We have had a cold winter and a very up-and-down spring, but there’s one thing that South Carolina bass fishermen can count on this month: May is the month of the herring bite.
On the lakes across our state that contain populations of blueback herring, this is the month when bass change everything they’re doing and concentrate completely on those oily little baitfish. Herring move into the shallows to spawn — they rarely come into shallow water for any other reason, at any other time of year — and the bass are waiting, drooling. Most of them are post-spawn, and they’re hungry, ready to feed back up, and the herring provide all the calories they can possibly consume.
Lakes like Hartwell, Clarks Hill, Murray and a few others with herring, the fisheries on those lakes have been changed. If you want to do well in a tournament, or if you just want to have a good fishing trip, you’ve got to adjust around fishing the herring when bass are keying in on them.
Herring will spawn on points, anywhere from the backs of creeks all the way out to the main lake; they’re like bass and other species in that regard. I target the points, and you often have to fish a lot of water to find them. At one time, I keyed on points with sand or tiny little gravel, pea gravel, bottoms, but I’ve caught bass around herring on slate rock, riprap — all kinds of bottoms. I think so many people get too focused on one kind of spot.
I will stay on the lower end of a lake when I’m fishing the herring bite, because I know the herring need really deep water in the summer and winter, and I think the herring populations are larger on the lower half of a lake. So I’m concentrating on points on that end of the lake.
One of the reasons you have to fish a lot of water is that herring won’t stay on a point very long — not much longer than a week. You’ll have a group of herring move up on a point, with a group of bass following, and they’ll stay there several days, maybe a week, but not the whole month. So you’re constantly having to check points to see if fish are still there, or if they’ve shown up since the last time you fished.
When I’m looking for herring and bass together, my search bait is a Trigger-X Drop Dead Minnow, which is a soft jerkbait. I fish it fairly fast. I’ll cast it out, let it drop a foot or so, then start twitching it back — and I don’t stop it for very long. It’s like, flick-flick-flick-stop-flick-flick. I keep it moving pretty good. And I make casts 10 or 15 yards apart; I don’t make one cast, then make another five feet away. I make long casts and spread ’em out. I like the white and herring colors, and I’ll fish it on a VMC Drop Dead Hook. I like the 1/8-ounce hook, which is a 4/0. I’ll fish it on a 7-foot, medium-heavy All-Star baitcasting rod and a Pfleuger Patriarch reel spooled with 12-pound Trilene 100-Percent Fluorocarbon.
You can’t use your electronics to see the herring this time of year because they’re so shallow, so you’re relying on your search bait to find the bass that are keying on them. Once I get a bite on the Drop Dead Minnow, I’ll slow down and pick a point apart. I was able to keep it under my hat for a few years, but when I find bass feeding on herring, I’ll change to a jig. I know a jig doesn’t look anything like a herring, but I’ve won a lot of tournaments fishing a jig around herring — I had a first and a second in BASS tournaments doing this. I’ll fish a 3/8-ounce brown Mop jig with a green pumpkin Goo Bug trailer. I fish it on a 7-foot-2 All-Star jig rod and a Patriarch spooled with 15-pound Trilene 100-Percent Fluorocarbon.
When I find a good school of fish around herring, I’ll sit on it a while and try to really work it over. You can get well in about 20 minutes on a single school of fish, because they’re hungry and aggressive when they’re around herring. If you have eight or 10 good points to check, you can stay on each about 10 or 15 minutes looking, and if they’re not there, you can move. But when you find them, stay a while.
This is such a great, unique bite, every fisherman who lives close to a lake with herring should try and take advantage of it. It will last the whole month of May — heck, this year, it might last into June the way things have gone.