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One of the good things about overlapping sporting seasons is that you get the choice of doing what you like without a lot of competition. Opening days can be a little crowded, but most of the time you can spend some time enjoying your favorite pastime while everyone else is off doing that second-best thing.
So it is in mid-May. The allure of turkey hunting is strong, and many of the same people who would be fishing right now are clad in camouflage and clucking, purring and yelping around in the woods hoping a big gobbler will come strutting into range. This means many a riffle and pool will be empty of anglers – the perfect time to go fishing!
There are actually many good reasons to go fishing this week. All the signs are “go” for great action on any water you pick, from the smallest trout stream to the most challenging of lakes and rivers. The ice is gone, the water temperatures are in the “prime” range and bugs are hatching left and right as the ever-warming sun brings the wild world back into its springtime mode.
I am often torn between going salmon fishing (right now is nearly the peak time for these silver rockets, especially in streams and rivers), or bass fishing along the shore of a favorite lake or pond. On a good day, I’ll plan to do both, fishing the streams for salmonids in the morning and then heading for the shore of a nearby pond for smallmouths. It’s all good and it’s all going on right now.
I wouldn’t say that fast action is guaranteed during a mid-May foray, but I once bet a co-worker that we could catch a bass on any lure we tossed to them and, at the end of the day, I’d won the bet. Old Max had some very strange lures in is tackle box; big, fuzzy things more suitable for pike or muskies back in his native Ohio, but those Maine smallmouths hadn’t read the book on them. We caught fish on practically every cast and on every lure we threw at them. Max even tried some long, cigar-shaped thing with huge propellers on each end and, not only did a big bass slam it just as it hit the water, but the fish fought like a tiger right up to the canoe and then threw the lure right back at him! We agreed that the event counted as a “catch,” even though he never touched the fish, because the strike was obvious and the fish jumped clear of the water several times, propellers spinning wildly with a rattler-like buzz.
My favorite lure for spring bass has long been a 1/8-ounce yellow Mr. Twister, and if there’s no other choice I’ll use a gold Mepps spinner, with or without bucktail, but there really is no wrong choice for spring bass. The reason is simple enough, and it’s not the fabulous fishing skill of the operator. Actually, smallmouths move into shallow water in spring to spawn – a sharp-eyed angler can often see the circular, cleared patches of sand near shore where a hen fish has used its caudal fin (tail) to clear a bed for its eggs. Where she goes after laying several thousand eggs is of little import except to know that she is gone, leaving the male behind to guard the nest until the young bass hatch and enter their exciting “eat or be eaten” fry phase.
At any rate, the male bass is an aggressive, persistent guardian, and anything that creeps, crawls or swims anywhere near the nest is driven off or devoured without much fanfare. I have seen bass strike at falling leaves, twigs and passing turtles, and if the “intruder” happens to be a small, colorful fishing lure, it won’t get far.
The process is a simple one, but utterly satisfying from an angler’s point of view. Simply walk or paddle along shore (stay out about 30 feet or so) and cast your lure as close to land as you can reach without tangling in the overhead branches. Pay special attention to anything that sticks out of the water, hangs over the water or is covered with water because bass will stick close to such obstacles as they vigilantly suspend near their nests. The ideal presentation is to cast your lure beyond the target and retrieve it slowly back to the boat. Odds are that the lure won’t travel more than a foot or two before a fish hits it, so be prepared for that. If the fish misses its strike, cast again and give it another try. On small waters, it’s best to simply move on and come back to that spot later, giving the fish time to calm down and get back into its “protection” mode. Next time, you will probably reel slower, the fish will hit harder (they don’t like to miss!) and you’ll have another exciting battle on your hands.
Almost all of the bass you catch in May are going to be within inches of the shoreline. I often try a cast into deeper water away from shore but, in most cases, nothing ever happens. The spawning urge is undeniable and relentless, so work every inch of the shoreline shallows and drop a line to every twig, every leaf and every rock that might be a good spot. In most cases, a bass will answer.
By the way, for the next several weeks, the bass fishing will be this good any time you go all day long. They’re not particularly aggressive at night (or at least I have not found them to be so), but from dawn till dusk they are remarkably consistent with their response. Now is the time for topwater lures, divers, floating minnows, spoons, spinners, flies, streamers and plugs. Throw anything and everything at them. Who knows, you might be able to win a bet this season!
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