Picking Up Post-Spawn Largemouth
June 16, 2016
If you're having trouble catching Kansas bass this month, maybe all you need is a change of location and tactics. These tips are designed to help. The end of the annual spawn signals the start of some frustrating times for bass anglers all over Kansas. It's difficult to dispute that this is the toughest time of the season for catching bass consistently at the Sunflower State's bigmouth venues.
It doesn't have to be that way, however -- there are some things you can do to help assure that the odds are always in your favor, even during the post-spawn period. Pointing you in that direction is what this story is all about.
In general terms, bass go into an underwater "recovery room" of sorts after the spawn. The biggest largemouths around, the females, are the most spent. They've lost weight in recent weeks, of course, having first laid their eggs and then spent most of their time focused on guarding the spawning beds.
Food hasn't been that much of a daily priority for them, and it still isn't -- but they do have to eat, and though they're not going to move very far or be very aggressive in seeking out forage, they'll feed when presented with the opportunity to do so without expending much energy.
Male bass aren't quite so worn out. They, too, have spent time guarding beds and being part of the annual spawn. But the physical demands of laying eggs and everything that goes with it doesn't affect them, for obvious reasons.
The downside of this for anglers is that males are the smaller specimens in any given Kansas bass fishery. Chances are good that you'll be able to catch them more easily and more often than you will the females during the coming weeks. They're active, all right, but they just won't be quite as big as those egg-laden females you were catching not so long ago.
So what do you do? There are two approaches (at least) that can help assure you bass fishing success in the Sunflower State this month. One has you focusing your efforts on fisheries with really good numbers of bass. Doing so will increase your odds of action, although, as noted, you may not get into many big fish.
The other requires you to change up your fishing method at venues that you know hold good bass so that you slow down and work more deliberately. Doing those simple things can help you catch bigger bass this month. Guaranteed!
Admittedly, it's not the most fun kind of fishing for many of you bass fans. Lots of anglers prefer to cover water fairly quickly. They use crankbaits or spinnerbaits to work the best spots as fast as possible, knowing that they generally are catching the most active bass in the area -- and leaving other fish behind.
It's a numbers game for these anglers. They're not getting bites from nearly all the bass around; they're just catching those fish that are the most aggressive. The downside of doing this in the post-spawn period is that the numbers simply are against anyone taking this route.
There seems to be one exception to the previous statements, and you'll learn more about it before this story ends. But for now, let's focus on the sluggish ways of bass during the post-spawn days.
Searching for Numbers
The first ingredient in your recipe for post-spawn success in Kansas is, as suggested already, to put the numbers in your favor. Focus your fishing on those spots with high bass densities, and it only stands to reason that you'll have a better chance of catching at least some of those bass, and maybe a lot of them, even during the post-spawn.
Not to risk sounding like a broken record -- but you have to put La Cygne Lake in Linn County at or near the top of your list of destinations this month. It has good numbers of bass, and that translates into good fishing action.
And remember: La Cygne is a power-plant lake. Hot-water discharges create areas in the impoundment where bass can find comfort year 'round. La Cygne is a place where the growing season never suspends for bass or other game fish. As a result, you can expect to have slightly better chances at catching larger fish there during May.
Other major reservoirs around the state with good bass densities include Hillsdale and Melvern in the east, and the western hotspots that include Webster, Cedar Bluff, Kirwin and Sebelius,
More than a decade has passed since those western lakes began to recover from the devastating effects of a drought that lasted years -- from the late 1980s into the early 1990s. When the rains did return to western Kansas, the water covered structure unlike anything that those lakes had ever previously contained. Make no mistake about it: These fisheries really were reborn.
Since then, of course, water levels have fluctuated. Only Cedar Bluff has survived the worst of the impact, because Kansas officials purchased the water rights to the impoundment, relieving pressure to provide water from the lake for irrigation. The other lakes mentioned still experience bigger-than-average fluctuations in any given year, because they're still in the irrigation mix for landowners in western Kansas.
The demographics, however, suggest that most bass anglers in Kansas live closer to the fisheries in the middle and eastern portions of the state. With that in mind, there are some other waters you ought to consider for your post-spawn outings this month.
In particular, the smaller state fishing lakes are wonderful destinations. And a few of them -- like McPherson, Brown and Leavenworth SFLs -- boast significant bass densities. So do other small lakes around the state that are municipal waters.
However, there's one group of public waters in the Sunflower State that may just be the ultimate destinations this month: the reclaimed strip-mine pits that comprise the Mined Land Wildlife Area in southeast Kansas.
Those pits provided the best single day of bass fishing that I've ever enjoyed -- and it occurred in May. They also revealed the exception to the generally sluggish ways of post-spawn bass that I mentioned earlier. But more about that later.
In general terms, Kansas' MLWA pits have bass densities that are higher than you'll find on just about any other public water in the state. There are some truly large bass to be caught in these small potholes, too, but the pits' allure in terms of the fish they produce lies more in sheer numbers than in size potential.
Don't Overlook the Small Stuff
Undoubtedly, some who've read this far may have been wondering if they'd hear about another group of Kansas bass fisheries that really start coming into their own this month: farm ponds. And rightfully so: These small venues can prove to be very explosive options for May -- for a couple of reasons.
First, many of them boast relatively high bass densities, but those that don't are typically home to some really large fish. Not a bad situation in either case!
Second, because of their diminutive sizes, they're easier to fish than even the very smallest of public/municipal waters. Fishing from shore, it's possible for anglers to cover all of most of the farm ponds they'll visit. They're usually only a couple of surface-acres at the largest.
Of course, plenty of large private potholes are strewn around the state, and those still are easier to cover than most public waters. That's because a small two-man boat or a float tube will permit you to fish every inch of them effectively and quickly.
There's another reason to give some serious thought to making the smallest of Kansas bass waters your focus this month, and it involves safety. May brings with it the heart of tornado season in the Sunflower State. You'll often have strong, potentially dangerous storms seemingly sneak up on you out of nowhere.
If you're on a small lake in a boat -- or if you're fishing a farm pond or small public impoundment from shore -- you can get to cover more easily and more quickly than if you were on a major impoundment with a fairly long run back to the boat ramp and your vehicle.
Of course, many anglers over the years have simply run to shore and sought shelter as best they could when a storm blew in unexpectedly. But that doesn't make it the best bet for you. This definitely is a month when you should err on the side of safety and be prepared for the worst.
With that in mind, one of the most important accessories you can have along on any May fishing trip is a radio that receives National Weather Service broadcasts. Technology in weather monitoring and forecasting has advanced to such levels today that we get more lead time than ever before when a potentially dangerous storm builds.
Having the ability to hear of storm watches and warnings as they're posted will help you to stay as safe as possible while enjoying some great bass fishing -- as long as you heed the warnings when they're issued, that is. Weather may not be your friend this month, and you'll need to be prepared for the worst every time you head out in your boat.
Regardless of the weather, and regardless of the size of water you plan to fish, May is a month during which you also should be prepared to be as deliberate and thorough as you can with your tactics and approach. This is not something that will appeal to some anglers -- those "Type A" bass fans who live by the spinnerbait and/or crankbait. But there may be a way to make this post-spawn fishing tolerable even for them.
You may be surprised to hear this, but the No. 1 bait for post-spawn fishing just might be a Carolina rig. And for me, going to a light-line "finesse" rig -- precisely the rig that led to the amazing day of bass fishing on the strip pits that I mentioned earlier -- is probably the best bet for consistent success.
That day I used a 6-foot light-action rod fitted with a reel spooled up with fresh new 8-pound line. My Carolina rig consisted of a couple of large split-shot weights about 18 inches up the line from a light wire, size 1/0 worm hook. My bait of choice was a 4-inch plastic worm -- no specific design or color.
One of the reasons for that day of fishing's being so memorable is that I caught bass on every small plastic worm I had along -- curlytails, straight tails, colors of the rainbow. It was amazing.
Some undoubtedly are thinking that it was just the particular place I was fishing, not the technique or tackle. That might be true -- except that this day unfolded on the waters of several different strip pits, not just on one. And the action was consistent on every one of them. That's what made it so surprising and wonderful.
Indeed, this was an approach that proved effective on bass no matter where I fished. And since that day, this approach has continued to produce better than any other for me during May.
There isn't even some kind of magical retrieve or special action involved. There is, however, a need to understand what's going on with post-spawn bass to make the most of this kind of fishing.
Remember that (as was noted earlier) bass coming out of the spawn are going to be fairly lethargic; they're weak, in recovery mode. In general terms, they'll have moved back out of the shallowest of water to slightly deeper structure that will provide cover and the ability to ambush an easy meal.
Feed em' Softly
I use the phrase "in general terms" because you'll still find some bass fairly shallow. They most likely will be males, and they likely are going to be fairly active. Let this fact dictate how you fish a given area.
Personally, I like to find places where a shallow cut, bay or cove has a nearby dropoff into deeper water -- say, a break that goes from just a few feet of water into 8 or 10 feet. Unless you're fishing a strip pit or farm pond, this kind of a spot is really attractive because it's going to hold bass, and it may hold them at multiple depths.
The best approach is to cast to the shallow area and work the bait back to the break; then, let it tumble down the structure into deep water before slowly continuing to work it back to the boat.
In the pits or farm ponds, you'll mostly be casting to the shore and letting the bait fall down a fairly steep drop into the deeper water. They generally don't have the kind of shallow/deep break described; they're more like bowls, which is OK.
In every case, however, you can expect many of the strikes to come as the bait falls. Fortunately, even though bass are not as aggressive immediately following the spawn as they are at other times of the year, they'll still hit hard now. For that reason, most strikes won't be subtle.
Let's say that you make a cast, the bait falls to the deep water, and you don't get a strike. Just begin a slow but consistent retrieve back to the boat or shore. Doing this will cause the split shot to create some commotion on the bottom, and bass will spy your bait swimming along right there. It's a really good tactic for post-spawn bass.
This kind of retrieve also will feel better to those fast-paced anglers who'd rather be chunking a spinnerbait or crankbait just now. It's not nearly as fast, but it does permit them to cover water with a lure they'll be casting and retrieving. It's not what they'd prefer, of course, but it's a pretty good solution that will hold their interest -- especially because they'll be catching bass.
Tips Towards the Top
There also is another way you'll be able to catch a lot of bass this month -- even the most sluggish of post-spawn bass. The bass themselves revealed this to me on the strip pit outing that produced such consistent action on the finesse Carolina rig.
Just as the shadows started lengthening with the approach of evening, I happened to spy a fish swirl on the outside edge of some shoreline weeds. On a hunch, I switched from the Carolina rig I was throwing to a topwater popper -- in this case, the smaller-sized Rebel Pop-R.
I have no doubt that just about any other topwater bait would work as well; I just happen to have the most confidence in Pop-R baits because I've used them more than any other.
From the first cast I made with the bait until it was too dark to see where I was throwing, the topwater action was nonstop. And everywhere I thought there ought to be a bass, there was one. I didn't believe anything could top the action I'd enjoyed earlier in the day with the Carolina rig, but I was wrong.
Since that fateful afternoon and evening, I've enjoyed similar bass-fishing fun with topwaters during the post-spawn on lakes varying in size from the smallest of farm ponds to the largest of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundments. And one aspect of this approach has remained remarkably consistent.
In my case, topwaters always work best on post-spawn bass late in the day. I suppose it could be psychological, but it's true for me nonetheless. If you're one of those Type A anglers mentioned earlier, maybe you'll be better off if you wait until about 4 or 5 p.m. to start your bassin', and concentrate your efforts on topwater fishing. Certainly, the action would suit you.
No matter where you fish for bass in Kansas this month, these tips should help you enjoy some of the best post-spawn bass action you've ever had.