Guide Colt Bass of Collettesville, N.C., said May is a productive month for quality stripers at Lake Hickory on the Catawba River system.

“Typical size on Hickory is going to be 7 to 9 pounds, although there are a lot of fish weighing in the teens caught this time of year, and you usually see a few over 20 pounds,” said Bass (www.coltbassfishing.com).

Of course, Bass has to find the fish before he can catch them. If he doesn’t know where the fish are, he searches by trolling bucktail jigs on downriggers and lead-core line off the sides and back of his boat using 71/2-foot, medium-heavy Shakespeare Ugly Stik rods paired with Abu Garcia 7000 reels. 

Bass looks for fish in shallow places with quick access to deep water.

“A lot of fish in May are going to be coming off of the spawn and moving from shallow to deep,” said Bass. “If I can find one of these spots that also has bait around it, more than likely, there will be stripers.”

Once he finds a likely spot, Bass changes tactics, putting out down-lines and planer boards. His live-bait tackle includes 7-foot, medium-action Ugly Stiks and Abu Garcia 6500 reels spooled with 20-pound Big Game. His spread consists of 4 to 6 down-lines fished vertically off the sides of his boat at different depths employing Carolina rigs with 1/2- to 2-ounce weights based upon wind strength and 3- to 4-foot leaders of 17-pound fluorocarbon completed with circle hooks Nos. 1 to 4/0 in size. 

“I always use circle hooks,” said Bass, who believes these hooks cause less harm to fish that he might have to release.

Bass slow-trolls the rigs, sampling both shallow and deep water with a variety of live bait 4 to 7 inches in length. His baits include gizzard shad, threadfin shad and herring.

“I always use a few different-flavored baits in different sizes to see if the fish key in on any particular one,” said Bass.

The planer boards run from off the sides of the boat rigged with live bait as well.

“If I don’t get any bites after working the spot thoroughly, I’ll move to another likely spot and do it all over again,” said Bass.

If he already knows the whereabouts of stripers, Bass skips trolling and immediately fishes down-lines and planer boards.

Bass said ideal conditions for May stripers are water temperatures from 60 to 75 degrees and clear water.

“The clearer the water, the better the bite,” said Bass. “Muddy and stained waters are going to hurt you on Hickory.”