Here's a look at East Texas' finest lakes for catching post-spawn largemouths. You won't go wrong fishing any of these in May.
By Matt Williams
Post-spawn bass fishing always gets a bad rap. It's widely accepted that bass are more difficult to catch in the 30 to 45 days after dumping their eggs than at any other time of the year.
Some anglers say the bass get sick after the spawn; others blame their empty creels on stress associated with the annual procreation ritual. Personally, I've never seen a bass regurgitate for any reason other than eating too much. Nor have I seen one with gray hair or bags under its eyes from worrying about the kids or a job it hates.
Lendell Martin Jr. thinks that one of the main reasons for post-spawn bass' being more difficult to catch is a mix of springtime fishing pressure and the angling public's reluctance to change tactics when the conventional ones begin to fail.
Think about it: If you'd been hooked in the mouth twice by a spinnerbait and seen other popular springtime lures a kazillion times during the last two months, would you continue to be so easy to fool?
"Some of the males may be wore out from guarding fry, but I'm convinced that fishing pressure plays the biggest role in why the fishing gets tough during May," said Martin, an FLW/EverStart bass pro and former fishing guide from Nacogdoches. "There are lots of anglers on the water during March and April, and all that pressure eventually takes its toll. The fish begin to wise up. The same thing happens in big tournaments, no matter what time of year it is. Weights usually drop progressively each day - mainly because of the pressure."
In most instances, Martin thinks, anglers can boost their catch/cast ratios during the post-spawn by switching to lures that the fish aren't accustomed to seeing, or by altering the speed or method of their retrieves. That's not to say that the old springtime favorites like the Rat-L-Traps, Texas-rigged lizards and spinnerbaits won't continue to produce strikes throughout the next 30 days - they will - but other baits might work better.
Next: a look some of East Texas' top bass lakes and a summary of how anglers might go about fishing them during one of the toughest stretches of the bassin' year.
Photo by Tim Lesmeister
SAM RAYBURN Everyone knows that Sam Rayburn is a great bass lake. They also know that it's a huge body of water, spanning some 114,000 acres, with nearly 600 miles of shoreline. Much of that shoreline is cluttered with buckbrush and willows; some sections are flanked by lush hydrilla beds that grow as deep as 12 feet.
Bottom line: Sam Rayburn has all the ingredients for a dynamite spring bass fishery.
Martin says that though many of the same areas that held fish during March and April will still be holding fish during May, anglers might need to throw the fish a changeup to catch them consistently. "There could possibly be some fish on beds down around the dam," he observed, "but the spawn should be wrapped up for the most part. Even so, there should still be a ton of fish in holding around the buckbrush and willows, provided we got some rain in late winter and early spring. If there is 3 feet of water in the bushes, the bass are going to be in there."
One of the most deadly baits anglers can tie on right now is a soft jerkbait. Virtually snag-free, the soft-plastic lure can be worked at a variety of depths with an enticing action that even educated bass usually find hard to resist.
Martin's favorite soft jerkbait is the 5- or 5 1/2-inch Yamamoto Senko. He fishes it Texas-style with a 4/0 Sugoi hook and no weight. "The key is getting it right in there next to the bush, and then teasing or aggravating the bass," he said. "That's the neat thing about finesse baits like the Senko. You're in full control of what the bait does beneath water. You can twitch it stop it and work it at any rate of speed until you figure out what it is the bass like."
Two other finesse baits worth tying on are the wacky worm and a tube lure. The wacky worm rig is composed of a straight-tail worm that's been hooked through the egg sac, with the business end of the hook left exposed. A wacky worm doesn't look like much when it's just hanging there, but twitch it around shallow bushes or weeds and it'll drive the bass nuts.
Several companies make worms especially designed for wacky worming. Gambler's Swacky Worm and Zoom's Trick Worm are two of the heavy favorites at Rayburn. The Senko also works pretty well when hooked through the gut.
The bush bite currently in progress in famed areas like Veach Basin, Black Forest, Caney Flats, Canyons, Needmore Point and Deer Stanley is augmented by the bass getting hot and heavy on topwaters and buzzbaits. According to Martin, surface-scratchers will likely be most effective when worked above submerged grassbeds in 4 to 12 feet of water.
For guide service, contact Ed Snelson, (936) 876-4324 or Scott Soisson, (409) 698-9430.
RICHLAND-CHAMBERS Larry Winters doesn't guide for a living, and he doesn't fish many bass tournaments - but as owner of Midway Landing, a full-service marina located about midlake on the Chambers Creek arm, he probably stays abreast of what's going on with the bass at 46,000-acre Richland-Chambers Reservoir as well as anyone. And according to Winters, R-C is somewhat different from other East Texas lakes, in that the peak of the spawn tends to transpire later in the year.
"The average depth of this lake is 20 to 25 feet," he said, "and that's deep for an East Texas reservoir. Because the lake is deep, it takes longer for the water temperatures to warm up and that usually means a later spawn."
While bass on the shallower upper end are likely to have spawned during late March and April, there should be plenty of bedding activity in progress this month from the midlake area south to the dam. Winters says that the majority of the spawning will occur on the shallow flats toward the rear of major feeder creeks. Crab, Grape, Winkler and Cedar always produce some solid fish during the first two weeks of May.
"The fish are going to be around shallow stumps, laydown logs and grass," he remarked. "Secondary points are always good places to look. You'll also need to check out any little inlet or pocket you come across."
There's nothing fancy about Winters' May menu. The matchup of a Texas-rigged lizard with a 1/4-ounce sinker always seems to get the best reviews. Top colors are chartreuse/pepper, red shad and
pumpkinseed. "There also are quite a few fish caught on tubes, jigs and spinnerbaits, but the lizard is the No. 1 choice by far," he said."
Bass that call the northern reaches of the lake home are likely to be in a different stage of the game altogether during May. Winters' view is that those bass more than likely dumped their eggs sometime in March or early April, and so should be getting in the mood to look up about now.
"Topwaters will get some explosive hits around the shallow humps up north," he said. "But it's probably going to be an early and late deal. After that, you're going to need to move out to the edges of the creeks and throw crankbaits and Texas rigs."
For guide service, contact Stan Lawhon at (903) 872-1746.
TOLEDO BEND Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn; Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend: No matter how you word it, those two lakes are almost one and the same. The only difference is that "the Bend" is about 67,000 surface-acres larger and harbors about twice the amount of shoreline - 1,200 miles in all.
More acreage equals more room for the bass to roam around in. It also means more cover, which means more good places to hide.
Veteran bass pro and fishing guide Tommy Martin is of the opinion that anglers can refine the search for easy-to-catch lunkers by concentrating their efforts north of the Pendleton Bridge.
"Overall, May can be a pretty tough month, especially down south," he said. "These fish will have been pounded for two months, and they can be reluctant to bite at times. If I were fishing a tournament on this lake this month, I'd probably fish north."
Martin will key on many of the same areas that he focused on during early spring, when the bass were in a pre-spawn and spawning mode. If the water's up like it normally is, he'll probe the outside bushes with Texas-rigged Zoom lizards and wacky-style Trick Worms.
"There also should be a decent topwater bite on chugger-style lures and maybe even buzzbaits," he said. "As a rule, the surface bite will be best early and late, but it can be good all day if we get some cloud cover and/or a little chop on the water."
Anglers who'd rather save gas and tough it out down south will need to scale down their baits and key on shoreline bushes, main-lake points and scattered grassbeds.
Wacky worms, tubes, soft jerkbaits and 1/4-ounce Rat-L-Traps will be tough to beat in the shallows. You'll also be able to draw some attention with a Carolina-rigged centipede or french fry. Dragging tends to produce the best results on main-lake points with scattered vegetation or none at all.
You can schedule a guide trip with Martin by calling him at (409) 625-4792.
PALESTINE Lake Palestine always gets its share of springtime bass fishing traffic. But the bulk of the pressure usually comes in February, March and early April, when pot-bellied bass are in their pre-spawn and spawning modes.
Things will have quieted down immensely on the 25,000-acre reservoir near Bullard by the time May rolls around. And so it's apt to go for the chances of catching a lunker largemouth: quietly.
"You won't catch a lot of big bass at Palestine during May, but the fishing can be pretty good for numbers," said fishing guide Ricky Vandergriff. "The fish should be feeding up pretty good."
Vandergriff likes to divide his time between the northern and southern quadrants of the lake. He generally catches better-quality fish up north by working a jig or a medium-diving crankbait along the edges of Kickapoo and Flat creeks, as well as the Neches River.
Most bites will come as the bait passes by or bumps into an underwater stump or laydown log. Defined bends in the channels deserve special attention, as well.
Vandergriff added that there also should be a decent bite on topwaters and soft jerkbaits like the Mr. Twister Slimey Slug or floating-style lizards. These lures produce the best results when worked in relation to weedbeds and other shallow cover during low-light hours or under cloudy conditions.
Anglers who choose to fish the middle and southern sections of the lake should concentrate on main-lake points and boat docks located relatively close to some sort of travel route or deepwater dropoff. Vandergriff says that boat docks and points doctored with manmade brush can be especially attractive.
Crankbaits and Carolina-rigged centipedes are among the top bait choices for point-hopping. Meanwhile, the guide suggests tying on a lightweight jig, small spinnerbait, tube lure or soft jerkbait for probing around docks.
Vandergriff can be reached at (903) 561-7299.
FORK Lake Fork needs no introduction in bass fishing circles, the 27,000-acre impoundment near Quitman having proved itself a trophy lake for all seasons many moons ago. To this day, the lake continues to shock the imaginations of hardcore bassers everywhere with its uncanny ability to yield the big bite.
On a scale of one to 10, fishing guide and Skeeter bass pro Brooks Rogers rates Fork's May fishing prospects a solid 11. "In my opinion, it's one of the very best months of the year," he asserted. "The out-of-state crowds are gone, so the fishing pressure will pretty much be limited to local anglers. For someone who likes to catch numbers of 2 1/2- to 5 1/2-pound fish, with the outside chance of catching a giant, now is the best time to come."
One of the neat things about May fishing at Fork is that more than just one or two baits or techniques will produce plenty of bites. According to Rogers, anglers can fish shallow or deep, and have just as much fun either way.
"As a rule, the deep fishing won't get cranked up until the middle of the month, though," he said. "I'll spend most of my time shallow during the first part of the month. After that, I'll fish shallow in the mornings, then move out to my structure spots after lunch."
Rogers reports that the topwater fishing can be incredible during low-light hours. He likes to throw a Yellow Magic or Zara Spook under calm conditions and a buzzbait if there's a little chop of the water.
The guide believes that surface-scratchin' is usually best around scattered patches of grass in the mouths of major creeks. He cited Little Caney, Dale, Garrett and Birch as his favorites. "The grass isn't everywhere, so you'll have to look for it," he said.
In addition to topwaters, Rogers says, lures intended to simulate the bass' primary food sources during late spring - shad, baby bass and perch - can enable anglers to land some quality fish. "Shallow-diving crankbaits like Mann's Baby Minus 1 will produc
e excellent results around the grass," he offered. "I also like a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce tandem spinnerbait with willow leaf blades. Bream and white are the main color patterns."
Once the deep-water patterns start to come together, anglers can really begin to run up the score. Rogers suggests working main-lake humps and ridges in 20 to 25 feet of water with Carolina-rigged centipedes, french fries and Texas-rigged plastic worms.
Night-fishing also starts to pick up during May. Most of the better catches come on Texas-rigged worms, craws and jigs worked on brushy main-lake points and other defined structure near abrupt deepwater dropoffs.
To book a trip with Rogers, call (903) 780-0680, or try Hollice Joiner at (903) 342-5359.
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