By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
Bassmaster Elite Series angler David Mullins always anticipates the arrival of the postspawn period. It might take a bit for those Southern largemouth to recover from the annual reproduction ritual, but once they turn the page, they're chomping at the bit to add some protein to their diet.
Consistent water temperatures in the 70s and 80s mean Mullins will closely monitor the TVA app, knowing that more water will need to be pulled once people in the region start running their air conditioners. Consequently, largemouth pull off and set up in deep water.
“During the postspawn is when you catch the most of them,” Mullins said. “On the Tennessee River, when they get done spawning, there’s is a shad spawn that they will feed on then make their way to the ledges. When they first get there, it’s the best time to catch a bunch of fish and especially a bunch of big ones.”
Though there are smallmouth on the Tennessee River, don’t bet your house on finding them because once the water hits 80 degrees, they disappear. Rising water is terrible, as bass will pull up shallow and hold to shallow cover.
Where to Look
Bass like to beat the heat by feeding in the evenings. Mullins uses his Garmin DownVu and SideVu to find structure that bass like to get in front of, like points, humps, ledges, kickouts in banks where fish relate to current and can school up.
Kickouts are what Mullins refers to when referencing hard spots that have been washed out over the years as current blasts the mud off them.
“There you’ll find a shell bed, a rough spot or a rock they can get behind," he said. "That is where those fish set up and feed.
"Washouts can be as big as a house or as small as the kitchen table.” Even deep clay points wash away, revealing pea gravel or a piece of chunk rock that will hold fish also.
Experience has shown Mullins that the latter is often the most productive for better quality fish.
The better spots include a steeper break line, access to nearby deep water,and current hitting the area just right.
Though bass will group up by size, he’s found that the biggest fish attack first.
Initially, he’ll throw a 5 or 6-inch Scottsboro Tackle swimbait rigged on a 3/4 to 1-ounce exposed jighead with a screw lock.
“I like the swimbait when they first get out there. When they are feeding up, the most active and feeding the best, the water is clearer and when there isn’t much current you can fish, it might be higher in the water column because that’s where the fish are,” Mullins said.
For Mullins, nothing beats a largemouth with a face full of crankbait.
Coming off a Classic win as the bass fishing community watched Jason Christie throw the 3-inch YUM/Scottsboro swimbait, Mullins favors the brand also. “The time that Tim (Evans) has put into it, he has the plastic dialed in right. It has a tighter action with a little bit of roll. instead of an obnoxious tail kick”.
Mullins prefers a heavy action 7’2” to 7’6” Shimano Expride casting rod to make super-long casts and sure hooksets.
“Those swimbaits have a lot of meat to them. Also, if they get it turned around in their mouth, you need to drive the hooks home."
He’ll pair that with a Shimano Curado MGL (7:4:1) reel spooled with 16-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon for open water and 18- to 20-pound for fishing around cover.
Let the fish choose the retrieve speed and cadence.
When bass are relating to the bottom or the water has more color to it, Mullins switches to a crankbait, especially if they’ve rejected the swimbait after a few casts. The crankbait triggers a reaction bite and even fires up a school that is stubborn or that has grown bored of the swimbait.
Though he can hit 30 feet with a Strike King 10XD, he’ll often target structure in 10- to 20-feet of water. The secret to his success is using 12-pound Sunline FC Sniper spooled onto the high-capacity Curado 200 casting reel, but 5:1 gearing is where it’s at.
“I’ll still burn it fast! When you are fishing a high-ratio reel, I think you are putting more torque on yourself and losing feel with the bait,” Mullins said. He also uses an older 7’11” Shimano Expride heavy-action graphite casting rod.
“One of the biggest crankbait changes in the last 15 years is that (David) Fritz used to fish limber rods, but the plugs were lighter and the hooks were smaller,” Mullins said. “Today, the hooks are 2/0 and it’s like driving a worm hook into a fish. You need more backbone to throw it and more power to drive the hook into the fish.”
To win the 2016 Bassmaster Southern Open on Douglas Lake, Mullins caught 75 percent of his fish on a 10XD attached to 12-pound FC Sniper and he boat-flipped most of them.
He’ll upsize line rating to get his bait to run higher in the water column. He’ll lock the drag down to bury the hooks, but back it off or thumb the spool to keep big fish from breaking off.
Before leaving a prime area, Mullins throws a Nicholls Ben Parker spoon.
“I’ve seen that spoon where I marked fish and threw swimbaits and cranks, yet the first cast with that spoon fired them up,” Mullins said. “Often you can get your biggest bite with that deal.”
An 8-foot extra-heavy casting rod and 22-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon is essential, as is a cheater hook rigged to the top of the spoon.
“That spoon weighs so much and bass have so much force to throw that bait, a cheater hook is a must because it increases your landing percentage,” Mullins said.