With a few largemouths still locked down on their spawning beds but the majority recovering and starting to feed again, there's little question among veteran fishermen that a buzzbait is one of the best baits to tie on to help get the most out of your fishing days on Wateree.
For one thing, fish are still relatively shallow. For another, some of them are guarding fry and will attack any intruder. Third, the ones that have recovered from the spawn are feeding heavily to regain their strength. Fourth, a buzzbait is a noisy lure that fish will swim a long way to strike. Fifth, the shad will spawn later in the month, in extremely shallow water, drawing the attention of bass. And sixth, well, it's just so darned fun to see and hear a bass explode on a bubbling, gurgling, clacking and squealing buzzbait.
"May is the time when you can catch 'em on anything, but I'll throw a buzzbait because you can catch some of the late spawners on it, and you can catch postspawn fish," said Eric Weir of Big E's Guide Service. "And when I come to Wateree, I think 'big fish' because it's one of the best lakes in South Carolina. You catch bass from about every year-class.
"I think it's the best lake on the Catawba chain. To me, it's like Lake Wylie was 15 years ago. Now, Wylie gets hammered so much. Wateree gets fished, but not like that."
Weir is not going to get an argument from Rusty White, who operates Fishing With Rusty Guide Service out of Rock Hill. Like Weir, White fishes a lot of bass tournaments and calls the lakes on the lower part of the Catawba River his home waters.
"Bass will bite this whole month on Wateree," he said.
Early in the month, Weir (704-860-0356) really relies on a buzzbait for some of his bigger fish. He spends most of his time on the lower end of the lake, where the water is clearer and he can see shallow bass so much easier. He also believes the lake's better bass live on the lower end, from around the mouth of Beaver Creek down to the dam. That section comprises about half of Wateree's 13,864 surface acres, serviced by about half of the lake's public boating access areas.
"Wateree, being as clear as it is, you can take a buzzbait, a Pop-R or a No. 11 Rapala and fish around any boat dock and they'll smack it - if you can find any bass guarding fry," said White (803-860-0356).
"The spawn is usually late April or early May, depending on where the full moon is. You can even get some spawning fish when the full moon falls in late March."
This year, the full moon hits around April 9, so the last few spawners should be going in on the early May full moon.
"Around the first of May, you've still got a good many spawners left, but by the end of May, the spawn will be over," Weir said. "Late in the month, you get the shad spawn, and the bass will be up after them. If you see a black bird hopping along on the bank, you know the shad are spawning.
"But the big thing is, the bank grass is starting to green up, and you should fish all of it."
The "bank grass" is alligator weed, a rooted, emergent plant that grows in stalks during the warmer season, often reaching as deep as two or three feet. Before it dies away in the fall after the first frost, it will hold bass for almost six months. It's a killer ambush spot for shallow bass looking for a quick meal.
Robert Stroud, a biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said the alligator grass "offers cover for small fish" and was not planted by SCDNR. "It got there naturally - either from birds or the public."
Grass is the determining factor in which places Weir and White fish at different times of the day.
"It's so easy to fish," Weir said. "It grows along pretty much of a straight edge, and it grows up in stalks. If you can find a (creek) channel swing with grass on it, I'll fish it hard with a buzzbait; I'll throw it all day. There will mostly be postspawn fish on those kinds of places, but they'll really bite it."
White actually starts fishing the grass in March, when its dormant season ends. "It's there year-round, but it dies off in the winter," he said. "As soon as the water starts to warm up, it's time for the grass to start growing again.
"Fishing can get really good in the grass; it will hold fish. Fish will stay in it all summer - and Wateree has always been known for having a lot of resident shallow fish."
After fishing around grassbeds for the first several hours of the day, White will usually head to other "traditional" areas where fish can be on a postspawn pattern or heading to their summertime homes. He might crank a secondary point on the outside of a spawning cove and flip or pitch soft-plastics or jigs around boat docks and piers. At some point, when the sun is overhead, he'll return to the grass beds with a jig or soft-plastic bait and pitch or flip to holes or ditches that break up the otherwise uniform nature of the grass beds.
"Last year, I flipped the grass the whole month of May," said White. "Sometimes you flip in there, and you can see all the stalks (of grass) move when the fish swims toward your bait."
Weir also pitches and flips the grass beds, but his bait of choice is a plastic tube jig that's Texas-rigged. He'll also pitch a jig back in the grass and swim it out."
About the only thing Weir and White disagree on is what the buzzbait should look or sound like. Weir wants a fairly quiet buzzbait in the spring, while White wants the loudest one he can tie on.
"I like a quiet buzzbait this time of year," Weir said. "The longer you go into the summer, I'll go to a louder one."
"If you're going to fish a buzzbait, fish the loudest one you can find, one where the blades beat against the head and make a lot of noise," White said.
The shad spawn and a late May mayfly hatch are two more situations that will bring bass into the shallows to feed. Mayflies can often be seen hovering in clouds around shoreline bushes after they emerge from the water's surface, having left their aquatic phase. "If you get a big mayfly hatch, fishing around the shoreline bushes can be good. You can use a Pop-R or a small crankbait."