Just after daylight I was sitting in the back of Mike Meason’s jonboat steering his Ray electric motor. Mike needed to tie on a few things, so I was steering his souped-up jonboat, rigged specifically to fish small lakes where gas engines aren’t allowed. Our destination was a nearby spawning pocket on Lake Varner.
I was excited, nearly giddy with what the day would bring. Varner, Newton County’s 850-acre drinking-water reservoir, holds a reputation as one of the best public lakes in Georgia to catch a giant largemouth. GON has been reporting on these hawgs for years, and there seems to be no slowdown in the lake’s reputation for producing bass that weigh between 10 and 12 pounds. Varner’s latest giant, according to GON’s Web site message forum, was caught by Randall Kirkpatrick. Last month, he connected on a 15-lb., 12-oz. hawg that was weighed on hand-held scales and slipped back into the water.
We reached a short pocket and got ready to start the morning. Mike picked up a rod rigged with a Rapala Floating Minnow No. 11 jerkbait.
“I like this bait for pre-dawn bed fishing,” said Mike. “It’s such a flashy bait, which is one of the things I think pushes their buttons. It’s really good in clear water because you’re working it pretty fast. It works good when it’s a dead-still, calm morning with no wind or chop.”
A more obnoxious bait is a Bagley Bang-O-Lure.
“I learned about it from Eric Perkins on Jackson,” said Mike. “Ever since he told me about it, sure enough, bass tend not to like that bait over their bed, more so than a Pop-R or buzzbait. The Bang-O-Lure is a prop bait, so it may be combination of flash and noise that makes it so obnoxious. I definitely throw it and the Rapala in May.”
We were barely into our morning of fishing when a 4-pounder connected with Mike’s Rapala.
“Buck bass… come on sun,” said Mike.
We were both anticipating brighter conditions to help spot bass on beds. Mike said May is the most exciting month to “sight-fish” Varner, even though the majority of giant bass bed in April.
“There’s different types of sight fishing at Varner in May,” said Mike. “You’ll have some bass still on the bed, buck bass guarding fry and big females starting to concentrate around bream beds. This will all be going on shallow, so I’m constantly sight fishing. You can totally rule out deep in May. Count on the greater population of fish to be relatively shallow. Early in the morning start in the shallows in the backs of pockets, and fish no deeper than secondary points and break lines. Then move to the next pocket.”
Cloudy weather was killing us. Even with polarized glasses it was proving to be a tough morning to see fish. We began to cover water.
“May is a good time to cover water early, when you can’t see,” said Mike. “I like topwater baits and weightless plastics, like a Fluke, Senko, or Trick Worm, to start a day with. All three baits are good for fry guarders, spawners, and post-spawners.”
I was swimming a Buckeye Lures Mop Jig across a main-lake short pocket that Mike said has held giant bedding bass in the past.
“Oh man,” I heard him say.
I whipped my head around just in time to see a giant swirl behind his Rapala jerkbait.
“Did you see her? She was a good one,” he said.
I threw my jig behind the swirl and began swimming the bait back. Almost immediately she hammered that big brown jig, and within two seconds she had her entire body out of the water. Mike was reaching for the net… but it didn’t matter. On her second jump, the 6-pounder spit that jig and landed safely in the water to return to her bed.
“Small one,” Mike joked.
It didn’t make me feel much better, but in reality it wasn’t exactly a lunker when it comes to what else swims around in Varner. Mike’s biggest Varner largemouth was a 12.86-pounder that he caught in April 2005.
“I just hit one stretch, and I saw her,” said Mike. “I caught her on the second cast and then it was like every 30 or 40 yards there’d be one on the bed — and they were all between six and 10 pounds.
“A few bass will spawn on Varner as late as June, so you can still find some bedding in May. I like a jig.”
Mike bed fishes with a 3/8-oz. Strike King jig on 20-lb. fluorocarbon.
“I don’t think fish care about the line,” said Mike. “I’m using it because it’s so stiff, compared to stretchy mono. I want to hit them as hard as I can.”
Mike prefers a white jig.
“It does help me to see the bait, but it seems to me the fish are more aggressive to a white bait,” said Mike. “If I can see a fish, I’ve about gotten to where I go straight to the white bait.”
If a bedded fish won’t take a jig, try a Texas-rigged lizard, Senko or a Trick Worm.
“People say they change baits until they find out what the bass wants,” said Mike. “I don’t think it’s so much the bait change as it is the fall rate.”
Mike proved this to me on our trip. We’d been messing with a 3-pounder for 30 minutes, pitching jigs and Texas-rigged lizards, without a strike. He picked up a weightless Senko, which falls much slower, and the fish bit on the very first pitch.
If you have trouble spotting bass on beds, Mike said to make blind casts to light-colored spots using a green-pumpkin Trick Worm on a 1/16-oz. Bite-Me jig head or a Texas-rigged Zoom Brush Hog.
“Be ready,” said Mike. “In most cases fish are more aggressive if you have presented a bait to them before they’ve ever seen a boat.”
A lot of Mike’s sight fishing this month will be on postspawn females as they stage and recover on shallow secondary points and breaks. Once recovered, these fish will be ready to eat, and bream beds are prime places to find spawned-out females concentrated.
“I’ve seen big, postspawn females run through an area of bream beds and leave palm-sized bream flopping on the surface,” said Mike. “The beds will be right on the bank where you can see them, and the bass will just destroy these schools. If you are there when this is going on, throw a Sammy, Fluke or a Senko.”
When Mike finds a quiet bream bed, he naturally assumes a lunker is nearby, waiting to feed. He fishes the bed like he would a dock light at night.
“A lot of times those bass will move through waves all day long, so they’re usually not far at all,” said Mike. “I fish the immediate outskirts of the bed. Fish a jig, Senko, or Texas-rigged worm around the periphery where they lurk between the frenzies.”
Another sight-fishing technique this month is to look for buck bass as they guard bass fry.
“The fry-guarding males at Varner have a larger average weight than most lakes; you can put together a 15-lb., five-fish limit at Varner on fry guarders alone. There is also the occasional 5-lb. or better male out there.”
For fry-guarders, Mike likes to skip a jig up to the fry, a technique he said works better than just landing a bait near the fish.
“I think the sputtering action stimulates them,” said Mike. “It can really agitate a fish that’s guarding fry. They can hear and see it coming.
“If you can make the jig skip and stop in the fry and scatter them, hang on. The buck will run up to them and eat. Some say guarders are easier to catch than fish on the bed; they are more consistent.”
If skipping a jig isn’t your forte, cast a finesse worm or Trick Worm on the Bite-Me jig head. Weightless Trick Worms work, too.
Mike’s final sight-fishing pattern materializes late in May, as a few fish begin creeping toward their deeper summer holes.
“By the end of the month bass will start to school on the main lake,” said Mike. “The upper third of both forks of the lake tend to be the best place to see them school. I like a Pointer Minnow and a weightless Fluke.”
By 4 p.m. we were above the bridge on the left-hand fork of the lake. The sun did bust through by lunch, but steady winds were giving us fits as we tried our very best to locate a big fish on the bed. We had boated a few 3- and 4-pounders but were looking for a toad.
Finally, Mike spotted what looked be at least an 8-pounder in 5 feet of water. She was real hard to see because of the wind, so Mike elected to throw a marker buoy out and we’d return later.
Twenty minutes later I sailed a jig just above the buoy. I hopped it back to the boat with no luck. I picked a different spot on the water, and let her rip again. On my second hop, she thumped it — hard. I laid back and that ol’ girl came straight to the top with a nerve-racking tailwalk.
“I better get the net,” Mike said.
“You better,” I said.
After one heck of a battle at the boat, Mike scooped up the big sow. We guessed her to be a solid 8-pounder. Her belly was full of eggs, and her tail was blood red. We took some photos, and that girl went right back in the water to do her thing.
She was a good one, and there’s plenty more just like her ready to be caught in May. Get some polarized glasses, and go sight fishing.
“The common denominator throughout May is to keep your eyes peeled,” said Mike. “All these patterns rely on what you see.”
Newton and Walton County residents can fish Varner for free. All others must pay $5 per boat and $5 per vehicle. No gas engines are allowed on the lake. From April through October the lake opens at 7 a.m., and fishermen must be out of the park by 9 p.m.
Varner is open seven days a week and is located 30 minutes east of Atlanta, three miles north of I-20 off Alcovy Road. For more information, call (770) 784-2049.