The spawn comes and goes every year -- and be it good or bad, the fish are still out there waiting for someone to come along and catch them. (May 2008)
Charles Dickens opens his classic A Tale of Two Cities with one of the most memorable lines in English literature: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . "
He was of course writing about the era of the French Revolution -- but his words can be very aptly applied to bass fishing during the annual post-spawn period in Kansas.
Without question, the post-spawn is one of the best times for catching fish. But it's also the worst time for catching truly large bass. For one thing, the biggest bass -- the females -- are recovering from the stress of the annual spawn. For another, even those large bass that do bite are, in many cases, going to look flat-out emaciated as a result of that stress.
The biggest post-spawn bass I've ever caught weighed just a shade over 5 pounds. She had no belly, and looked sick, really. She wasn't, of course: She was just worn out from her species' annual rite of spring.
So how in the world could this be the best of times? The simple answer is that on those lakes with good numbers of bass in the 12-inch-plus range, the odds will be in your favor. Plenty of bass are in the mix in these waters, and you're going to have a chance to enjoy some excellent action using a variety of baits and techniques.
So don't let the post-spawn get you down. Do a little homework and keep an open mind, and there's no reason that you can't boat plenty of bass now.
Let's start with that homework. It involves putting together a list of the Sunflower State's bass waters that offer the kinds of bass quantities that will help put the odds in your favor. There are more of them than you might think, and they come in all sizes.
Fortunately for many Kansas anglers, the top three reservoirs are within easy reach of the greater Kansas City and Wichita areas. El Dorado is only a short drive north up I-35 from Wichita, and it's got good numbers of bass and plenty of great spots from which to fish for them. The Kansas City area provides easy access -- about an hour's drive, sometimes less -- to the other two larger state impoundments with good bass numbers -- Hillsdale and La Cygne.
The former is southwest of town, just south of I-35; the latter is due south along U.S. 69 Highway. Either lake will offer you some good action with post-spawn largemouths this month. Hillsdale's slightly larger, but both should provide you with a chance to get away from other anglers and spend some time working on the resident largemouths.
Many bass fanatics consistently think of and focus on reservoirs no matter the time of year or the sort of activity that the bass are (or aren't) into then. And there's nothing wrong with that, especially for those who don't mind looking at other, smaller options. Kansas offers a wide variety of those in the form of state-managed waters and community-managed lakes.
Among the best of the state fishing lakes for post-spawn bass fishing is Butler SFL, which isn't too far from El Dorado in southern Butler County. Other good bets among state lakes are Brown, Clarke and Lyon SFLs.
These recommendations are based on survey results from the annual fall surveys that state biologists complete for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Especially because it's done annually, the research gives the KDWP the chance to analyze data based on years of cumulative research, not just one-time or hit-and-miss surveys.
The reservoirs and state lakes mentioned above are those in which biologists are finding good numbers of bass during the annual surveys. Choosing any of them as a destination will improve your odds of enjoying a productive post-spawn outing.
That brings us to the community-managed lakes around Kansas. Several should offer good angling prospects for fairly high number of bass over 12 inches: Gardner Lake, on the fringes of the Kansas City area; Antelope Lake, in Graham County; Banner Creek Lake, near Holton inJackson County; Madison City Lake; and Bone Creek Lake, just north of Pittsburg in southeast Kansas.
Bone Creek may very well be the best of those, primarily because of its location. Heading down there also gets you close to a multitude of reclaimed strip-mine pits that are part of the multiparcel Mined Land Wildlife Area. If you've never fished one of the pits, you just don't know what you're missing. They're exceptional for chunky, admittedly smallish bass that are going to measure 12 to 14 inches and weigh from 1 1/2 to more than 2 pounds. The most productive post-spawn outing I ever had was at a pit.
This month also marks the time that sees Kansas farm ponds really start coming into their own as bass fisheries. And chances are good you might know of at least one that has more bass than it needs. Some landowners welcome anglers interested in thinning out a bass population. Others will provide angling access even if they don't want you keeping what you catch.
Either way, loads of Sunflower State potholes -- the easiest of all waters to fish now, because they're small enough to fish completely -- contain solid numbers of bass willing to bite this month.
At larger lakes, you have to add locating bass to your pre-fishing homework. It's not terribly difficult, but it means you'll spend a little time checking things out before you start casting and retrieving.
Main-lake points are great places to start, but certain secondary points might just be better. If you're familiar with the lake(s) you plan to fish during the post-spawn, chances are good you already know the whereabouts of the usual suspects when it comes to spawning areas: shallow flats and the backs of bays and coves.
Think about the points in those areas. Bass are going to move out to them first after the spawn, and some of them likely will move farther out to main-lake points. On the reservoirs mentioned earlier, one of the best approaches you can take is to start out fishing the secondary points and then move out to the main-lake points nearby.
If you can, you also should spend some time looking at a good topographic map of the reservoirs to see if any easily identifiable submerged structures are present (you'll have to find them using your locator and a map or GPS). Well-known and successful pro angler Penny Berryman introduced me to that concept on a post-spawn outing one May.
"I had a guide show me this spot," Penny said as we came off plane and starte
d idling toward the back of a nondescript cove. "You have to know it's here to find it." Sure enough, in about 15 feet of water, the graph showed a small rockpile. Penny took a chunky bass off it with her first cast, and I did the same.
This month marks the time that sees Kansas farm ponds really start coming into their own as bass fisheries.
From that point on, I never failed to fish that spot during the post-spawn without at least getting a bite. These unknown/harder-to-find pieces of structure can be very productive this month.
Flooded timber can produce, too. Post-spawn bass will often suspend in and around timber now, and you can catch them a few different ways. We'll talk about those techniques later on.
Don't bypass docks, either. Post-spawn bass suspend under docks, and fishing them can be a lot of fun. I've developed a secondary game of sorts when fishing docks that involves trying to guess just where the fish is going to hit. Dock bass are liable to hit anywhere, so you're going to have to be ready for a strike on every cast.
Puzzling over areas to fish gets simpler as you move to smaller lakes. Most Kansas state fishing lakes have a few main-lake points, maybe some manmade rock jetties, and some brushpiles placed to attract and hold fish. All could produce some bass for you now.
Another very productive tactic at the SFLs -- for me, at least -- has involved fishing up into feeder creeks as far as I can. They generally aren't as large as those feeding reservoirs, and you're not likely to be able to fish too far upstream before they grow too narrow and/or shallow for the boat. But until you reach that point, you're going to find bass in shoreline structure and a little deeper relating to structure along the channel.
Some community lakes offer you the best of both worlds. You'll find main-lake and secondary points, some smallish feeder creeks, and boat docks. You can actually spend more time thoroughly fishing waters like Gardner Lake than you can a big reservoir like La Cygne. And the different spots give you opportunities to try different baits and presentations.
Farm ponds, as alluded to earlier, are the easiest to figure out and fish. Just cover all the water. Fish the shoreline; move out deeper; make a pass along the dam. You'll catch bass, and probably figure out in the process a pattern that'll serve you well for the outing.
At first glance, you'd probably expect the same kind of fishing on one of the strip pits on the Mined Land Wildlife Area in southeast Kansas. That's not necessarily the case. As you might guess from the term "pit," most of these small impoundments resemble deep bowls that really don't have leftover structure. Your efforts should focus on shoreline structure and any points that exist. Not all of these potholes are perfectly round and without shoreline "character." Fish the shorelines thoroughly to catch bass.
What should you fish -- and how should you fish it? Options abound, even if the bass are a bit sluggish because of the inevitable post-spawn recovery.
My post-spawn tackle box includes soft plastics that I can fish either Texas-rigged or Carolina-rigged, spinnerbaits, some shallow-running crankbaits and lipless baits like Rat-L-Traps (which I can fish shallow or in deeper water) and some topwater baits. All of them can produce bass now, and you should have them along on a post-spawn outing.
Here's some direction on when and where to fish which lures. As you read what follows, think about the known areas you plan to fish this month. If you can relate certain specific spots to the general information that follows, you'll be ready to catch bass.
Soft plastics are great choices for any of the situations/locations mentioned already, even for suspended fish. For those fish, you can rig a soft-plastic jerkbait and fish it in and around trees on the surface. You also can let the baits sink on the outsides of the trees and coax fish out of the flooded limbs to strike. One advantage to these baits is that you can fish them at practically any speed, so they're as versatile as it gets for post-spawn bass.
Of course, spinnerbaits can be fished in much the same way, so if you prefer them, try them. Pitching them into little cuts of shoreline weeds and rocks can be very productive, as can fishing them around flooded timber. The latter involves positioning your boat so that you can cast the lure beyond your intended target and move it through the structure, pausing when it bumps a limb or tree trunk to let it fall in a wobbly manner before continuing your retrieve.
You can actually spend more time thoroughly fishing waters like Gardner Lake than you can a big reservoir like La Cygne.
The points mentioned earlier are great places for trying crankbaits, which you can use to cover a lot of water effectively. If you get a short-strike or miss a bass, slow down and work the area again more slowly with a Texas-rigged worm or a soft jerkbait. If the point is rocky, you also might want to try a "creature" or crawdad imitation rigged on a stand-up jighead. Bass love crawdads, and crawdads love rocks. Baits like this one work in these kinds of spots.
I like to fish all the way around a point with a worm or crawdad imitation, starting at the back on one side and working out to the tip of the point and back down the other side. A really effective approach is to position your boat so you can just reach the shoreline with a cast. Let the bait slowly fall down the point. Bass often hit baits on the drop in spots like this, so watch your line on the drop for any unnatural twitches.
Set the hook when you see one. You often won't feel these bass strike. Sometimes you'll suddenly notice the line either stop or start moving off. Set the hook when you see this, too.
I prefer natural colors with the worms and crawdad imitations, and with the crankbaits and spinnerbaits. The only exceptions are windy days when the water has churned up a bit, or after heavy rains when it's going to be off color. During these times, I tend to stick with the spinnerbaits or crankbaits, and I'll go with chartreuse or other bright colors.
If you find yourself fishing for post-spawn bass on a windy day, spinnerbaiting windblown banks can be productive. The natural motion of wind-spawn chop will often push baitfish into those banks, and that can turn even sluggish post-spawn bass on. Spinnerbaits are great choices under these conditions.
Save the topwater lures for early and late in the day. They really come into their own during the first and last hours of daylight -- even sooner in the afternoon, based on personal experience.
Earlier I mentioned that the best post-spawn bass outing that I've ever enjoyed occurred on a strip pit. That day involved two very basic techniques that produced more than a hundred bass between 12 and 14 inches. It was a spectacular day of fishing.
The pit I fished was crystal-clear, so I opted for a "finesse" Carolina rig. Using a spinning outfit spooled with 8-pound line, I crimped on a couple of split shot about 18 inches above my worm hook and then rigged a 4-inch straight worm on that hook. I caught a bass on my first cast -- and things picked up from there!
Throughout the day, this rig and technique produced bass on every single style and color of soft plastic I had on the trip. Natural colors, fluorescent colors, weird colors -- even bubble gum -- produced dozens and dozens of largemouths.
Then, a little after 5 that afternoon, I looked up just in time to see a swirl in the surface film along the far shoreline. I caught one more bass on the Carolina rig, which I then retired in favor of a topwater popper -- specifically, the smallest-sized Pop-R, in fire-tiger. Shadows were growing long as the late-spring sun sank closer to the western horizon. I figured that the bright pattern would work -- and, boy, did it!
The last couple of hours of that trip were more memorable than any other bass trip I've ever made, because the fish just plain cooperated. Every spot that I thought would produce a bite did! Dozens more largemouths fell to the topwater, which I fished until it was too dark to see.
I like to fish all the way around a point with a worm or crawdad imitation, starting at the back on one side and working out to the tip of the point and back down the other side.
This was all shoreline fishing. At larger reservoirs, flooded timber offers the prospect of outstanding morning and afternoon/evening topwater action. "Walking" baits like the venerable Zara Spook are very effective fished in and around flooded trees and brush, and also along the edges of docks. Poppers will catch bass in places like these, but my experience has been that walking a topwater in these spots is more effective than fishing a popping one.
What about buzzbaits, you ask? Oh, yeah: They're good when post-spawn bass are hitting topwaters, and may be the best baits to choose when there's more than a little chop on the water. Conditions like this seem to reduce the appeal of walking or popping baits, but buzzbaits make enough racket to attract consistent attention.
For a more subtle approach, try a soft-plastic jerkbait fished just under the surface. You'll encounter bass that will come up from their suspended hideouts to strike. And if the fish are still really feeling the effects of the spawn -- in other words, they're sluggish -- you can fish a soft jerkbait slowly enough to improve your chances.