Transition Bass: How to Find Them in Show Me State
May 12, 2017
Transition bass are shifting from shallow spawning areas to deeper haunts in places like Missouri. The trick to catching them now
is to find them.
After Missouri bass go through the rigors of spawning, there is no rest for the weary fish as they make the trek to their summertime haunts on Show Me State lakes.
When bass leave their spawning nests, male bass usually stay in the shallows for a while to protect fry while the females start on the migration route to deeper water. Eventually all the bass travel the same routes to their summer homes so the key to catching post-spawn bass is intercepting them during the transition stage.
Fishing can be fantastic during that time because after a couple of weeks of fasting while on the nest, bass are hungry and will attack just about anything you put in front of them. You will experience some of the hottest bass action of the year, if you can locate these transition fish throughout the post-spawn stage.
Local experts have provided us some hints on where to find transition bass on the following Missouri lakes.
TABLE ROCK LAKE
The spawn and post-spawn usually occur earlier on Table Rock than at other reservoirs throughout the state. That's due to warmer climate in southwest Missouri.
"In May the fish do a lot of spawning in the back of some of the bigger, flatter coves," says local pro James Watson. "A lot of bass in May will also still be around the beds they made during the spawn."
The spawning beds are silted over by then, but Watson still does some sight-fishing for bass protecting their fry. "There is a lot of cruising and stuff like that going on that you can see," he says. "It is a really good time to pick up a Senko and throw it around, especially around boat docks."
As post-spawn bass move along the bare banks leading out of the spawning pockets, Watson tempts these fish by slowly working a Zara Spook or Cotton Cordell Red Fin along the surface. The winner of the 2015 Bassmaster Central Open at Table Rock suggests this topwater pattern will produce throughout May.
The next transition spots for post-spawn bass are brushpiles and boat docks. "They will suspend under those big boat docks," says Watson. He notes that the docks and big tree rows in the coves are good resting places for bass to recuperate after nesting and protecting fry.
During the latter stages of the post-spawn, bass move to the 45-degree banks in the coves and long gravel points. Deep tree rows and docks sitting over channels are the key spots to find transition bass then.
According to Watson, the entire lake produces good action for post-spawn bass in May. "If you want to go up the rivers for post-spawn fish, you can go up in the dirtier water and start a square bill (crankbait) routine," he says. The local pro suggests keying on rocky banks with 45-degree slopes to pinpoint transition bass.
Table Rock provides good action for smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass throughout the post-spawn. "A lot of times you'll have a day where you'll catch all three," Watson says. The tournament pro notes that he has caught the three species and meanmouth bass (spotted/smallmouth hybrid) all in one day a couple of times.
The post-spawn is a great time to catch numbers of Table Rock bass, but quality fish are scarce then. Watson claims anglers can catch 50 bass of all sizes throughout a day in May. "It is nothing to go down a particular bank — especially with a Ned Rig," he says, and catch fish like crazy.
TIME FOR REVENGE
I have watched bluegills continually pester bedding bass in attempts to steal eggs off the nest, but bass eventually get their revenge.
Shortly after bass leave their nests, bluegills start spawning in the same protected pockets where bass spawned. Hungry bass recuperating from the spawn start cruising around the bluegill beds and pick off any sunfish that wander too far away from the nest.
Any bluegill-imitating lure in black-and-chartreuse or green pumpkin-and-orange will trick post-spawn bass hanging around the sunfish beds. My favorite lures for this pattern include topwater poppers, chatter baits, finesse jigs tipped with a plastic chunk, and Texas-rigged 6-inch ribbed worms. — John Neporadny
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
Some bass are still spawning along the pea gravel banks on this central Missouri reservoir in early May, while others are moving to the docks in the pockets where they are protecting fry. Local guide Ben Blankenbeker suggests looking for the post-spawn bass 6 to 8 feet deep around the docks. The best lures for tempting these fish include crankbaits, Gene Larew Biffle Bugs, Strike King Rage Bugs or Reaction Innovations Sweet Beavers on wobble head jigs and a variety of Texas-rigged soft plastics.
Some bass in the early post-spawn stage at LOZ will be holding in shallow brushpiles along the gravel banks in the pockets. "They are not totally dug into brush deep like they are in the summertime, but they start hanging around it," Blankenbeker says.
As post-spawn bass move out of the pockets they set up 8 to 10 feet deep on the next stop along their transition route. "The fish will be working their way back out toward the main lake after the spawn," Blankenbeker says. "That is when you want to start focusing on secondary points."
Blankenbeker targets docks along the secondary points and tempts the transition bass with spinnerbaits, jigs tipped with NetBait Paca Chunks, Texas-rigged plastic creature baits, and tube baits. Topwater plugs such as Zara Spooks also catch plenty of post-spawn bass along the secondary points.
By late May, post-spawn bass use transition routes near deep water to move closer to the main lake. "Usually they like a creek channel coming out of the back of a cove and they like deep water nearby," Blankenbeker says. He finds these fish holding at depths of 10 to 15 feet next to deep dropoffs. His primary lures for post-spawn bass in the late stage include Zoom Brush Hogs, Texas-rigged magnum-sized plastic worms and deep-diving crankbaits.
Blankenbeker's favorite area of the lake for post-spawn bass is the midsection of the Osage arm. He mainly guides in that area. He also favors the Gravois arm because it is loaded with creek channels transitioning bass can use. "The (Grand) Glaize is another area that has got some good transition routes in it," Blankenbeker advises.
The local guide ranks May as a good month to fish his home lake. He claims anglers can catch up to 15 keepers (bass 15 inches or bigger) in a day and 3- to 5-pound largemouths are common catches then. During 4-hour guide trips, Blankenbeker's clients have caught 50 to 60 bass a day during the post-spawn.
MARK TWAIN LAKE
The post-spawn usually happens later at the northeast Missouri reservoir. It takes spring longer to arrive in that part of the state.
"I really start doing well at the end of May and the first part of June," says tournament competitor Jim Duncan.
After the spawn, Duncan finds transition bass in the creek channels leading out of the coves. His favorite early post-spawn areas are the channel swings in the back of Indian Creek where he finds bass 2 to 4 feet deep. He cranks the channel banks with fire-tiger or bright-red Bomber 2A or Bandit 100 and 200 crankbaits, trying to trigger reaction strikes from post-spawn bass.
"There will be bass coming out of the creeks for three weeks," Duncan says. Some post-spawn bass can also be taken during this time on buzzbaits and Rebel Pop-R topwater plugs along riprap banks.
Duncan's next targets for transition bass are the channel breaks that swing into a point — spots where he and his tournament partner have sunk brushpiles. "We will play with our brushpiles right on the edge of a break on a point out where there is nothing else out there," he says. Duncan drags a Carolina rig with a green pumpkin plastic lizard or a Zoom Baby Brush Hog around the brushpiles that are about 10 feet deep.
The tournament competitor estimates Mark Twain anglers can catch about a dozen keepers and 20 to 25 smaller fish during a weekday throughout the post-spawn period. However, the catch-rate declines dramatically during the weekend since Mark Twain receives heavy fishing pressure then.
The post-spawn is usually a good time to catch numbers of Mark Twain bass rather than quality fish. "You are mainly catching 2- to 4-pounders then," Duncan says. "It is hard to come up with a big fish for a while after the spawn."
The post-spawn ends when transitioning bass settle on the main-lake points where they follow baitfish throughout the summer.
Post-spawn bass have a short route from the spawning sites to summertime residences on this smaller reservoir close to Kansas City.
"There is not much of a transition on Smithville," says David Shaw, who frequently competes in tournaments at Smithville. "The fish usually go out to the points to feed then. You have to move out there with them because they move out pretty quick."
Shaw notes the move after the spawn usually starts about the third week in May. Post-spawn bass will set up about 2 to 6 feet deep along the rock points where Shaw catches them by dragging a Carolina-rigged plastic crawfish, Senko or Zoom Baby Brush Hog in a green pumpkin hue.
If the water level remains stable in May, topwater action can be "really good" during the post-spawn, Shaw says. He likes to throw a bone-colored magnum-sized Yellow Magic topwater popper in the mornings to catch post-spawn bass.
Bass stay shallow on the points for about two to three weeks before moving to brushpiles about 12 feet deep where they remain throughout the summer. "The fish never go deeper than 15 feet here," Shaw says. The local angler probes the brushpiles with Texas-rigged 10-inch plastic worms in black grape/red flake or black-and-blue colors, or a black-and-blue jig with a black-and-blue NetBait Paca Craw Senior trailer.
Because at 7,190 acres Smithville is smaller than the massive reservoirs to the south, the post-spawn occurs at about the same time throughout the entire lake. "The water temperatures here seem to all kind of come together throughout the lake pretty close to the same time," says Shaw. He estimates there might be about a 7- to 10-day difference between the spawning stages of bass from the upper river section to the lower end of the lake.
Shaw has seen some "huge bags" — 18- to 22-pound limits — caught during May tournaments on Smithville. He rates June as the best time to catch large numbers of bass.
The loss of grass the last couple of years and increasing fishing pressure has made the bass fishing tougher on this northwest Missouri lake. Tournament competitor Clint Cochran believes Mozingo's bass frequently can ignore the fake offerings of anglers since the lake's massive shad population provides ample forage for the game fish.
Mozingo bass start leaving their nest in late May when the fish start the transition to the points where they stay for a while at depths of 2 to 4 feet. "The points are the gateway to the summer," Cochran says. He suggests throwing topwaters such as Rebel Pop-Rs and other poppers in the morning and then switch to Rat-L-Trap lipless crankbaits and square-billed crankbaits in shad colors to catch these shallow post-spawn fish later in the day.
In early June the fish move deeper to standing timber and brushpiles on the same points where they will stay throughout summer. Cochran catches these fish by Carolina-rigging a watermelon/red-flake Zoom Baby Brush Hog or a black-and-blue 3/4-ounce football jig tipped with a Tightline UV soft-plastic trailer.
Despite the tough fishing at Mozingo last year, Cochran reported Missouri Department of Conservation electrofishing surveys indicate the lake still contains a good population of bass. Cochran suggests anglers can catch 3- to 4-pound largemouths during the post-spawn period. The local angler considers catching 5 to 10 bass of all sizes a good day of fishing during the post-spawn at Mozingo.