Don’t you just love May? So many things go on this time of year that it’s hard to figure out just what to do on a sunny day. How about getting up before daylight, pulling the boat to Lake Oconee and being on the water, lights on and ready to catch bass as the first rays of day crack through the pine needles and oak leaves? The shad spawn is on, and Jeff Norris of Covington is here to let you in on a little secret. It’s not just a morning bite. What’s more, this entire month is full of fishing patterns that rely on the natural course of things to attract bass to particular areas.
Many anglers who live close to the lake will hit the water and cast spinner- baits like crazy when the sun is still below the trees as shad are often splattering all over the surface along seawalls and rip-rap, drawing the attention and ire of hungry game fish. Once the day has fully broken, many folks load up and head to the house or office. Jeff says you can stay on the water all day this month and have success bass fishing.
“Most people think the shad- spawn bite is exclusively a morning- time thing, but you can catch bass in the same places all day long,” Jeff said.
Jeff, who does large-scale commercial printing — including the big brackets in use at the Skeeter Eliminator Series events — doesn’t have as much time to spend fishing as he used to, but it hasn’t stopped him and partner Steve Keeble from going on a hot streak in tournaments this season.
“We got on a roll there for a while,” Jeff said. “I don’t get to pre-fish much, but we’ve spent enough time on Oconee that we can usually do pretty well.”
Jeff has been fishing on Lake Oconee for most of the time the reservoir has existed and has figured out some places to catch bass on the impoundment. He fishes the Berry’s, HD Marine and R&R trails. May on Oconee is one of Jeff’s favorite times and locations of the whole year.
A couple of weeks ago, I spent a half day fishing on Lake Oconee with Jeff while he explained his methods for catching bass in May. When I pulled up to Sugar Creek Marina, Jeff idled up to the dock and picked me up. We ran straight across the lake to the first spot Jeff wanted to try.
“I typically stay in this part of the lake,” Jeff said. “I hardly ever go up Richland Creek. The water there is usually really clear. Besides, I’ve won plenty of money right in this little area.”
As we got to our first fishing location, a long pocket with a couple of smaller cuts surrounded by docks, Jeff began explaining his plan for catching bass on Oconee this month.
“This is pretty much a main-lake pat- tern for me,” Jeff said. “I’ll work these pockets and stretches of the main body of water, and what I’m looking for is sea- walls with rocks on them. Most of these seawalls have rock right on them so you’re likely to find shad spawning anywhere.”
The key according to Jeff is to work a spot quickly and efficiently, locate some bass and move on once the catching slows down. You can catch bass all day long by coming back to the same places over and over again.
“If I know fish are on a spot, I’ll go back to it several times over the course of a day,” Jeff said.
Jeff’s arsenal of baits when the shad spawn is going strong remains pretty constant. Like most anglers who have spent any time on Lake Oconee, Jeff will have a jig handy for flipping under docks to entice a big bite. However his main baits are spinner- baits and buzzbaits.
“Both of them work well,” Jeff said. “I’ll throw a spinnerbait a little more, but on a cloudy day, I’ll work the buzzbait all day long and catch fish.” Jeff’s spinnerbaits and buzzbaits will be white. Willowleaf blades are the best for bass fishing when shad are flickering around the rocks. The blades resemble the little baitfish, and they put off the right amount of flash and thump to attract strikes. One of Jeff’s favorite spinnerbaits is an old Lunker Lure model with a single blade and a small copper lip in the head.
“This bait is like the precursor to the ChatterBait,” said Jeff. “I have two of them left, and I fish them a lot this time of year.”
Jeff typically throws a 1/2-oz. spinnerbait, but if the situation calls for it, like when the seawall is on deeper water, he might go to a bait as heavy as a 3/4-oz.
When Jeff and I fished, the shad were just beginning their spring ritual, so the pattern wasn’t as strong, but shortly after we arrived in our first hole Jeff saw something that he liked on a retrieve.
“There were some shad following the spinnerbait back to the boat,” Jeff said. “That’s what we want to see.”
A few minutes later, Jeff hooked a dink on the Lunker Lure.
“Well, they’ll bite a spinnerbait,” Jeff laughed. “He killed it right by that rock.”
To effectively fish Oconee in May, boat control is a must. Jeff said the best way to position yourself to catch bass this month is by getting your craft close to the seawall, get on the trolling motor and stay parallel to the bank.
“You can cover a lot of water that way by making casts that keep your bait close to the wall and the rocks, and that’s usually a good way to catch a limit of fish fairly quickly,” Jeff advised.
When you start catching bass on a particular stretch of seawall, take note of the location mentally or with a GPS mapping device so you can revisit it later. While sunlight is at a minimum and baitfish are breaking the surface, you are likely to catch bass after bass in a few casts. Later in the morning, much of the surface activity dissipates and many people go back to trying other tactics for Oconee bass. It’s this time, however, when Jeff will really make hay.
“It’s not like those shad school up and head out to the middle of the lake later in the day,” Jeff said. “They’re still there, just a little farther off the wall.”
That’s when Jeff moves the boat a little farther from structure and fishes in the same manner. By getting away from the wall, you’re still covering water where fish are likely to be holding, and you can still parallel the wall with the boat and make casts in front of you, effectively fishing the largest amount of water possible.
“A lot of folks don’t understand that this is an all-day thing,” Jeff told me. “You can back off these walls a little and catch fish the same ways you do first thing in the morning.”
Jeff said once the shad move away from the walls, they’ll usually hold on the first drop from the wall. With the shad still schooled, bass, hybrids and other species of fish will typically be close by so they can fill their bellies in short order.
When Jeff starts fishing this time of year, he looks closely at seawalls that are either on expansive flats or close to deep water. He’ll typically start his day by fishing the shallow walls first and trying deep walls later if the bass aren’t cooperating in his go-to spots.
“I’ve had more success on the shallow walls first, but the shad might be on deeper walls too so you’ve got to try them both,” Jeff said.
The best thing about bass fishing during the shad spawn is that it’s some- times an anything-goes proposition. Of course spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and ChatterBaits will be flung by the thou- sands over the next few weeks, but swimming jigs, crankbaits and even Trick Worms can work wonders on hungry bass.
“There are times it’s pretty much whatever you want to throw because those fish are up, and they’re eating,” Jeff said.
Almost as if to prove the point, Jeff was working a white jig around a series of docks near where we had just seen a small pod of shad busting the surface. He would flip the bait under the edges and swim it back to the boat by making long sweeps with the rod tip and reeling up the slack on the fall. Jeff had just made a cast under a walk- way when he swept the bait off the bot- tom and set the hook on a 3 1/2-lb. bass.
In a few weeks the shad spawn will subside, but the best news for anglers is the bass-fishing action won’t. Later in May the mayfly hatch will begin, and fish can be caught with exciting topwater presentations. The mayfly hatch, like the shad spawn, begins a food- chain reaction that increases the presence of bass in certain areas.
When the insects begin hatching on clumps of grass or trees that over- hang the lake, bream and bass start busting mayflies on top. This is when it is time to tie on a Pop-R and hang on for arm-breaking strikes.
“The bream come up to feed on the mayflies, and bass come up to feed on bream,” Jeff said.
During the mayfly hatch, work your way back into pockets and look for bushes and grass where the bugs are present. The Pop-R, which creates a noisy splash on the surface, is sure to attract some attention, and the small feather or skirt around the rear treble hook looks like a large mayfly.
Jeff will cast his Pop-R as close to the bushes as possible, let it sit for a second and then begin working it back to the boat.
“Sometimes it’s a twitch with a long pause. Sometimes it’s a pretty fast retrieve,” Jeff said. “I try it different ways until the fish let me know how they want it. It’s different every day.”
If your cast finds the bushes, don’t worry about it. Such a presentation can work to your advantage because it knocks mayflies into the water and stirs things up even more than you would with only your lure in the lake.
If either of these patterns aren’t producing like you think they should, there are always bass around the docks at Oconee and you don’t have to be able to flip like a professional to catch a few big fish.
In any event, May is the time on Oconee when the lessons you learned in second-grade science are readily evi- dent. Little fish moves to an area, eats plankton and breeds. Bigger fish comes along and eats little fish. Sounds easy, right? With the correct game plan this month, you can simplify your angling and have a ball catching bass on Lake Oconee.