When you see bass fry riding high in the water column, it’s time to fish a topwater lure. B.A.S.S. Elite angler Zell Rowland says the post-spawn is prime time for his style of bass fishing.

“The easiest time to catch bass on topwater is when males are up protecting fry,” Rowland says. “During the post-spawn, they are constantly running bluegill and other predators away from the bed or the fry. They even have to protect them from the big females. This makes both the males and big females susceptible to a topwater bait, but 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 it focuses all fish activity in the top few feet of the water column.

Post-spawn bass fishing starts at the spawning areas. It may be a classic spawning bay, but if that’s not available, Rowland says bass use whatever is available.

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 move to adjacent drop-offs to suspend and recuperate.

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

Rowland says the best way to catch these big females is to position the boat to make long casts along the drop. He likes a lure that makes maximum surface disturbance when retrieved slowly.

“One of my favorite baits when the fish are shallow is the Smithwick Devil’s Horse,” he said. “With a Devil’s Horse or Heddon 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. 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.”

As the fry grow the male backs off, then joins the crowd of predators chasing and eating the young fish. About this time shad begin spawning, adding more shallow-water activity that keeps bass focused on the top of the water column. Bass are recovered and chasing bait, so Rowland switches to an active topwater.
 
 “My favorite baits then are those that I can move quicker, like the Rebel Pop-R, XCaibur Zell Pop or the Zara Spook,” Rowland said. “I can fish these baits on deeper inclines, too.”

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.”

Rowland says that making adjustments and “listening to the fish” is key to catching post-spawn largemouth bass on topwater. If he sees fish chasing baitfish in the shallows he’s more inclined to work a moving bait rather than one with a slow, twitch-and-pause retrieve. A calm, bluebird day may prompt him to slow down. Tiny fry and clear water calls for a small, clear topwater the fish can’t see as well.

One detail he likes when fish need a little extra convincing to strike is the feathered back treble on the Zell Pop, a bait he designed. 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.

“That feathered hook means a lot,” says Rowland. “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. A feather shuts down quickly on the twitch then starts to re-open as the bait is sitting there. It adds a lot of action without the angler doing anything.”

He also alters the action of a bait like the Pop-R or Zell Pop by moving the knot up or down on the line tie. With the knot at the top of the line tie, the bait skips lightly on the surface, but when positioned at the bottom it prompts the bait to chug deeper and create more surface disturbance.

Line type and size also is important to topwater fishing, according to Rowland, who almost always throws topwaters on a copolymer or mono line. Fluorocarbon and braided lines have sinking properties that pull the nose the bait downward and affect the action. Line diameter matters, too.

“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 with different diameters, to change the speed or action of a bait.”

The post-spawn period is brief, stretching to several weeks at most. 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 must 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 to spawning shad, bluegill, and other options.

“The big thing to remember is to always be looking for clues,” he said. “You will see balls of bass fry, bass chasing fry and all kinds of signs to tell you what size topwater to throw and how fast to work it.

“That’s why we have 500 lures in our tackle boxes.”