Traditionally, May is a month that can go a lot of ways. Most of the fish are still shallow and are either post spawn or still spawning. Some fish are late spawners and there are a lot more bass than people realize that spawn more than one time. This is a time of year when the bass have had two or three months of pretty tough fishing pressure and they get just a little bit hard to catch.
With the right weather conditions—say a good, cloudy day—you could probably catch them on a top-water or buzz bait, but most of the time May is when I like to settle down with a soft plastic lure on a shaky head or a Texas-rigged 5-inch Shaky Worm and fish around shallow cover. Fishing objects in two to six feet of water that other people can’t see or don’t want to take the time to feel around can product a lot of fish.
This time of year, bass can get a little gun shy, especially is the water is not muddy, so you need to make long casts to them. That’s why the Shaky Worm on a Texas rig with a 3/16-ounce weight works so well, because you can fire that thing 25 yards out from the boat and fish it around objects and feel for things that you can’t see.
A Carolina rig can be good for this, too, using a 4-inch lizard. But whatever you use, the key here is to fish slowly. You can’t get in too big of a hurry. If you’re running objects that you can see, that’s one thing, but fishing a lot of side points and tips of little flat points where fish traditionally spawn late or hole up after the spawn requires you to slow down and really hunt those areas. You may have to pick a point apart to find that key stump or rock where the fish are laying this time of year.
To do this, I like to use a shaky head jig with a 1/6- or 3/32-ounce head, which is a pretty light, little head, and put it on 6-pound line. I use a 6-foot, 6-inch medium-fast spinning rod and an Abu Garcia Cardinal 704LX reel. This reel has a 5:1 retrieve ratio which is excellent for handling fluorocarbon line. I fish that little shaky head like I do a Texas rig: cast it towards a dark spot or a shadow and let it fall to the bottom. If nothing gets it on the way down, I will pick it up and shake it a little bit and let it freefall back to the bottom; pick it up and move it a little bit and repeat the process. Usually by then I’ve covered that area where I think that a bass is going to be and I will reel it in and fire it out towards another section.
When I use a Texas rig for this, it is usually to fish areas of heavier cover like a big laydown tree with a lot of limbs on it. I make long casts around the edge and over limbs and pick the laydown apart because I can get away with heavier line like 14-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. For Texas rigs, I use a 6-foot, 6-inch medium-fast casting rod because it has the right action to make the bait crawl over the limbs to keep from getting hung up. Also, this rod handles 12- and 14-pound line so much better than a heavy-action rod. You can also cast further with the extra tip action, plus you have the ability to feel the fish better. I use reel with a 6:1 retrieve ratio, so when a bass gets hooked, I can hit it hard and wind fast to pull its head away from whatever cover it might be headed towards. If it runs towards the boat, I’ve got plenty of retrieve speed to keep up with it.
Another place to look for fish after the spawn is around boat docks. For shallow docks in six feet of water or less, I will throw the 1/16- or 3/32-ounce shaky head. If the dock is in eight to 10 feet of water, I will use an 1/8-ounce head and skip it back in to the dark holes and shadows trying to get the bait into places that other people can’t. Once you get the bait under there, just let it fall. If there is a bass under there, then 99 percent of the time, it will eat the bait on the way down.
If the fish are still spawning, you’ll want to hit every post on the walkway. But if they are in the shade, you can pattern them quickly. If you get bit in the walkway shade, the chances are pretty good that there will be another bass on the next dock in pretty much the same place. Once you fish a few docks and figure out where they are going to be, you can speed up and cover a lot more territory.
When it comes to selecting lure colors, I always fish lure colors based on where I am, but in May I usually throw something like watermelon or green pumpkin. Early in the year I like black, but in May it’s definitely green shades. If I think the fish are still bedding, if they’re bumping the bait and dropping it or hitting it and running with it, I will spike my bait with a chartreuse tail by dipping it in dye. You will catch a lot more fish with a dyed tail in the spring when they’re spawning—Kentuckys and smallmouths love a bait with a chartreuse tail.