June 01, 2018
When bass flood the banks in the spring to spawn, they can be easy pickings for skilled anglers. Largemouths move to predictable areas, often to the same ones year after year. As the spawn approaches, they may not be actively feeding, but their territorial nature at this time leads them to bite.
And by midsummer, bass also are rather predictable, if somewhat harder to consistently catch, as they're focused on feeding. Find key spots and you can make great catches.
Between those times, there's a period when bass are neither spawning nor feeding heavily. Some anglers refer to it as the "postspawn funk."
If you look at the ecosystem comprehensively, however, bass can be as predictable during this supposed tough time. Simply focus on fish other than the bass you're after—whether they're the recently hatched bass fry or other species that are vulnerable to hungry bass at this time. As Rick Clunn has reportedly said, "If you want to understand the owl, study the mouse."
While the sequence of movements may be predictable, their timing may not be. "I believe the progression of postspawn patterns is primarily controlled by water temperature," says six-time Bassmaster Classic participant Chad Morgenthaler of Missouri. "Weather and water levels affect water temperatures, which can vary considerably from year to year."
Texas pro Clark Reehm agrees that bass behavior can be sequenced, but that a variety of factors play a role in how it shakes out. "There's often no reason for bass to leave shallow cover until water levels drop in summer," he says. "Baitfish and panfish are abundant in shallow water during early summer. On Sam Rayburn, for example, big bass don't move out to deeper structure until the water leaves what we call hay grass. Bass spawn around bushes or trees, then move to the hay grass, then finally out to deep hydrilla after that. But in some cases, a good number of fish remain shallow." If you've found tough fishing during this transition time, three key patterns can help you start your search for a big limit.
Big female bass don't spend much time around nests, but they don't immediately disperse either. So rather than looking for them in traditional summer locations, Morgenthaler first checks nearby drops and flats. "They initially don't move far from where they spawned," he says, "maybe 200 or 300 yards. By midsummer they could be a mile or two away.
"Every system is a little different," he adds. "But I typically focus on the 6- to 10-foot range. Search for the best available cover in that surrounding area and depth range, whether it's wood, vegetation, or boat docks and marinas.
"Systems without current warm a bit faster and bass may advance into summer patterns earlier. Basically I reverse the spawning process and track back to areas they occupied early in the Prespawn Period. Focus on anything that looks good within a half mile. On an impoundment like Kentucky Lake, check major creeks for shell beds, docks, and drops where they find depth options, cover, and prey."
While anglers must expand their search window for postspawn females, hard-working males are easier to find and more vulnerable. They remain near nesting areas to guard the recently hatched fry for up to a week after the tiny fish leave the nest. "You typically find fry guarders around shallow cover and far from deep water," he says. "They favor areas that are protected from the wind and have shallow breaks or cover like stumps to help them watch for potential predators, as the fry are up close to the surface."
In postspawn situations, Morgenthaler covers water with a Lunker Lure buzzbait or Zoom Horny Toad, as he scans the shallows for the surface dimpling of fry and wakes made by protective males chasing intruders. "When you see them," he says, "drop your Power Poles and assess the situation. Try to determine the male's location; he'll react if you can make the right cast.
"Males can be easiest to catch on a topwater, like a Pop-R or toad bait, but you can catch them on a slow-sinking softbait like a Yamamoto Senko, too. They're difficult to catch on the bottom, so keep your presentations high in the water column. Remember they're not feeding." While the buzzbait and the toad are his search tools, once he has a fish in his sights, he picks up a Pop-R, Senko, or small swimbait like a Missile Baits Shockwave, typically in bluegill colors. "Sunfish feed of fry," he says, "so I fish lures with green and orange highlights."
When not traveling to fish the FLW Tour or guiding near home, Reehm's greatest passion is pursuing big redear sunfish that move into the shallows soon after bass have spawned. In this quest, he sees many big bass holding near beds, hoping to pick off an inattentive sunfish. While this pattern is recognized in southern waters where bluegills may spawn monthly until late summer, it's also worth checking in northern states where bluegills and pumpkinseeds are the target.
On Lake Ouachita, anglers use panfish-imitating topwater prop baits to work shallow flats where sunfish bed. Bluegills and redear are group spawners, and all the fish activity makes it easier for bass to attack. You must first find bedding areas, which vary in location among waterways. "In East Texas, they often spawn in shallow areas toward the main lake," Rheem says. "In the Carolinas, I find them more in pockets. On lakes with vegetation, they often spawn on the inside grassline. You rarely catch them in the middle of an expansive weedflat.
"When fishing around bream beds, I've learned to make the lure look helpless. When fishing for redear, I see bass that have been lurking on the edge or swimming through the beds strike suddenly. They hover nearby, but as soon as you pull a fish to the surface, they eat it. It makes sense. In deeper water, prey can move in any direction to escape, but the movement of a hooked fish on the surface is limited."
For that reason, he favors topwater lures. Like Morgenthaler, he might employ a Pop-R, or perhaps a frog. Anglers in the Carolinas and Ozarks frequently use deep-bellied double-prop lures like Lucky Craft's Kelly J, ima HeliPs Prop Bait, and PH Custom Lures' Prop Bait that kick up a fuss while remaining in place.
Reehm says bass sometimes aren't spooked by large lures at this time, and he's seen them snatch hooked one-pound redears in a gulp. But that doesn't happen so much when using artificials. Stealth is critical, especially if bass aren't charging the beds regularly. "If they're aware of your presence, they often won't bite," he adds.
Whether he's fishing the deep, clear lakes near his East Tennessee home or TVA impoundments a few hours away, Elite Series pro Brandon Card knows that a few weeks after the bass have spawned, shad take their turn. At that point they become an easy protein-packed meal for postspawn bass.
During that period, Card spends a few hours at the beginning of each day on the water looking for shad on hard cover like riprap, marinas, and docks. "It happens in other places, too," he says. "On Lake Wheeler in Alabama, I've found them on main-lake bluff banks. It's not only in protected bays." He's also done well by keying on shad spawning at the base of cypress trees and along grasslines.
He covers as much water as possible in search mode. "When you find shad spawning when prefishing, you don't need to make a cast," he says. "On occasion, though, an active shad spawn doesn't trigger bass activity. During the 2015 BASSfest event on Lake Texoma, shad were spawning all over the lake but the bass were not dialed in on them. The water was so high that the bass moved into green bushes instead. I wasted too much time chasing the shad spawn there, instead of flipping thick cover." That experience may have been the exception rather than the rule, though. Usually bass cannot turn down easy access to one of their favorite foods.
Card likes to start in areas where he's seen the most pronounced and prolonged shad activity closest to the take-off, since shad typically stop spawning after the sun gets high. Just because the obvious activity ceases doesn't mean that you should abandon them, though. "I tend to stick around those areas for a couple more hours," he says. "Bass often are nearby, looking to ambush prey."
With so many shad for bass to chase, Card often finds bass surprisingly finicky. While generally trying to match the hatch, he also wants his lure stand out. "I try to use a lure a bit bigger or a slightly different color than the spawners," he says. "When the activity slows I try to match the shad more closely." In calm conditions, whether it's cloudy or sunny, he favors a swimbait such as Yamamoto's Heart Tail, which stays high in the water column. If it's windy, he turns to a spinnerbait or a ChatterBait with a Yamamoto jointed Zako as a trailer. Two other lures that produce strikes when it's critical to match the hatch include the Yo-Zuri 3DB Squarebill and 3DB Popper. "You can pop it slowly but it also walks, which is important because sometimes they want something erratic when the shad are spawning," he says.
So when bass turn their focus from reproduction to feeding, try to gauge their location and feeding attitude, based on the behavior of their prey. In doing so, you can turn the postspawn funk into a postspawn frenzy.