Pete Ponds worked the edge of an emerging grass line with a favorite popper while searching for hungry post-spawn bass. An errant cast sent the lure a few feet further into the grass than he planned, but he simply started popping the lure back to the edge of the grass.
It never reached the grass line.
BAM! A monster bass erupted from the salad patch and crushed his popper. It only took a few minutes for the B.A.S.S. Elite Series angler to wear down the trophy bass and another lunker had fallen victim to a Scum Frog Popper.
“When I’m fishing for fun during the month of May I like to use a couple different baits,” said Ponds, of Madison. “I like to use a Pop-R and a Scum Frog Popper, which is a popping frog. I’ll use the Pop-R when I want to catch numbers of fish, and I’ll use the Scum Frog Popper when I want to target big post spawn bass.”
There’s just something different about a popping lure that entices bass into striking when they might not be feeding aggressively, and Ponds prefers using both lures when the situation is right for either.
“If you have a lot of vegetation in the lake, or area you’re fishing, then the Scum Frog Popper is definitely a go-to bait, because it is weedless and can be fished in any type of grass like we have here in Mississippi,” Ponds said. “The Scum Frog Popper is so versatile and you have no down time during any cast.
“If you cast a Pop-R type lure and try to work it through grass, it’s just not going to work. But, if you use the Scum Frog Popper you can work it over and through almost any type vegetation and when you clear the vegetation you can keep on working it to the boat. The action is similar to a Pop-R, so there’s no wasted time during a retrieve.”
According to Ponds the versatility of the Scum Frog Popper is the key during May when the bass are relating to any shallow cover that they can find.
“I’ll take that Popper frog and skip it under docks, around brush and into any cover I can find and it’s equally effective, really deadly,” said Ponds.
If you’re looking for fantastic bone crushing action, then look no further than a Scum Frog Popper. When it comes to colors, Ponds said it’s pretty simple.
“I’ll use either a black, or a white Scum Frog, depending upon the conditions at the time,” Ponds said. “All real frogs have the same basic color on their belly so I think it’s a matter of personal preference. I’d recommend choosing frog colors based on the person’s individual preference, their confidence color, and just go fishing.”
Ponds also relies heavily on another Scum Frog version, which he puts to work in areas with scattered vegetation and more open water. And he walks it like a dog all the way to the boat.
“Scum Frog has also come out with a new smaller version of one of their better frogs called a Small Dog, and it’s also good during this month,” said Ponds. “I’ve caught so many bass on that frog; it’s just another great addition to your arsenal.”
“When I’m fishing frogs in scattered grass and open water I’ll use 30-pound braid on a 7-foot, 3-inch heavy action Duckett White Ice rod,” Ponds said. “When I’m fishing the really thick pads, or vegetation, I’ll use a 7-foot, 6-inch Duckett heavy action rod with 65-pound braid to help me get that bass out in a hurry, or hold him tight until I can get to him.”
Ponds on Pop-R’s
When Ponds is chasing numbers of post-spawn fish, he goes to his old reliable lure.
“Any time I want to catch numbers of fish during May on topwater I’m going to use a Pop-R,” he said. “I’ll use a Rebel Pop-R and I also like the Bass Pro Shops Excalibur Pop-R.”
Although there are a number of brands and slightly different versions of the Pop-R on the market there is one thing Ponds always looks for when purchasing one of these lures.
“I want to fish a Pop-R with feathers and not the nylon dressing on the rear hook,” Ponds said. “The feathers have better action and usually those versions will have better hooks as well. The feathers also will give the lure a little movement as it comes to rest.”
As for lure color, Pond’s prefers a natural shad pattern simply because that’s what they’re usually feeding on when they hit Pop-Rs, and it has produced year after year.
“I prefer a slick finish on the water when fishing these lures, too,” Ponds said. “I want to scan the water and look for any movement or action on the water surface, from shad, baitfish or bass, anything that might reveal the presence of fish. I’ll concentrate on those areas and actually try to cast to the area when I see movement.”
Ponds uses all of his senses including his ears when searching for those intangible things on the water.
“I’ll listen for bream sucking or popping and look for insect hatches like mayflies, anything that may give away their location and tell me that there’s food in the area,” said Ponds. “Bass are going to follow the food source and that’s where you need to fish.
“Nature’s going to tell you when to use that Pop-R and that’s usually early and late in the day. But, sometimes they’ll bite a Pop-R all day long and you need to be prepared to fish the lure as long as they’ll bite it. If you find a mayfly hatch, or some other opportune food source that they’re feeding on during the day, then pull that bait out and give it a try. It might mean the difference between catching a boatload of topwater bass, or nothing at all.”
When it comes to working a Pop-R, Ponds said you’ve got to be open to what the fish want that particular day.
“I think cadence is the key point when retrieving a popping bait,” he said. “I’ll use three short pops and then pause followed by one pop; three short pops and one pop, over and over —bloop, bloop, bloop, pause, bloop … bloop, bloop, bloop, pause, bloop. I will keep that cadence if the bass are striking it.”
On some days the bass want something different in the retrieve and that’s when you need to be looking for what they want and try different retrieves until you find the one that works best.
“Pay attention to what the fish are doing, especially when the lure is stopped,” said Ponds. “Most of my bites come when the bait is stopped.”
Ponds’ Pop-R tips
“On a Pop-R I want to use a 6-foot, 10-inch rod with a soft tip,” Ponds said. “If you don’t have a soft tip you’re probably going to pull that lure out of their mouth and miss a hook up.”
Another key thing to remember is how to set the hook.
“You don’t need to set the hook like you normally would on other type baits,” said Ponds. “In fact, you’re not really setting the hook hard at all. Just keep working that Pop-R when they strike and just tighten up on it and keep on working it.
“All you have to do is stop reeling when you feel pressure, and the bass will set the hook for you.”
Flanagan gets ‘Spooky’
Jenifer Flanagan worked a Zara Spook rhythmically in a walk-the-dog action across the smooth surface of a lake during a post-spawn trip in search of a lunker bass. She didn’t have to wait long.
BAM! A ravenous bass crushed the Spook and bore down into the dark water seeking sanctuary from the rising sun. Flanagan reared back and drove the steel hook deep into the jaws of the bass, and it fought wildly against the stinging hooks.
It was nip and tuck for a bit, but Flanagan wore the bass down and landed. Seconds later she was gently releasing the bass back into the water to live and grow.
Flanagan, an avid angler who cut her teeth on bass fishing with her dad, is now manager over the fishing department at Bass Pro Shops in Pearl and is a credit to all anglers, as well as to her profession. Not only is she knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but she’s also a talented angler who loves to catch bass and spread her knowledge to others as well.
“I love to fish a Spook after the spawn and just watch those hungry bass smash the lure,” said Flanagan. “There’s nothing quite like watching a massive bass explode through the surface and just crush that bait.”
Yes indeed, Flanagan just loves to go to almost any lake after the spawn and walk the dog, with her Zara Spook, of course.
“That’s just something I like to use after the spawn when the bass are going back into that feeding mode,” she said. Those 4- to 6-pounders are tantalized by the side to side action of the walk the dog retrieval and they can hardly resist such a tempting offering.
“It takes some practice to get walking the dog down pat, but once you do you can really whack some good bass with it. One day my dad and I were fishing and the bite was slow so we just spent the evening perfecting our walk the dog technique.”
It has paid off handsomely for this talented lady angler, but it isn’t the only trick up the sleeve of her fishing shirt.
“Sometimes I’ll just have an idea and make a change on a hunch,” Flanagan said. “I’ll see a lure like a trick worm and think I need to try it and it works.”
Working a trick worm is not something many people equate with topwater angling, but it fits right in with her style.
“A trick worm is one of my favorites and I can work it fast right across the top of the water and it gives a different look to the bass than they normally see,” Flanagan said. “They’ll strike hard when it’s worked on the top, just like a hard-bodied topwater lure. And if they’re striking short, or the bite falls off, you can simply let it sink slowly. I’ll work it fast across the top, right on the surface and then let it fall and that’s when they eat it.”
Flanagan prefers an 8-inch Zoom trick worm rigged weightless when working it across the water surface and has had great results.
Ken Murphy scanned the water and quickly detected the tell-tale signs of an active bream bed as the diminutive fish worked their beds in shallow water. Murphy quickly pitched a bluegill colored Tiny Torpedo about 8 feet past the bed and retrieved it smack dab over the top of the beds.
BAM! A lunker bass smashed the small topwater bait and swam towards deep water like it was shot out of a cannon. Murphy set the hook, put the brakes on the monster bass and turned its head back towards the boat. In minutes he’d worn the bruiser down and another lunker bass had fallen victim to his enticing lure offering.
Murphy, of Meridian, a former FLW tournament competitor and winner, is still plying his trade successfully on the waters for both fun and competition. Murphy and his tournament partner recently won the Southern Bass Tournament trail Okatibbee tournament, the first of the new season, after capturing the tour’s Team of the Year title last year.
“During May you’re going to be in a post-spawn time period and the bass will be feasting on bream and any baitfish that are available,” said Murphy. “I’m going to look for bream beds first, because they offer easy pickings for the hungry bass.
“And I’m always looking for movement to give me an idea of where the baitfish and bass are, and the Tiny Torpedo looks like a small bluegill working the surface. When the conditions are right you can really whack them and catch quality bass as well.”
When the sun is out and the day is really bright Murphy prefers a subtle presentation when targeting post-spawn bass.
“I’ll make real long casts and stay away from the beds and baitfish,” said Murphy. “I’ll cast about 8 to 10 feet past the beds and then work the lure through there. If there’s a bass hovering near the bed they usually can’t pass up such a tempting offering.”
Murphy focuses on water less than 5 feet deep when targeting post-spawn topwater bass. If the bass are finicky and want a subtle presentation in clear water, Murphy obliges. If the water is really choppy from the wind he’ll pop it a little harder to get their attention, but most of the time they’re looking for an easy meal that doesn’t make a big disturbance.
“Another thing I like to do is to modify that lure, especially in gin-clear water,” Murphy said. “I’ll put a feather hook on the rear hook and it gives them a little something extra to entice them.”
Murphy also uses chartreuse feathers on his hooks.
“The tailfin of all fish look chartreuse and that just adds to the reality of the bait,” he said. “And I always change out the stock hooks with quality hooks like Gamakatsu trebles.”
If the water is clear then Murphy likes to change up his lure color a bit and he’ll use a baby bass, or yellow perch color to give them a different look.
Ride the Buzz
After the bass have recovered from the spawn, they’ll become more aggressive and strike with a vengeance. That’s when Murphy loves to aggravate them into biting.
“I like to throw a white buzzbait with a trailer hook and make them mad,” Murphy said. “They just can’t stand a buzzbait and they’ll try to kill it.
“I like to fish it around trees, stumps and any wood structure that you can find in shallow water. And I like to cast past the target and run it right back into the edge of the stump, log, or whatever object I’m targeting, because the bass will smash it then.”
Murphy employs an 1/8-ounce Strike King buzzbait if the shad are small, and a ¼-ounce Boogerman if he’s fishing in stained water, or larger shad are in the area.
“I’ll start off varying my retrieve and let the fish tell me what they want and how they want it,” Murphy said. “And on really windy days I’ll use a bigger bladed buzz bait to get their attention.”
Murphy has caught bass in the 6- to 7-pound range on both the Tiny Torpedo and buzzbaits and recommends both when targeting post-spawn bass.