Bass have a whole lot going on in the spring. Spawning, fishing pressure and rising water temperatures all contribute to when and where you can catch fish. If you think about it, it’s amazing we can catch any bass, period, with all they have going on. Luckily, we have two things going for us: one is their protective instincts, the other is good, old-fashioned hunger.
Some bass you can catch because they are instinctively protective. While many bass are done spawning, there will be some laggards still bedding, some bedding for the second time and plenty more still guarding fry in the shallows. This is normally early in May when the tail end of the spawning process is still happening.
Where you are in North Carolina and the type of water determines how long they spawn. Colder mountain lakes and big lakes like Kerr and Gaston tend to have a bigger group of fish still in spawning phases. Smaller lakes, shallow lakes and more southern and eastern lakes and rivers tend to warm faster, accelerating the spawn.
Catching these bedding bass and fry that are guarding bass is much harder than you would think, and many anglers don’t even realize this is what is happening. If you don’t like to catch spawning or fry-guarding bass, then you should not fish shallow in March, April or May. Even if you don’t see them on the bed, there is a good chance they are bedding.
They good news is, if you let them go quickly there is no scientific evidence — at least in the South — that shows overall bass numbers decrease if you catch them off beds. Bass are hardy fish, and it is a good thing, because they sure get their share of eager anglers, especially in the spring.
As an eager angler myself, I love catching bass in every way possible, and that is what makes it fun to me — it is always changing. Bass in early May are susceptible to all kinds of lures. Topwaters and floating worms like the Culprit T-Rex are two of my favorite lures to catch shallow bass. I fish the T-Rex on 10-pound monofilament on a spinning rod so I can skip it under overhanging trees and docks and use a twitching retrieve to make it walk back and forth.
As far as topwater, poppers are especially good since they can be fished slowly, which is a key to catching bedding bass and fry guarders. They will get both bedders and fry guarders that you can’t see. It is also a great time to fish a shaky head in shallow water or slopping banks. I like the original Culprit 7 1/2-inch worm with 1/8-ounce head for this.
As May continues, and depending where you are, many fish are recovering from the spawning and begin to have a huge urge to eat. Early in the month, if you did not already miss it, a lot of it the feeding coincides with the shad spawning in the shallows. Anything that imitates shad will catch them at this time: spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, topwater, crankbaits all work great. After that is when the biggest change of all occurs; bass begin to move out to deeper structure for the early summer.
During the first migration out, some of the biggest bass are caught on “outside stuff” as many pro fishermen say. This basically means “not on the bank.” Some fish will remain shallow, but the majority move out with the shad once the shad are done spawning. If you are on a lake with no shad, they follow the bluegill. Deep crankbaits get many fish out when they are feeding, but the most consistent bait is a big worm. The 10- and 12-inch Culprits really shine in late May and on into June. Both on Texas rigs and Carolina rigs, they will get bites from both active and inactive bass. Of course, you have to find the fish first, but put a big easy meal in front of a big, hungry postspawn bass, and she is going to eat it. Fish these worms on smaller hooks than you would think for maximum action. A 3/0 for the 10-inch and 5/0 for the 12-inch — since it is so thick — will do the trick.
Whether deep or shallow, stay in tune with what the bass are doing and make this postspawn month of May a good one. Good luck!