Better late than never.

That's the message for bass fishermen who feel like they've missed something by not showing up at Lake Murray until April.

Yes, the majority of fish on the 50,000-acre lake west of Columbia have probably spawned, many of them in late March, the rest in the first few days of April - as long as weather conditions are close to normal and a full moon shows up at the right time.

So shouldn't we turn our attention to turkey season? After all, who'd want to mess with fish that are mostly recovering from the spawn?

Count Ben Lee of Lexington and Doug Lown of Newberry among those fishermen who can't wait for April and can't enjoy it enough. The two veteran fishermen, both of whom work as guides on their home lake, agree that April can be and is usually a wonderful month to work the waters of the sprawling Saluda River reservoir.

It's a great time, Lee said, to catch a few fish, determine what kind of pattern they're on, then duplicate your success in place after place after place - with a few big fish thrown in along the way.

Lown called catching bass "almost easy" in April, if only because of the sheer number of fish that will be in fairly shallow water - those which have spawned and left the bank but not returned to deep water, those spawning, and those staging in the shallows, waiting for their turn in the reproductive merry-go-round.

"I'll start on the lower end, and I'll try to catch prespawn and postspawn fish," said Lee (803-730-5627), who fishes the FLW Tournament Trail as well as guiding. "The ones that have spawned will be coming off, setting up on the sides of flat points - the same places they stopped going in. You have a chance to catch 'em coming and going on the same places."

And, Lown added, the latter part of the month can be among the best times to catch a lot of bass in shallow water, where they'll be gorging on blueback herring that are involved in their spawn.

"April is a really good fishing month," said Lown (803-924-8946). "There are a lot of shallow fish; they're almost easy to catch. And then, you've got the herring moving up, and you'll get really good topwater fishing up to a point."

What more could a fisherman want? Lots of fish. Lots of fish shallow. Lots of fish hungry.

Sounds like a lot of fun.

Lee said it can not only be fun, but awfully profitable for a fisherman who can unlock the lake's secrets. The key is locating the areas where decent numbers of fish are spawning, then figuring out the places they stage on the way in and on the way out. Quite often, those places are the same.

"When they're coming off, they'll be on the sides of flat points - on the same places they stopped on their way in," Lee said. "In April, you have a chance to catch 'em on the same places going in and coming out."

Lown knows that to be a fact. He's landed fish that he knew were postspawners, long, skinny bass that, he said, "looked a little rough." And a few casts later, without moving his boat, he's landed chunky bass that obviously hadn't gone to their watery obstetrics ward yet.

Lee divides the 41-mile long lake roughly in half, doing the great majority of his damage on the lower end, from Billy Dreher State Park downstream to Saluda Dam. He loves to see hordes of bass boats heading upstream on weekends, drawn inexorably to the upper end of the lake and the Saluda River and Little Saluda River, where the water is shallower and generally a little more stained.

That leaves him a lot more room on the lower end, which he says has always been his favorite.

"Generally speaking, most of the tournaments on this lake are won from mid-lake down - and not just in March and April," he said. "I like to call this end of the lake, 'The Land of the Giants.'

"If we've had a moon late in March, I'll start on the lower end and try to catch both postspawn and prespawn fish. I hate the fact that people fish for spawning fish. They say it doesn't hurt them, but I don't believe it. You can't put her in the livewell - she's five or six pounds and full of eggs - and beat her around all day and not hurt her."

Lee said that bass will stage on secondary points, on the sides of points that lead back into spawning pockets, or on brush at the mouth of pockets - where it's available.

When Murray was at drawdown level from 2003 through 2005, the exotic aquatic grass, hydrilla, was eliminated, but in its place grew up acres and acres of vegetation, including but not limited to dog fennel, pine seedlings and willow bushes.

Lee especially believes that the presence of brush is making up for the absence of grass - at least it has for the past couple of years.

"One thing that helped when the lake was down was all the stuff that grew up," he said. "That gave them places to spawn where people couldn't get to 'em. They could get in there and do their business and get out. And that has helped the fishery. One of the neatest things about the hydrilla was that it gave bass a place to hide, but now, they're hiding in the bushes. If homeowners didn't cut the bushes, they've got them to go to.

"Before I go (shallow), I like to fish the cover in the middle of the pockets," he said. "The female will set up there before she comes in - where the channel flattens out. The brush offers them a place to go they didn't have before - and they can spawn on the main lake in bushes they didn't have before."

Lown said that bass and crappie "were really helped" by the presence of the shallow brush. "A lot of people were concerned that without the grass, this lake wasn't going to hold up, but as long as I've fished it, it's been a pretty good lake," he said. "The bass and crappie have had really good spawns (in the brush), and now there are a lot of smaller bass in the lake: 2-pound fish. But the lake has still got a lot of 3- to 6-pound bass, and those smaller fish will grow up, too."

Lee tries to locate pockets with stained water. The key is knowing which pockets are fed by ditches with running water. He'll start on the outside edges, the secondary points, throwing a crankbait like a Shad Rap. Next, he'll go to a Carolina rig with a short leader and a lizard in green pumpkin. "Is there any other color?" Lee said, chuckling.

Then, it's a Senko fished weightless on a 4/0, straight-shanked hook, on 10-pound test mono. That lure, Lee said, is particularly good on big females in the middle of the pockets. "You just throw it in, let it sink, and when it gets to the bottom, you pick it up and throw it again," he said. "My wife and I won a prespawn tournament last year throwing a Senko in the middle of pockets."

Lee uses two other baits, a Chatterbait when he's searching for fish, and a buzzbait when he figures he's found a decent concentration and is trying to catch a particularly big bass.

"I love throwing a buzzbait on prespawn fish," said Lee, who loves to fish a buzzbait around shallow brush and stickups. "Not many people do because they don't get many bites, but when one bites, it's a good one."

Lown looks for stained water to fish a spinnerbait, but his favorite baits come on when the water temperature reaches the mid-60s. That's when he switches to plastics, fishing a Carolina rig, a Texas-rig, even a split-shot rig, or a Senko.

"You can get a lot of action with a split-shot rig; you can cover a lot of water and locate a lot of fish," he said. "You start to find them around mid-April on secondary points and corners."

Putting together a daily pattern is not a difficult task, Lee said, if you can get a few bites and figure out where fish are staging in and around pockets. It becomes a matter of identifying the staging areas and fishing them in pocket after pocket.

And then, Lee said, "You can't catch 'em anymore, and they've made their move to the bank."

Lown said that Lake Murray bass may not stay in the postspawn "recovery room" very long, thanks to blueback herring.

"As soon as the water temperature reaches 58 to 60 degrees, you know you've got some bass spawning. By early April, the majority of the big fish have spawned. You've still got some bedding action; you'll see a lot of fish, but not the biggest ones," he said. "The herring will spawn in the mid-60s - from the latter part of April into mid-May. Last year, it was the last week of April to the first week of May."

When herring move into the shallows to spawn, the bass wake up almost immediately from their postspawn doldrums. Baitfish will show up first on flat, shallow points, then move to the banks on the sides of points. Bass will move into the same areas and feed heavily on the available forage.

"You catch a lot of 2-pound fish in April, but you don't see as many larger fish caught until they start chasing bait," Lown said. "Even before we had herring in the lake, you'd see the same thing happening with threadfin shad.

"When the herring move up, they'll stage on points all day. I'll fish a topwater early in the morning, then fish a Carolina rig or a Senko on the sides of the points later on. If you get a windy or cloudy day, you can work a topwater even in the middle of the day."

Lown starts looking for herring to start spawning around the third week of April. There is no rhyme or reason where they'll show up, however. "Sometimes a point is good every year, but sometimes, you'll find them on one point one year, then they next year, they aren't anywhere around," he said. "You may fish 10 points and find them on one."

Lee said that the herring spawn is the one time in April when you can find bass ganged up. Normally, you're catching one fish on each spot, even when you're running a productive pattern. But find a point where herring are spawning and clean up.

"They don't wad up again until the end of April when they're eating herring on the points," he said. "The herring will spawn on those rocky points. I'll throw a spinnerbait or a topwater like a Spook, a Sammy or a Fluke."

That bite can last well into May, but when it ends, it usually signals the end of the shallow-water bite. Lown said some bass will continue to cruise the banks, and some will remain on secondary points. Then, they'll all pull out into deeper water to spend the summer.