Scratchin’ the surface

Bass become aggressive for topwater lures during May, probably because they’re famished after the spawn and will hit anything that looks like food.

May means aggressive, shallow bass, and it doesn’t get any better than that.

To understand what makes this month the best period for topwater fishing, you have to look at what bass just went through and what’s about to hit them.

With the bass spawn finishing and summer on the way, May is my favorite month for topwater lures in North Carolina lakes and rivers.

Most N.C. bass spawn during April. It’s a stressful time for bass.

When water temperatures rise into the sixties, the first bass hit the beds. Males are guarding nests and females are busy laying and guarding eggs.

The whole spawning process usually occurs during the course of a month and uses up a lot of energy that needs to be replaced by heavy feeding, kind of like how you feel after fishing all day.

As the bass spawn is finishing, the water temperature is well into the seventies, which happens to coincide with the shad spawn. This temperature range is also when the bream begin one of their spawns (bream can spawn all summer, usually during full-moon periods).

Bass also feel most comfortable with water temperatures in the mid seventies. They can be guarding their fry in May. Hungry bass, protective bass, and shallow baitfish, hmmm, sounds good, real good.

During this easy feeding chance, bass become focused upon shad and bream — that also are packed into shallow water. In fact, they’re so competitive and focused on eating, they become almost easy to catch.

Bass are shallow and pursue baits near the shore and surface; easily cornering and devouring baitfish. They love to uses edges all year for hiding and cornering their prey.

During May that edge is at the surface.

Many lures work in May, but the most exciting and potentially productive are topwaters.

Poppers, walkers, soft jerkbaits, frogs and buzzbaits are useful. Buzzbaits are good for covering water and heavy cover.

Poppers, such as the Team Daiwa Mouthwasher, are great for bass at steep banks. Walkers such as Zara spooks, Reaction Innovation Vixens, and Pencil Poppers are great for open water schooling fish — usually found off long points or ridges.

Soft jerkbaits, including the Culprit Jerk Shad, are great for skipping under overhanging limbs or docks without getting hung.

Frogs should be considered for fish that hang around their spawning coves a little longer than most or any heavy cover.

Several topwater patterns emerge in May. One and potentially the best is the bite that coincides with the shad spawn.

But you have to be on the water at the crack of dawn to get in on this one.

From what I’ve seen, shad spawn for just the first couple hours of light, usually at steep clay or rocky banks, often along channel banks.

Early morning shad spawns have generated some of the most exciting mornings of fishing I’ve ever had.

It’s not uncommon to see bass chase shad right out of the water onto the bank. I’ve even seen a couple of bass chasing shad that ended up on the bank with the shad and were flopping around trying to get back into the lake. Now that’s exciting.

My favorite bait for this occasion is a topwater popper because you can keep it within a foot or so of the bank for a long time, then burn it back in for another cast.

The bass are usually looking straight at the bank when the shad bite occurs. So just a few feet of presentation is all you need.

I use a Team Daiwa Zillion reel with 7.1:1 retrieve to quickly reel the lure to the boat and fire another cast. The best rod length is personal preference, but I’ve found a 6-foot 6-inch medium-action Daiwa LT to be my favorite.

If you can’t find shad spawning action, look for bass that have stayed shallow in coves. Bass remaining in their spawning coves are often feeding on bream or still guarding fry.

Buzzbaits and Culprit Pro Frogs are great for covering water in this case.

If you find a lot of bass remaining in the coves, it’ll also pay to try soft-plastic jerkbaits. I also really like to fish poppers over bream beds when I see one.

The last pattern for May topwater is hit or miss but can be reliable at times. I’m talking schoolers.

Bass often group up adjacent to long points or shoals. Walking baits incite these competitive schoolers to bite.

Popular baits at some lakes have been pencil poppers which are often sold as striper lures. Pencil poppers cast a country mile and are great for not disturbing the school.

With hungry bass, shallow baitfish, and ideal water temperatures, May is the best month for topwater fishing (except for maybe National Buzzbait Week. Stay tuned for details.)

Dustin Wilks is a 29-year-old professional bass angler and Raleigh native now living in Rocky Mount. He has qualified for the Bassmaster Classic four times and operates Fish Like a Pro Fishing Lessons (252-883-6749, ). His sponsors include Skeeter Boats, Yamaha, Daiwa, Keelshield and Culprit.

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