Crankbait niches for postspawn bass

Elite Series pro Mark Menendez of Paducah, Ky., has an almost-sinister tone in his voice when he talks about catching postspawn bass. "This is payback time. It's when you can get even for all those tough, slow-bite days during other times of the year."

He explains, "When the big sows leave their nests and start back toward deep water, oftentimes they school together in predictable locations. Also, they're hungry from not feeding during the egg-laying process. So, if you can find a cluster of these big girls and pull the right bait through them, you can catch 'em so fast it'll make your head spin! This is a pattern every angler should know and put to use as the spawning period is winding down." Here is Menendez's advice on how to take advantage of this very opportune situation.

The first piece in this puzzle is location. He continues, "The place to find these fish is on the first prominent breakline out from their spawning area. This might be a ditch or creek channel that runs through a bay. It might be a ledge across the mouth of a silted-in bay where no channel exists. It might be a bar that runs out from the head or tail of a bluff or maybe the edge of a grassline. It can be any bottom structure that offers the first noticeable dropoff from the fish's spawning area. These are the types of places the big females go first when they exit shallow water."

Further, Menendez says anglers should look for the "spot on the spot," an unusual feature that can attract a buildup of these postspawn bass. "This could be a sharp bend in a channel, the end of a bar, a stump or brushpile on a dropoff, a change in bottom content from sand or mud to gravel — anything that's different that the fish might relate to in their migration toward deep water."

When practicing for a tournament, Menendez spends hours idling his boat and scanning with his electronics to locate likely spots. His game plan is to put together a "milk run" of six to seven of the best such places to focus his fishing attention.

This is where he gets innovative. "To fish these spots, I'll rig five to 10 rods with the same bait (Strike King Series 6 diving crankbait) but in different colors (variations of shad and chartreuse patterns). I'll also rig with 8-, 10- and 12-pound-test monofilament to match different depths of those first breaks I'm focusing on."

"Now, here's what's important!" Menendez emphasizes. "I'll fish each of these spots thoroughly, and when I get a bite, I'll play the fish in and hurry to replicate that exact same cast. There's probably more than one big fish on that spot — remember, now the big females are in schools, and the ones still down there are probably excited. So, I might hand my rod to my partner (if in a team tourney) and let him take the fish off, or I might put the fish in the livewell without unhooking the bait and pick up another rod for a quick repeat cast."

Menendez says when they catch a lunker, many anglers stop to admire the fish, take a photo and do a high-five with their partner. This allows time for the boat to drift and the angler to lose his alignment for the next cast.

He stresses, "It's crucial to not waste time and repeat the exact same cast in terms of direction, distance and retrieve speed. If it worked on the first fish, it'll likely work on the second and maybe a third and a fourth. You just keep the action going as long as it will."

When he hooks a fish, and as soon as he has it under control, Menendez does three things. He tosses a marker overboard, punches the waypoint button on his GPS and takes a quick visual reference on a distant object on the bank. All these efforts combine to help him cast along the same line as soon as that fish is boated.

"It can be pandemonium when you find a concentration of these big postspawn females," he continues. "Once I was fishing a tournament on Kentucky Lake in late May, and my partner and I found such a school. The first bass I caught was an 8-pounder. I gave the fish and my rod to my partner, and I picked up another rod and made a follow-up cast that yielded a 7-pounder. The next fish was a 5-pounder. My partner was taking care of the fish and culling. I caught 32 pounds, 5 ounces in around 4 minutes. It was fast and furious, but not surprising considering the circumstances.

"In fact, we didn't win that tournament," Menendez adds with a note of irony.

"Another team caught over 37 pounds in 5 minutes from a similar spot,"

When he finds such a school of fish and action slows down, Menendez shifts to "alternative tactics" to glean every bite possible from it. He says, "I'll change to a different-colored crankbait. I'll try different casting angles (but only after the bite slows).

I'll alter my retrieve. Instead of a steady retrieve, I might try ripping the bait — stopping it dead, letting it pause, then pulling like I'm setting the hook. Sometimes this will trigger a following fish into biting."

In the course of a fishing day, Menendez will circulate through his "milk run" of spots several times. "The first time or two you run through them, you might not get a bite. This is when you have to keep the faith and stick with your game plan. I don't know why, but on the third or fourth rotation, you might hit a spot, and the fish will be ganged up on it, and you'll load up in a hurry.

"That's the way this pattern is. You can go from zero to hero real fast. You just have to keep your confidence up and your bait in the water. Sooner or later, chances are very good that you'll hit a honey hole. That's the way postspawn fishing is, and that's why I love it so much."

Tackle Tricks

Mark Menendez likes to provide bass with a bigger bull's-eye when they're aiming at his crankbaits.

He explains, "I carry a black permanent marker in my boat, and I always enlarge the eyes on my crankbaits. I make the eyes the size of my little fingernail — much larger than comes on the lures. Experience has proven that this increases the number of strikes I get, and more strikes come on the front treble, just under the eye, which usually produces a more solid hook set than the back treble."

Menendez says several times he and a boat partner have fished the same spot, the same way with the same exact bait, except his had enlarged eyes, and he outcaught his partner 10 to 1. "The only difference was the bait's eyes. I really believe in this. This is a simple tip that I'm convinced will increase anybody's catch rate with crankbaits."

Gear To Grab

When facing postspawners, don't fail to pack this equipment:

Strike King Series 6 crankbait

Strike King Zero

8- to 12-pound-test mono

30-pound braided line

Postspawn Milk Run

First prominent breakline near spawning area

Sharp bend in a channel

Stump or brushpile on a dropoff

Change in bottom from mud to gravel

The very backs of pockets

Shallow docks near deep water

Run-and-Gun Casting to Shallow Cover

A good alternative pattern for the postspawn is what Mark Menendez describes as his "weekender special." He explains,"This is a good pattern for anglers who don't have a lot of time to search for the big females concentrated on the drops and ledges. It's one anybody can run with a high expectation of getting a bunch of bites."

Specifically, Menendez says when the spawn is winding down, head to the backs of pockets and spawning flats, turn the trolling motor on high, and start casting to any likely cover where still-shallow bass might be holding. "I like to fish floating worms and Strike King Zeros rigged wacky style if the cover's not too thick." (If it is thick, he rigs his Zero Texas-style so it won't stay hung up.)

He continues, "I do this with a 6-6 (Pflueger) medium action spinning rod and a reel rigged with 30-pound braided line. I concentrate on skipping my bait beneath overhanging bushes, docks, willow trees, fallen trees and any other overhead cover.

"This time of year bass like to suspend just under the surface to guard fry or to feed. By covering water and making lots of casts, you'll get a lot of bites. Many of these will be smaller fish, but in the course of a day, your chances are good of also running into a spawned-out female that hasn't started her move back to deep water."

Originally published 2008