May 18, 2021
It was a cool morning when my brother Ron and I moved into a wide cove behind a rip-rap wall and bridge abutment just off the main body of a small Southern reservoir. That was several years ago but I still remember the "lesson." We cast repeatedly to a submerged bridge structure off the main channel, which produced next to nothing. Clear skies and a brilliant, warming sun highlighted a smaller, meandering cove about a half-mile up one of the arms from our location.
We decided to move there, believing the shallower cove would offer a higher water temperature and a better opportunity to catch largemouths. It had abundant brush mid-way back in the arm, and in the following hour we caught eight post-spawn bass in that cove’s warmer waters.
Anyone who has spent time fishing impoundments has noticed that some coves hold many more bass in certain seasons than other coves. On many reservoirs in the South, there are often big differences between coves. Being able to quickly pick the better ones and identify the prime bass cover and locations within them will help you catch more fish.
The environmental differences and resulting productivity between coves on a typical reservoir in the late-spring to early-summer months can often be substantial. As the daytime temperatures begin to warm, individual coves are affected differently depending on many factors, including water chemistry and forage density and movement.
Habitat within the coves and arms of a reservoir may also vary greatly, and variables such as the emergence of vegetation, topography and the presence of structure and special features can enhance or deter fishing success in individual coves.
Bass action in coves heats up just after the spawn when hungry fish move out of the shallow bedding areas to slightly deeper habitat to feed. Largemouths often take up residence on the edges of cover in smaller coves adjacent to some of the nursery grounds. As the warmer weather heats up shallow coves, particularly those with submerged creek channels and run-ins, largemouths move farther back into them.
WHERE TO LOOK
Generally, the better coves in reservoirs are the ones situated in rolling hills that feature an abundance of flooded timber and underbrush. The most productive coves often have clear water with a visibility from the surface down to about 3 feet. They also typically have some new growth of hydrilla or coontail as deep as light penetration permits. To find such spots in the cove, a good topographical chart and a quality sonar unit come in handy.
Ideal coves have one or more tributary creeks. Those with moving water and/or freshwater springs may be the ultimate for catching bass in late spring and early summer. Some of the most productive ones may also have a mixture of both clear-water areas and murky areas. Earlier in the year, those coves with small, flowing tributaries adjacent to spawning flats will normally warm up before the main-lake water does. In waters containing spotted and/or smallmouth bass, coves with abundant gravel areas and steep shorelines that warm up quickly each day normally attract bass.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Some of the features of a productive cove in late spring and early summer are often very evident, while others are inconspicuous and easily overlooked. For example, a prime area for active bass contains various types of habitat, including new growth, submerged grass lines—which provide suitable cover for aquatic organisms necessary to maintain a good ecosystem—and of course, abundant forage. Such areas also provide suitable cover for bass, particularly during low-water periods before early-summer showers become common and raise water levels.
For coves to be most productive, they should have patches of isolated emergent weed beds, stumps, laydowns and numerous other types of cover that are more visible. The very best of the best coves, however, will offer a mix of habitat and topography. That is, they will have areas of standing timber, shallow humps and creek channels, submerged vegetation or a fringe of bushes such as willow and button brush. They will also probably have some deep water with adjacent flats, as well as gently sloping banks and steep shorelines. Find a cove with a combination of these features, and you’ve found one worth fishing.
COVE GAME PLAN
In coves with relatively clear water, timber, other structure and ample forage, many of the bigger largemouths may be caught on small, mid-depth crankbaits and hard-plastic minnow baits. In the early summer months, such lures with a shiner or bluegill pattern are very effective when slowly cranked with an occasional pause past cover. In early summer, young-of-year forage is small in stature but abundant in most reservoir spawning coves. In clear waters, select diving cranks, lipless rattling plugs and minnow baits of 1/4 to 1/2 ounce; in stained or windblown waters, use slightly larger baits of 1/2 to 3/4 ounce for better visibility to predators.
For the same reason, spinnerbaits with small Colorado (stained waters) or willow leaf (clearer waters) blades can be productive around brush in the back halves of coves. They also function as a bass locator, and if there is already new hydrilla that has grown near the surface, a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait can slow-walk along and "tick" the tops of the vegetation to trigger bites. Post-spawn largemouth can be very aggressive, and a slowed-rolled spinnerbait in white, chartreuse, yellow or a combination thereof often entices a strike when fished through mid-depths and near the bottom in narrow cove locations.
A successful angler will also normally employ surface baits such as topwater plugs and buzzbaits. Since cove bass are not holding extremely tight to cover in late spring or early summer, a buzz bait puttering along on the surface can also be very effective in the flats near the back of coves. If the baits come in contact with wood structure or aquatic vegetation without hanging up on the retrieve, they should garner plenty of strikes. Topwater plugs are easier to fish on shallow flats in the early summer when the vegetation is just beginning to flourish. Tail-spinner, walking and popping plugs fished at medium retrieves all account for productive trips to smaller and warmer coves.
Once bass have been located, switch to slower baits, such as soft-plastic worms, grubs, tubes, flukes and swimbaits. If the day starts off with a bright sun and the conditions warrant it, flip or pitch a black or chartreuse jig-and-crawfish trailer into cover to locate bass. The slower, forage-imitating baits are ideal for "cover crawls" around dense brush or timber and for bottom-scraping humps and ridges with some form of structure. Large bass in deeper impoundments may be more topographically inclined (relating to cover and topographical changes) and use bottom routes to their feeding grounds.
Cove Analysis on Typical Small Southern Reservoir
- This wide cove has new-growth vegetation on shallow flats midway back. The width allows wave action from a southern or southeastern wind to warm the back end of the cove and to move both forage and plankton toward the upper end. Forage and new vegetation near the mid-depths should attract active bass in the early summer.
- A small cove with good drop-offs on the eastern side and laydowns on the probable spawning flats opposite the depths offers anglers access to big bass. The draw for the fish is good structure with nearby spawning flats close to mid-depth waters. Check out the pockets that may be visible on the flats near the cover. Some runoff or creek flow and southern winds will help position the early-summer bass on edges.
- A few islands with good drops and an irregular shoreline make the back half of this cove potentially productive. Find the best drops from shallow water, paying particular attention to those around the islands. A southern wind would benefit the bass angler looking for a big fish.
- A tributary cove might attract some bass to structure like laydowns or docks located close to the current. Look for a good drop adjacent to such cover and note the water color and visibility. Incoming flow with good characteristics is ideal for activating bass. Locate mid-depth channel bends, especially those with some form of structure on them, to find a concentration of fish.