Whether you’re a Western angler chunkin’ big swimbaits for ultra-fat, trout eating bass, or a Northern guy that loves to sling jerkbaits for bronzebacks, it’s on like Donkey Kong in May, and some my most successful outings this time of year revolve around a fishing approach I like to call “stay high and fly.” In May, most bass are in some stage of the spawn, but regardless of the particular stage in a given area, the one thing that ties bass together across the country is that they’re shallow. To be clear, that doesn’t just mean in shallow areas of the lake, but also shallow in the water column. One reason for this is that warmer May surface temps bring forage high, but another big reason is protection of fry. If you see a ball of bass fry flickering around the surface, you can count on momma lurking within striking distance. So the “stay high” part of the equation means stick to baits that work well in the shallows and the upper tier of the water column. Next comes the “flying” part.
What I mean by flying is covering as much water as possible. Remember that this time of year, you may catch a prespawn fish on a swimbait by a secondary point, then wander into a pocket and pop a bedding bass on a floating worm, then you may hook a buck bass protecting fry on the outside post of a dock swimming a jig just under the surface. In other words, don’t get stuck on targeting bass in only one particular situation. Turn on that engine and move.
Now, I’ve had a few readers ask what’s in my tackle box. Naturally, that varies season to season, if not week to week. But with my “stay high and fly” approach in mind, you can bet these baits are going to be in my boat all month long.
1/4-ounce White Swim Jig: It’s my May money bait. Just keep it moving and bulging the surface, then kill it next to key cover for a split second and watch for the flash.
White or Methiolate 8-inch Floating Worm: Walk it back and forth barely below the surface with the tail whipping. Bass may follow it for a while before eating, so be patient.
Wacky Worm: This is conventionally not a “covering water” bait, but this time of the year I make longer casts and keep it constantly wiggling just subsurface, creating a ripple.
Hollow-Body Frog: If you think it’s not frog time yet, think again. I have had some of the best frog days during spawning time. Try to walk it back and forth around key cover without advancing it forward too fast.
3/8-ounce White Buzzbait: This is another May sleeper bait. I’ve seen enormous stringers caught on the buzzer when everyone else is finesse fishing in the spring. It works better in stained to muddy water, but don’t be afraid to try it in the clear stuff on overcast May days.
Big A** Swimbait: Even though the super-productive swimbait locations are somewhat limited nationally, the Western guys will tell you (and have proven it over and over) big swimbaits catch giant bass. If you are in clear water in May that holds giant shallow bass, bomb a 6- to 8-inch swimbait at them from time to time. These lures just seem to trigger a reaction from a caliber of fish that no other bait can. I like a trout pattern on my swimbaits. See above.