Small Waters Strategies – post-spawn bass

Small Waters Strategies – post-spawn bass

May 15, 2013

Zell tells all! Post-spawn topwater tips from Zell Rowland

By Abe Smith

Fry riding high is a sure sign that bass will bust a surface lure! The master of “pop” and “tops” tells what it takes to catch them.

Zell Rowland rarely misses a window of opportunity to fish a topwater lure.

And that window is wide open during the bass’s post-spawn period.

“The easiest time to catch bass on topwater is when males are up protecting fry,” proclaims the man that many consider the all-time best topwater angler to ever fish the pro circuit. “During the post-spawn, they are constantly running bluegill and other predators away from the bed or the fry. The females will be up and swimming around also, and they will feed on fry as well. So this can be an easy time to catch the big ones, too…But, you know, I would hate to be a bass fry!”

That male bass is a fry’s only protection from predation in those early days following the spawn, and those high-riding fry with their cruising protectors turn the attention of bass and angler alike to the surface.

High bank vs. broad flat

Zell first zeroes in on the type of spawning area he is fishing.

Popping and chugging baits are "must-haves" when pursuing post-spawn bass.

Bass don’t always have classic spawning bays to perform their annual rite of reproduction. On reservoirs with a lot of structure and quick-tapered banks, like Georgia’s Lake Lanier, for example, bass often spawn on or near tapered banks. While males guard fry, females may have moved only to adjacent dropoffs.

“Lanier has always been one of my favorite lakes to fish because it is a lake made for me to catch four- and five-pounders,” says Zell. “I can go around that lake and visually identify those 90-degree dropoffs off shallow flats where I know the female will be laying.”

Such conditions call for long casts along the breakline. With sufficient water clarity, depth is no object, even to recuperating females.

“Those fish will come up 10 to 20 feet to hit a bait,” says Zell.

Propeller baits are top producers on shallow spawners.

“One of my favorite baits when the fish are shallow is the (Smithwick) Devil’s Horse,” says Zell. “With a Devil’s Horse or Heddon Torpedo or Tiny Torpedo, I can control the distance the bait moves by bending the blades forward or backward. When I bend the blades forward, I can jerk the bait 10 times and still move it only a foot to two feet. That way, I can keep the bait around the target – a bush, a rock…something I can see. The bait creates commotion, but it barely moves!”

Shallow post-spawn bass are very aggressive, notes Zell, and they will come quickly to a bait.

Many anglers rank Zell Rowland as the best topwater angler on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour.

Later in the post-spawn period, males begin separating themselves from the fry and chasing them like shad, which also come into play as their spawn takes place.

“My favorite baits then are those that I can move, like the Rebel Pop-R and the (XCaibur) Zell Pop or the Zara Spook,” says Zell.  “I can fish these baits on deeper inclines, too.”

Zell keeps his bait moving when fish are on the ledges.

“One thing a bass can’t stand is the sight of an injured bluegill or shad that isn’t moving too far because it is easy prey,” he says. “I won’t hesitate in the retrieve very often like I would if I were fishing shallow around cover.”

Lure and size selection often correspond to the reservoir he’s fishing and the size of the forage.

“At Sam Rayburn, the shad are bigger than they are at a lake like Lanier,” he says. “A lake with smaller baitfish is where smaller topwaters like the Tiny Torpedo come into play.”

“Feathering” the bait

Feathered tail hooks add a dimension to topwater baits, especially during the post-spawn period.

“That feathered hook means a lot,” says Zell. “I have always believed that if I am hesitating that bait even for a moment, I can almost make a fish bite it with that feathered trailer.”

Don't underestimate the value of a feathered tail hook on topwater lures.

A feather is “lightning fast” in how it opens and closes, notes Zell. Even when he is barely turning the reel handle, the feather adds pulsating action.

“A feather shuts real quickly then slowly starts to re-open as the bait is sitting there,” he says. “It adds a lot of action without the angler doing anything!”

He adds a feathered tail hook even to baits on which they are not standard.

“I put a feathered trailer on a Zara Spook all the time,” he says. “You really want it there when the fish are not quite as aggressive as you’d like.”

He always opts for twin-colored feathers, and one color is always white.

“I always put the white feather facing down,” he explains. “All fish have dark backs and light-colored bellies.”

What’s my line?

Fluorocarbon is never an option on topwater lures. The high-density line sinks and pulls the nose of the bait downward, restricting its action. Monofilament line floats or sinks very slowly, facilitating the action of topwater lures.

Line diameter matters, too.

The Heddon Zara Spook defined the walk-the-dog bait concept, and it remains one of the deadliest topwater lures ever.

“The biggest thing to remember is that lighter line allows you to get more action out of the bait,” says Zell. “A heavier line delivers less. That is why I always spool up several rods to change the speed or action of a bait.”

Short but sweet

This post-spawn period is brief, stretching to several weeks at most. After a week or 10 days after the spawn, even the males turn on their fry, preparing the little guys for the “eat-or-get-eaten” world they will need to adapt to if they are going to survive. Fry head to shoreline cover, and the adult bass’s attention may fix on a wide array of foods from the fry themselves to spawning shad, bluegill, and other options.

“The big thing to remember is to always let your eyes do the looking for you,” says Zell. “You will see balls of bass fry, bass chasing fry like they chase shad, and all kinds of signs of what size topwater to throw.”

Time to open up the tackle trays and dial ‘em in!

“That’s why we have 500 lures in our tackle boxes,” laughs Zell.  “And have a lot of sizes of topwater lures to choose from, too – small, medium and large.”

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