May is transition time for largemouth bass, which move from spawn to post-spawn. At many lakes, this means that the fish will be moving from shallow to deep water, and finding their exact position can be a problem for many anglers. But in the case of the following lakes, you can fish shallow water and catch fish in both phases of the transition.
When Cecil Wolfe cranked the big motor, I burrowed into the seat of his big bass rig, ready for a fast ride through the cypress trees and abundant natural vegetation around the perimeter of Lake Moultrie.
To my surprise, Wolfe idled only a few hundred yards at slow speed then shut the big motor down and dropped the trolling motor into the water and said, "It's time to fish."
With only one exception, that's about as far as we traveled using the outboard motor all morning. Wolfe used it to slow-motor from one cove to the next, until we headed back to Blacks Camp around noon.
Wolfe (843-753-2231; www.blackscamp.com) guides out of Blacks Camp and fishes both lakes Marion and Moultrie regularly, but we stayed on Lake Moultrie on this day. The 47-year-old Wolfe says the largemouth fishing during May is a favorite time for him.
"To begin with, while most of the largemouth bass will be in a post-spawn phase, there is still some spawning activity as well, especially early in the month," Wolfe said. "But the fishing action simply shifts from spawning sites to other shallow-water cover. Even in the post-spawn phase of our bass fishing the fishing is still excellent in shallow water. The key is transitioning from the shallow water spawning sites to just slightly deeper water and different types of cover and structure. The bass will move back to similar, and sometimes the same, areas they were found staging in pre-spawn periods."
The morning we fished was everything I had hoped it would be: lots of fish and plenty of them were hefty largemouth. In fact, the routine became monotonous — but in a good way. Every few minutes I watched as my fishing partner in the front of the boat went on full alert, a tell-tale signal that yet another bass had bit the lure that he had cast tight to cover.
Typically, that cover was either a shallow-water cypress tree or patch of grass, weeds or pads in Lake Moultrie. One cast happened to be directed towards a cypress tree. Wolfe, who is a master of making accurate, almost silent casts, shot the soft plastic lure so that it seemed to graze the tree and slip silently into the water.
And once again, for the about the tenth time that morning, Wolfe set the hook into another big bass. This one was heavy, just like most of the others he'd caught, and he first worked it away from the tree and the submerged 'cypress knees', then maneuvered it around a patch of pads and into open water. There it jumped, wallowed, and then dove hard, trying to find something to wrap around on the bottom of this cover-laden lake.
But with Wolfe on the other end of the rig, the bass, this one about 7-pounds, was soon being lipped, photographed and gently released back into the lake: A prize Wolfe hoped to catch again when guiding or fishing a professional tournament.
Of the dozen fish Wolfe caught that morning, the smallest he boated was about 4 pounds.
The quality of the fishery was not an accident that day. Wolfe says that for fishermen who know what they're doing, the resurgence of the largemouth bass fishery in both lakes Moultrie and Marion has been nothing short of phenomenal.
"The entire spring is excellent for largemouth fishing," Wolfe said. "But during May, the fishing and the weather are both ideal. This is the month when there are still some bass bedding but a lot are now in the post-spawn mode. The good news is that fish in either stage are more than willing to bite, it's just a matter of getting the tactics right."
Wolfe says that examples of places to find fish will be in the shallow edges along creek channels or ditches, even if the channels are only slightly deeper than the surrounding water. Also depression with cover 3- to 5-feet deep.
"Some fishermen think that the big-fish season is over, but that's certainly not the case," Wolfe said. "Post-spawn fishing will produce a lot of heavy largemouth. For example, a tournament-fishing partner and I weighed in a five-fish limit weighing 39 pounds during a May tournament a couple of years ago. There's no shortage of big fish to be taken during the May and June, fishermen just have to keep moving and searching until they locate a spot with big fish. Then work that area hard."
Wolfe says that he will use a variety of lures, including a Senko, Zara Spook, as well as shallow crankbaits and a variety of bottom-bumping lures during May.
"During the past couple of years we've caught a lot of quality largemouth out of the eel grass that is now found in Lake Moultrie," Wolfe said. "But the key is to stay on the move until you figure the pattern for the day."
Wolfe notes that post-spawn fish will often only move slightly deeper after the spawn and if the fisherman will transition from the very shallow, heavy vegetative cover where fish prefer to spawn, to slightly deeper water, such as the edgelines where trees or weeds are in 5 feet of water instead of 2 or 3 feet, they may find plenty of post-spawn fish biting.
Wolfe says the great news for bass fishermen regarding Lake Moultrie is that once again there is a great deal of cover in the lake: grass and other vegetative growth as well as the cypress trees, logs and stumps. This gives fishermen a lot of options to consider.
Wolfe says that fishing close to the edges of weedlines as well as trees can be a key, but you have to really fish the cover to be successful. For example, you may have to work different sides of a tree to get a bite.
"When the bass are shallow, even during post-spawn, sometimes they will be holding tight to cover but not always in a predictable spot," he said. "The key then is to consistently cast your lures next to the tree, logs, stump or grassline edge. You may have to make a couple dozen perfect casts to drop it in front of a bass, but if you keep putting it in the right place, eventually you'll drop it in front of a fish and he'll take it. Also, some fishermen have developed a good technique of skipping a plastic worm back under the cypress trees. It's very effective in terms of getting the attention of a big bass as the lure skips over the top of the water, as well as dropping it right at the base of the tree. A lot of times a big bass will instantly boil on the lure as it settles into the water."
Wolfe says that it's also a great time for topwater fishing.
"Of all the lures you can enjoy, this is particularly good topwater fishing season," he said. "Topwater lures, such as the Bang-O-Lure, Devils Horse and the buzzbaits will produce some exciting bass fishing action early and late in the day and it is an awesome way to start the day."
Lake Russell on the Savannah River has been a bass factory since its impoundment. But there have been changes along the way and for those who keep up with the fishery, the once predominate largemouth fishery has changed into what is now a lake with more spotted bass than largemouth. However, the really good news is that there are plenty of fish of both species and May is a prime month for both largemouth and spots. The targets will change but the fishing can be explosive throughout the month.
Wendell Wilson has been fishing Lake Russell since about 1987 and started a professional guide service there in 1990 (706-283-3336; www.wilsonsguideservice.com). He has learned to adapt to the changes over the years.
"One of the big changes is that the lake has stabilized in the past several years, with both a good largemouth and spotted bass fishery," Wilson said. "While in the early years we did catch a lot of huge largemouth, that has leveled off, but plenty of 5- and 6-pound fish are available. But quality fishing for spotted bass has improved and now I can work on numbers with the spotted bass and look for quality fish when fishing largemouth. The month of May is simply great for both. The largemouth bass fishing patterns during May are solidly linked to shallow water throughout the month. There is some spawning activity occurring during May, but even for fish that spawned in April, the shallow-water patterns are still great."
Wilson says that one of the factors to consider when planning where to fish is the stability of the water. If it's stable or high, fishermen need to go into the timbered areas and fish toward the shallow water near the shoreline.
Best largemouth lures include bottom-bumping lures such as plastic worms, craws and lizards, but topwater fishing also perks up during May, with buzzbaits and topwater popping lures producing well. Also the floating-diving Rapalas in a blue back, silver-side pattern works well with a twitch-and-pause retrieve.
According to Wilson and other local anglers, the spotted bass now make up the majority of the black bass population in Lake Russell. Targeting spotted bass means fishing main lake, rocky points. The fish will be in those kinds of areas throughout the month and well into June, as a general rule.
One key to success is to work the rocky points that also have plenty of woody cover available. The depths will vary from fairly shallow, down to 20-feet deep, depending on the weather conditions and wind. The more clouds and wind on a given day, the more likely the spotted bass will move towards the shallows.
When Sam Johnson launches his bass boat on Lake Wateree before dawn on a warm May morning, he knows he has a number of options. The good news is that very likely more than one of them will be right. The downside is he may have to sort through a few potential bass fishing patterns to find the right one on any given day.
"One of the best things about fishing Lake Wateree during May is that there will still be some really big fish in shallow water," Johnson said.
Johnson is a confirmed plastic worm specialist, but is quick to add that during this transition time of the year, he has to get very creative at times to consistently take largemouth from this lake.
"Lake Wateree can be a feast or famine bass fishing lake," he said. "However, through the years, I've learned that sometimes the famine part can be self-imposed if I don't change up my fishing lures and patterns. There are certainly times when crank baits, spinnerbaits and even jigging spoons will be very important to success on any given day.
"Points, pockets with weedy cover and woody objects, and certainly docks, are all prime targets during this time of the year," Johnson said. "To not get locked into a single-minded way of thinking is one of the keys to success here during May. I like to catch fish on a plastic worm, but to be successful, I have to change, sometimes on a daily basis."
Forage is also a factor in where the fish position themselves and the type and size lures they will find attractive.
"I'm always looking for signs of forage fish on the graph as well as seeing them dimple the water around where we fish," he said. "I like to 'match the hatch' so to speak. That's why the natural shad color pattern is a favorite when working crankbaits off points and the bream pattern is good around docks."
Lake Wateree is full of private boat docks that are found in all depths of water. These docks are an important part of the overall game plan at this time of the year. These docks offer cover and usually have forage such as bream in good numbers hanging around. The combination of cover and food mean the bass will not be far away.
The productive patterns around docks can change a lot even from one day to the next; that's why it is important to fish a series of docks with a variety of lures.
Johnson says he will also fish a stretch of shoreline where there are changes in the underwater contours of the lake. He'll often fish around a main lake point back into a cove or small creek. Somewhere along the way he'll be picking up largemouth bass activity. But he does like to get to the lake early during May because often there will be some active largemouth right at dawn.
It's no surprise that Lake Murray would be included in the selection for largemouth bass during May. This lake has as strong spring and early summer fish pattern and ranks high on the list of many mid-state anglers, as well as those from even further away. Doug Lown (Capt. Doug's Guide Service 803-924-9026) guides for largemouth and likes the May fishing here for a number of reasons.
For the largemouth, he says the fishing is a mix of shallow-water fishing early in the month, with bass around cover such as docks, weeds, logs and rocks, but fishing begins to transition to the more summerlike patterns as the month progresses.
By the end of the month, if the water is clear (which is typical of this lake at this time of the year), the fishing pattern changes from shallow-water action most of the day to active fish in the shallows early and late in the day, but fish holding on deep points, humps, and ledges during the rest of the day.
Early morning action can be enjoyed using shallow-water lures, including tandem bladed spinnerbaits, and topwater lures such as buzzbaits off points and Zara Spook and Pop R's back in cover-filled pockets. Shallow-running crankbaits will also produce good action.
As the sun hits the clear water, the fish typically retreat to deeper haunts for the remainder of the day. Most anglers switch to fishing Carolina- or Texas-rigged worms in deeper water with points being a key type of structure to focus on. Concentrate on areas where the shad or herring are found as a general rule of thumb.
Color patterns will change as well, with shad- and herring-colored crankbaits being good choices. Bright spinnerbaits are good during the early morning and often dark plastic bottom bumpers are good when working the deeper water during mid-day.
Several Lake Murray bass fishermen note they do well throughout the summer. They fish deeper water, such as points, humps and ledges near the channels. Usually by the end of May, the fish have begun to transition from shallows to a more consistent deep-water summertime pattern.
Remember, water clarity is one issue that will impact the depth fish hold during May and the techniques employed to catch them. If there is a lot or rain and dingy water, especially in the upper half of the lake, the shallow-water pattern will remain consistently good throughout most of the month.