Denny Brauer didn't get his face on the Wheaties box by accident. The former Lake of the Ozarks guide climbed the ladder to bass superstardom by fishing hard and smart—and taking seemingly everyday presentations a step or two beyond the competition.
His postspawn topwater approach, for example, involves far more than simply chunking surface baits down the shore. Location, bait selection and presentation are all carefully weighed in his quest for the most bass possible any given day.
“After the spawn, the fish are scattered and can be tough to find,” says Brauer, a 12-time winner on the B.A.S.S. trail, past Classic champ and the first angler to break the $1 million dollar mark in career winnings. “Topwaters are a good tool to find and catch them.”
He begins his search by locating spawning areas, preferably the actual beds. Gradually tapering, hard bottoms in protected pockets are good places to look. When he finds bedding areas, Denny doesn't dally; the bass are gone, and this is just a starting point.
“Postspawn bass move off the beds to the nearest cover or structure they can find. In my home lakes of Missouri, they leave protected pockets and move out onto secondary points—especially those with timber. This is particularly true on Truman. On Table Rock and Lake of the Ozarks, you'll find bass around docks. On other lakes, the inside weedline is the best place in the early postspawn. Later on, the outside edge can be key.”
The point is to analyze the lake and assess which location choices bass have when coming off their beds, then fish the most promising areas first.
Time of day isn't a huge factor. “In the postspawn, topwaters can be good all day,” says Brauer. But sun conditions can be key. “If it's clear and sunny, the bass will be tucked into the cover, or deeper on the structure.
“Now's the time to fish noisier baits and slower retrieves. When the sun is low in the sky, or it's cloudy, bass will cruise over the tops of weeds and higher off structure, so you can fish a faster presentation that's not as loud.”
Lure style selection is also critical. “Spook-style walking baits call fish from deep water, and are better in clear and calm situations,” he explains. “Chuggers are good shallow, in stained water and when you're on numbers of smaller bass. A propbait is a good choice in muddy or choppy water, and at night. Crawlers are good night and dirty-water lures, too.”
When it comes to color, Brauer warns, “Don't get hung up on shad patterns. Bass have been protecting their beds from perch and bluegills, and these colors work well. Also, your lures should have brighter tones in stained water, more natural shades in clear conditions.”
Brauer recommends Mustad Thor Ultra Line in 14- to 17-pound test—no heavier than 20—for chuggers. Walking baits call for a bit lighter, 12- to 17-pound test, and, “Any lure you stop a lot should be on 10- to 12-pound line,” he says, adding, “Never use fluorocarbon with a topwater, because it'll sink.
“I use a Palomar knot for topwaters except with chuggers,” he adds. “Then I tie an improved clinch because I can keep the knot low on the pull point, for best action. In fact, if all of a sudden your chugger isn't working, check the knot. You may have to slide it down a bit.”
Brauer recommends a 7-foot rod, for long casts and taking up line on the hookset. “You want a fast tip with crisp action,” he says. “But you don't want it too stiff, either, or you'll take the bait away from the bass on the strike.”
Any bassman worth his salt knows there's room to get creative with a topwater retrieve. Brauer recommends varying retrieve speed, as well as the number, frequency and duration of pauses.
“Let the fish tell you what they want at the moment,” he says. “For example, if you stop your bait and a bass hits while the lure is motionless, you should add more pauses to your presentation. But if a fish hits while you're moving the bait, speed up and stop less.”
Brauer also watches where strikes come from. “Postspawn bass are scattered, so you won't find a school in one spot. But the fish will position the same way on structure or cover throughout a lake. For example, one morning the key spot to fish may be the shady side of the dock, or the rungs of the ladder—if there is one—or cracks between sections on floating docks. Once you figure out the pattern, you can key on high-percentage spots.”
Drawing strikes is only half the game. Knowing when to set the hook is also critical. “You can't jump when a bass explodes on your lure,” he says. “Instead, react to tension on your line. Even when a bass strikes, keep working the bait until you feel the weight of the fish; if a bass misses, it may strike again if you keep the lure moving.”
Conversely, waiting too long is just as bad as setting early. “Give a bass too much time and that topwater is going to float back up at you,” he laughs.
How you hold the rod during the retrieve can also play a big role in a successful hookset. “If you hold the rod low to the water in front of you, you'll have a better chance at a good set than with the rod up at 10 o'clock, or off to the side.”
With the tip low, Brauer holds the rod butt against his forearm for leverage and executes a strong, upward-sweeping set. “Just be careful about that bait coming back at you wide open.”
Once a bass is hooked, keep the rod low to keep it from jumping. “If you feel the fish coming up, pull it sideways to stop the jump,” he says. “Sometimes a bit less tension on the line will also make a fish go back down; the key is not getting any slack in the line.”
For solid sets and control during the fight, Brauer favors a tight drag, even with 10-pound line. “With a good bass, though, you should back off on the drag or thumb the spool when it gets close, because it's going to run when it sees the boat,” he says. “If it runs on a tight drag, it might break the line or tear the hooks out.”
Just another pointer in Brauer's total topwater attack. Try it yourself this postspawn and put more bass in your boat.