Mid-May will see some of the nation’s top bass anglers descend upon the nation’s top-rated bass lake for the Bassmaster Elite Series.
The bite should be fierce, but well before any of those snazzy, wrapped rigs pull into Many, locals will be enjoying lots of face time with the Toledo Bend toads those pros will be looking for.
Depending on weather patterns, spring could see a mix of prespawn and bed fish. Bait preferences vary, but we’ve rounded up a handful of examples that’ll serve as decision-making fodder for anyone looking to bend a rod on a big-head brute.
The spawn happens in waves, and home-state pro Greg Hackney knows staging pre-spawners are looking to fill their bellies and pack on the weight they’ll need to sustain them during the fast of their bedding ritual.
And Hackney likes a selection of hard baits for this pre-spawn.
Searching grassy drains and areas outside spawning flats, he’ll cover water with a Strike King Series 3 crankbait and a Strike King Redeye Shad lipless crankbait.
In off-colored water, he might show them the razzle dazzle with a Strike King Hack Attack spinnerbait — a model blending the thump of a small, silver Colorado blade with the flash of a gold willow leaf blade.
The crankbait and spinnerbait approach typically appeals to fish in active moods, but when a chilly morning has the fish sluggish, Hackney turns to a Strike King KVD Jerkbait.
Working the suspending bait in the 4- to 7-foot-deep range, Hackney can often coax bites from fish that are still in their slippers and bath robes.
But as spring progresses and fish move into baby-making mode, Hackney employs a one-two punch with soft-plastic options for either of two possible scenarios.
“If I can’t see the fish, I’ll blind-cast a Strike King Caffeine Shad,” Hackney said. “I can work this bait through shallow grass to find where those fish are bedding.
“Also, I can dead stick this bait in isolated spots where I think a bed might be.”
For targets he can see, Hackney’s fond of pitching a Texas-rigged Strike King Rage Craw to bass that will not appreciate the intrusion.
Candy craw’s a good color for imitating bluegill, Hackney said, but most days he’ll go with white.
“The reason I like white so much is because I can see it better from a distance,” Hackney said. “Sometimes, in deeper water or if the water has a little stain to it, you may not actually see the fish bite — but you can see that white bait, and if it moves you set the hook.”
We also asked other Elite Series pros their approaches, and here’s how they would be fishing this month on the Bend:
Cliff Crochet, Pierre Part
Baits: Original Rat-L-Trap or Float’N Trap
Crochet said he wants active fish, so he’s looking for those bass that haven’t moved up, yet.
In this case, pre-spawn temperament determines which bait he’ll throw. Warm, stable weather typically has the fish in a snapping mood, but let a cold front fiddle with the scene and your bass could get the pouty face.
In the latter case, pausing a bait and letting it float topside can turn lookers into biters.
“If they want to play, we can play — that’s when I’ll throw the original Rat-L-Trap,” Crochet said. “But sometimes you have to coax them, and that’s when the Float’N Trap is the way to go.”
Greg Vinson, Alabama
Baits: Net Bait BK Shad on a ½-ounce V-Lock swimbait head, Net Bait Paca Craw, Net Bait Paca Slim
Vinson said he throws this bait during the spawn when he can’t actually see the fish.
“I’ll fish it a lot like a spinnerbait,” Vinson said of the steady swimbait retrieve. “A shallow swimbait is really effective for those fish that are on the beds. They’re really defensive.”
It’s great when a fish eats the swimbait, but more often than not Vinson finds it to be most effective at making bass disclose their location.
“I like to be able to sight-fish, so if I can get a fish to boil on the swimbait, I can go look to see if there’s a fish spawning there. Then I’ll transition to a Net Bait Baby Paca Craw or the new Paca Slim.”
The key to putting fish in the boat, even when they’re bedding, is covering water, the pro said.
“During this time of the year, to keep moving and get a fish to show itself is really important because they don’t leave,” Vinson said. “If they’re spawning, they’ll sit right there and wait on you to throw something else in there.”
As Vinson noted, the staggered progression of spring bass requires a constant search effort.
“These fish come up in waves, and they come into different areas in waves,” he said. “I’ve learned that different areas get hot at different times. So you’re looking at that one little area where a group of fish has moved up — sometimes by the hour.
“You don’t necessarily have to catch them each time; you just get that one little tip that they’re there, and then you can slow down and work the area with what we call ‘blind sight-fishing.’”
Gerald Swindle, Alabama
Bait: Texas-rigged Zoom Z Craw in the California 420 color
Come spawning time, Swindle looks for fish in the hay grass and other bed-protecting cover. The Z Craw’s flat body has ribbed sides that move a lot of water, and Swindle leverages this feature, particularly in off-colored water, to help the fish find the bait.
“For the fish that I can’t see, the ones I’m just going to pitch to — whether it’s in the willow trees, the bushes or the hay grass — I can swap weight with a 5/16-, a 3/8- or a ½-ounce (bullet weight), depending on the cover,” Swindle said.
The Z Craw also is a bait that allows him to put fish of all sizes in the boat.
“The bait’s small enough to catch those 1 1/2-pounder to 2-pounders, but it’s big enough that if there’s a 10-pounder on the bed and I pitch it in that dirty water around a tree, there’s a good chance she’s going to bite it,” Swindle explained.
Tommy Biffle, Oklahoma
Bait: Gene Larew Biffle Bug on a Larew Hard Head
Football heads are a popular pre-spawn option, and Biffle helped design the Hard Head with a pivoting hook that allows the bait to kick side to side for more realistic motion.
And his namesake creature bait features a hollow body cavity designed to hold rattle chambers and the Biffle Juice scent attractant that he also smears on the ribbed body and the flat tail.
Dressing up the bait’s scent combined with the sound can make a difference when fishing pressure or adverse conditions make the pre-spawn bite sluggish.
Casey Ashley, South Carolina
Bait: Zoom Fluke in pearl white or watermelon red
Flukes can be one of the better options for locating bedding zones, but the 2015 Bassmaster Classic champ knows this isn’t a burning presentation.
“I’ll work a Fluke a little slower to keep it down in the water column, almost out of sight,” Ashley said. “The water temperature is cooler and fish aren’t as active, so slower is better.”