ledges and drop-offs.

“They suspend, but they’re not deep fish,” he said. “They’ll pull off to docks or under grass, and they’ll just hide right under that cover.

“The water might be 5 feet deep, but they’re in that top layer of the water column.”

So Jones generally leaves his bottom baits like jigs and Texas-rigged soft-plastics in the box.

“I may choose a topwater like a Zara Spook, a Pop-R or a buzz bait,” he said. “Floating worms like a (YUM Floating) Jitterworm are good choices, as well.

“I think when you fish a jig or weighted worm this time of year, you fish under the bass.”

Crankbait aficionados might think about those lures that run just under the water’s surface, such as the Cotton Cordell Big O, he said.

“You can use anything that you can fish in that top layer of water,” Jones said.

The key to putting together tournament-winning stringers both in the shallows and in these medium depths is understanding that fish aren’t ganged up.

“I’m almost always covering lots of water,” Jones said. “You’re moving around trying to pick off individuals.”

Jones pays close attention to where he gets bites, looking for any way to narrow his search as he moves across a lake.

“It’s a great time of year to run patterns,” he explained. “If you find them on the inside corner of docks or biting on the points of grass, you can target those types of areas all across a lake.”

One key factor to keep in mind is that shad generally spawn during this time.

“They’ll be everywhere, and bass will scatter to find them,” Jones said.

The veteran pro used this very technique in June 2005 during the Bassmaster Elite 50 tournament on Texas’ Lake Lewisville to put together a top-25 finish.

“Most of the guys who did well targeted shad,” he said.

But this period when reservoir bass scatter and suspend right under the surface lasts only about two weeks. Then they head for deep-water structure.

“Once they move to the ledges, they usually do it pretty quick,” he said.

Finding the best structure often is a matter of knowing how bass travel from the shallows.

“They’ll use the same routes they use to move up for the spawn,” Jones said. “That’s usually old creek channels or ditches.”

Quality electronics allow Jones to find bass on drop-offs, ledges and points. And when he finds them, they’re usually in groups.

“They really gang up,” he said.

That sets up some fantastic post-spawn fishing.

“Usually when the fish first reach the ledges is the best times of the year to catch them deep,” Jones said. “When they show up (on the ledges), it’s not one or two fish. There are groups.

“Any time you have fish grouped up, you have a better chance to catch them. Those fish want to beat the other fish to the lure.”

Deep-diving crankbaits and Carolina rigs come into play here.

He said he doesn’t spend a lot of time on any one ledge unless he’s getting bites.

“If they’re there, in four or five casts you’re going to know it,” Jones said.

Bass in shallow-water systems such as those found in the Mississippi Delta don’t have that deep-water structure, however. These fish are more likely to stay shallow longer, and Jones said his favorite lure for this work is a YUM Buzz Frog.

“You want to throw it back in that thickest slop,” he said. “When it hits the edge, fish will explode on it.”

Once the shallows become too warm, bass leave their shallow spawning pockets and find the nearest current, Jones said.

“They move out to take advantage of easy feeding opportunities,” he explained.

Jigs and worms might pick off some of the bass, but Jones said he sticks with the Buzz Frog because the bass usually hang just under the surface of the water.

“Even around the cypress trees, they’re going to suspend inches below the surface,” Jones said.

A Buzz Frog is favored over a traditional buzz bait because he’s often targeting bass in vegetation or under cypress limbs.

“You can put that Buzz Frog where you can’t get a buzz bait,” Jones said.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.