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Strategies for the post spawn
Two completely opposite jerkbait strategies
One of the toughest bites during the spawn period generally occurs during post spawn, and in some cases the fish have shut down and take up to 3 or 4 weeks to recover from their spawn activities. Although lethargic they are also in desperate need of sustenance. This is where their natural instinct comes into play; we can take advantage of it by using various reaction baits to force them to eat. One of my personal favourite techniques is fishing jerkbaits in dams with weed beds. It is a very well-known pre-spawn technique but most people overlook it at other times of the year. Other baits I like to throw during post spawn include frogs, poppers and spinnerbaits. I will breakdown the various factors that I take into consideration when trying to figure out how to catch the fish on a jerkbait in post spawn conditions.
One of the very effective techniques I have used over the years is a finesse approach to jerkbaiting. I use spinning rods and light line with small jerkbaits that mimic the natural bait in the dam or river that I am fishing. I use a 7’2 foot rod with a very soft tip and quite a lot of backbone, the reason for this is due to 3 main reasons – firstly having to cast small baits very far the soft tip gives a good flicking action and the backbone of the rod gives the cast some power. Secondly when retrieving the bait, having a soft tip helps to soften the effect of the twitch you impart on the lure; a small jerkbait needs very small twitches to give it a good action - many people twitch is too hard and vigorously and the bait won’t be as effective as it should be.
“If the water is very clear I usually find that the fish will move quite a large distance to eat the bait - if they can see it, they eat it!”
Thirdly with using a very small bait the hooks are very thin and can bend and be ripped out of the fish’s mouth if you don’t play it carefully to the boat – the soft tip will help tremendously when the fish makes strong surges right at the boat as the hooks can pop out very easily if too much pressure is applied.
Line is also very important - I use 6lb or 8lb fluorocarbon line, the reason being that it gives the lure a much better action than monofilament, and it is also better casting than the monofilament line. The fluorocarbon also sinks which keeps your bait at a better depth.
In terms of the structure that I target with this technique, I will usually fish isolated patches of weed or any other isolated structure – if the water is very clear I usually find that the fish will move quite a large distance to eat the bait - if they can see it, they eat it! If the water is not clear but is clear enough to fish a jerkbait I will generally make sure my casting is pin- point accurate to ensure that the bait is as close to the strike zone as possible. I usually avoid fishing close to heavy cover with this technique. Although I have managed to land many fish over the 2kg mark using this technique, I have also attempted to be brave but more often than not it ended in tears. Whenever I cast to a piece of structure I assume that there is a big fish waiting, this already starts the thought process of how I am going to get the fish away from the structure – I avoid fishing light line around structure without a game plan.
A very effective way to get the fish to react to the bait is to get the lure to bounce off the structure/weed, or you can rip the bait out of the structure/weed.
This often triggers a very aggressive strike and the fish can wrap you up very quickly if you are not prepared for what is going to happen.
In terms of exactly which baits to use there are many brands that make good baits that cater for this finesse approach. Lucky Craft, Rapala, Spro, IMA and Norries are just a few examples. I prefer to keep the size of the baits to smaller than about 7cm or less. When you twitch the bait you want to make sure that it is moving with short continuous twitches and pausing next to the structure that you are targeting. It is important to cast more than once at a piece of structure - I generally try to cover it from all angles, and if pausing the bait next to the structure doesn’t work it is always a good idea to try a continuous fast twitch past the structure.
The name describes this technique very well, namely fishing a jerkbait with an extreme amount of hard twitching – if your wrist is not sore the following day you are doing it wrong! For this technique I generally use bigger jerkbaits, and the key is a fast and very erratic retrieve that can only be done by twitching the bait as hard as possible. I generally use a very high ratio reel and a 6’6 or 6ft rod with a medium action as you need some back bone to fight the fish and to pull it away from the structure. I use 12lb to 15lb fluorocarbon line as it helps with twitching because of the low stretch factor, and I also find that I can cast a bit further with it because it is a bit heavier.
The bait itself should have very sharp hooks - I usually change the standard trebles to trebles that I think are very sharp and have a lot of ‘hold’,(keep an eye out for an up-coming article on trebles). When using this technique in post spawn, I will target different depths so logically I will have 2 rods rigged – one with a deep diving jerkbait and the other with a standard jerkbait.
Some of the fish will come from offshore isolated structure and other fish can be caught in shallower water around isolated structure too. The key is to target specific isolated structure, whether it is a big boulder surrounded by various types of weed, a break in a deep weed line or a barren bank with isolated weed clumps, or timber and weed combined. These are just general combinations where I have found post spawn fish relating to. It is important to target these structures and refine exactly where the fish are positioned and how they want the bait to be presented. If I battle to find isolated structure I will fish parallel to deep weed lines and steep banks as the post spawn fish often school on the edge of weed lines to target schools of baitfish that frequent the deeper weed edges – this way you can make 10 casts and catch ten fish in a very small area.
In terms of the colour of the jerkbaits, I keep it simple and use natural colours, but also one or two bright colours (clown, white or chrome) that can trigger fish into biting if they do not react to natural colours. The general sizes of the jerkbaits I use are from 12cm to 15cm - you will be surprised how easily even a small fish can engulf your whole jerkbait, leaving you with a surgery session to deal with.
The cadence that you use when fishing these jerkbaits will vary depending on conditions - I will vary the cadence until I have caught a number of fish doing a very similar retrieve. Much like the finesse jerkbaiting, I will always pause my bait at some point during the retrieve, usually next to the structure I am targeting, or if it’s a weed-line I am fishing I will make sure the bait is at its maximum depth and then pause it. I generally find that if the fish are well into post spawn a fast and very erratic retrieve with no pauses will work best.
Fish care when fishing jerkbaits:
It is extremely important to be careful when landing fish on a jerkbait. Two basic rules that I see many people break are firstly, holding the line while trying to safely hold the fish’s bottom lip and avoiding the many treble hooks, and secondly swinging the fish onto the deck of the boat with the fish shaking its head and damaging itself and the deck carpets. To land the fish I prefer to hold the rod in my left hand, taking up the slack so that you have about 4ft of line from the tip of your rod to the fish. I wet my free hand and use my thumb and middle finger to firmly hold the fish from the top just behind its gills. This enables you to keep your hands far away from the trebles and is a lot less stressful and safer for the fish; you can do this with fish up to the 2kg mark - obviously depending on how big your hands are. If the fish is bigger, using a net is the best way to ensure the fish ends up in the boat, but it can also damage the fish if the trebles get snagged. Fish often go crazy when they are in a net and can rip trebles and damage themselves as well as create a huge tangle with your net and jerkbait.
Another important issue is the removal of these trebles - I have seen many fish with badly deformed mouths due to people ripping out lures. Having a good quality pair of long nose pliers on the deck can help remove the hooks without damaging the fish too much.