Bass fishing is reaching its peak in many parts of the country, and now is the time to catch the heaviest limits of summer.
Whether you fish natural lakes, impounded reservoirs, rivers, streams or ponds, you will find bass in various stages of the spawn this month. Spending some time on the water will allow you to decipher a winning pattern and enjoy excellent fishing throughout the month.
Let's take a boat ride with some of America's top tournament anglers to see how they're fishing this month. The tips they share will work for you on your favorite waters, too.
With two victories and 10 Top-10 finishes worth $629,000 since 2011, Brandon Palaniuk is a top performer on the Bassmaster Elite Series Tour. He says that bass fishing in his area begins and ends with the spawn, regardless of where you cast.
The formula is pretty basic, Palaniuk said. Basic spawning activity advances from south to north. You might find bass in the late stages of the spawn or even in post-spawn closer to the Mason-Dixon line, but they can be in pre-spawn mode in their northernmost ranges. Those patterns are generally consistent from east to west.
The key, Palaniuk said, is to start shallow.
"I'm going to look for the biggest flats on a body of water," Palaniuk said. "I look on a map at where those lines are the lightest, and I usually start from where banks start to transition and start working my way back."
Regardless of the spawning stage, Palaniuk said he always targets isolated cover. Pre-spawn fish look for places around isolated cover to make beds, he explained, and of course, that's also where you'll find them spawning.
After they've spawned, females retreat to heavy cover.
Pre-spawn is the easiest time to catch bass because the fish usually are aggressive, and they'll hit aggressive baits, like crankbaits. It is important to use the right color, Palaniuk said, because bass key on baitfish instead of crawfish at this time of year. He uses a shad-imitating square-billed crankbait — the Storm Arashi Square 3 — in a Wakasagi pattern to find them.
"That's my go-to search bait," Palaniuk said. The objective, he added, is to find concentrations of fish that are staging in intermediate depths to move to their spawning banks.
Catching fish relies on precise presentation during the spawn and post-spawn periods. Bedding bass aren't interested in eating for nutrition, but they will strike baits to defend a nest. Provoking reaction strikes takes patience and precision, and while anglers use different presentations, the basic tactics are universal.
Palaniuk said he spends the spawn and post-spawn periods flipping soft-plastic baits on cover such as boat docks, stumps, pilings and fallen trees.
"I look for something that fish can get against or get next to," Palaniuk said, "and I'm going to make a flip as close to that cover as possible."
His choice bait is a Berkley Pit Boss in black/blue or green/pumpkin. He said he makes the bait hop three or four times at one-second intervals.
James Watson, a 2016 Bassmaster Classic qualifier, loves to fish boat docks in June. Docks usually sit on or over excellent spawning habitat, and they provide shade and overhead protection. Bass also stay close to docks immediately after spawning, too.
"At the end of May and first of June, I look for the first object or first structure that bass tend to go to once they have spawned," Watson said. "Maybe that's the end of their protection period of their nest and fry. Before they make their way out deep, they will suspend under the first thing they come to, like standing timber or boat docks. They'll stage there and catch baitfish before going out to the deeper parts of the lake."
Watson works the shallow end of the dock with a finesse jig. He works the deep ends of the docks with spoons. He uses big spoons and small, depending on what bass prefer.
"They're looking for a big meal so I show them a Bass Pro Shops Flash Casting Spoon," Watson said.
That spoon is 5 inches long and weighs 1 1/4 ounces. Bass can't resist its flashy, fluttering action this time of year.
"If they want something smaller, I will use a War Eagle 7/16-ounce flat-chrome spoon, but I tend to catch bigger fish on the bigger spoon."
Palaniuk likes docks, too, and he said it's important to analyze every dock to fish it effectively because fish relate to them differently.
"Are they floating docks or docks that have pilings or posts?" Palaniuk asked. "What side of dock are fish on? A lot of times I find they're only on the back 10 docks, but not on the rest of the docks in a cove. Or they're only on the floating docks, but only on the walkways of the back 10 with sand-to-rock transition. When you can dial it in that specific, that's when it gets good."
While shad-imitating baits work best in the pre-spawn, bluegill imitators work best during the nesting and post-spawn periods. That's because bluegills prey on bass eggs and fry.
"Closer to the spawn, I put more focus on the bluegill color with soft plastics," Palaniuk said. "Bluegill hues stand out during spawning period because bass just hate sunfish."
Flippin' jigs and soft plastics is a classic method for catching bass during the spawn and post-spawn periods. Fish that are guarding nests or recovering from the spawn won't move far to chase a meal, but they will take a swing at an easy morsel. It takes patience and repetition to provoke reaction strikes, but the rewards can be superb.
Plastic frogs and toads are part of Watson's arsenal during the post-spawn because fish react to them so well. His favorites are the Zoom Horny Toad and the Luck-E-Strike Frantic Frog.
"Toad style baits are really good for post-spawn bass in grass situations in May, June and July," Watson said. "Some smaller lakes seem to take a pounding, but even on heavily pressured lakes they do like to eat that Frantic Frog."
There is a big difference in the way you fish toads and frogs, Watson said. Toad baits, like the Horny Toad, Frantic Frog and Stanley Ribbit, are solid plastic, and they sink. They work best when retrieved quickly over grass mats and lily pads. Their legs make paddling motions and make a lot of noise and vibration.
A frog, in contrast, has a hollow body with an integrated two-pronged hook. Work it slowly and let it linger over holes in the grass, or make it lean over the edge of a lily pad.
"Both are very effective post-spawn baits," Watson said.
It's important to use them with heavy-duty tackle because light line breaks easily in thick cover.
"When throwing those baits in and around grass, it's very important that you fish them on 50- to 65-pound Maxima Braid," Watson said of his line choice. "You want to use a fast reel. Mine is 7:1. Once they hit it, you want to bring them in fast."
For toads, Watson uses a 7 1/2-foot, heavy-action rod. For frogs, he uses a 7-2 heavy-action. They are basically flippin' sticks, Watson said.
Brent Chapman, the 2012 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, loves bass fishing in late May and June because it promotes versatility. Bass follow consistent patterns during the spawn and post-spawn periods, but the patterns encourage the kind of versatility that has allowed Chapman to win nearly $1.7 million.
"The weather is kind of volatile, but it doesn't affect fish as much as it affects us," said Chapman, a 13-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier. "The fish are biting."
Mornings usually are cool in June, but the days are sunny and warm. Summer wind patterns are starting, but you still might get a late cold front and rain. The key is adapting your most productive techniques to daily conditions.
"I go with my strengths," Chapman said. "In June, the fish are associating with the spawn, guarding fry. That's when I like to break out my flippin' stick, heavy line, and soft plastics."
Natural lakes generally have vegetation, and vegetation always holds bass. If it's matted grass, Chapman uses something big enough and heavy enough to punch through the mats.
For targeting holes in the grass, he uses a creature bait, like a beaver or a Senko.
If fish are cruising, he uses a spinnerbait or paddle-tail bait.
"The more I do this, after 20 years, it's hard to beat black and blue, or some kind of watermelon or green pumpkin," Chapman said. "They work coast to coast, north to south and everywhere in between. It's just a matter of finding where the fish are."
Chapman said he uses black/blue in stained water and heavy vegetation. The other colors are better for bright, sunny days and clear water.
Cold fronts often bedevil bass anglers at this time of year, but Chapman said you still catch fish by fishing tight to cover.
"Look for the thickest cover available," Chapman said. "Fish get into mats, laydowns, even docks. A lot of lakes have portable docks, and fish get underneath them. In bluebird conditions, when fish get tight to cover, it's important to drop it right on top of their head.
"In pre-frontal conditions, when it's partly cloudy, they are more apt to chase something."
Essentially, you can catch bass this month with all your favorite baits, as long as you know where fish are and what they are doing in relation to the spawn. Dial it in and catch your biggest limits now.