Eufaula May Transition Bass Are Like Jekyll And Hyde
Eufaula postspawn bass fishing ranges from big sacks to no sacks. Marvin Waddell explains how to consistently catch fish all month.
May is a month of transition on Lake Eufaula for both bass and bass fishermen. The water temperature is warming, and the spawning cycle is pretty much over. The bass that were easy pickings during previous weeks seem to either disappear or get a serious case of lock jaw.
Fishing can be downright tough if anglers are not willing to adapt to the changes in bass behavior. The fish have labored through the rigors of the spawn. They have gone from peak condition to a tired, depleted and almost comatose state. Fishing during the month of May can be very challenging, but it can also be very good.
Perhaps no other lake in the state exhibits this “Jekyll-and-Hyde” demeanor more so than Eufaula. Knowing what to do and where to do it is very important to an angler’s success. Here’s how a veteran Eufaula angler approaches this sprawling reservoir during the month of May.
For this assignment, I accepted it with excited anticipation. It is no secret that Eufaula is my home lake, and any time that I get to cover a story there, it is exciting. But that was only part of the reason for my excitement this time. What really got me pumped was the angler that was to be featured — Marvin Waddell of Dawson. What’s the big deal you say? Well, there is a story behind that.
Marvin and my dad have been friends for as long or longer than I have been alive. When I was a kid, Marvin used to let me tag along often on fishing trips to Eufaula. He introduced me not only to Eufaula, but to big-water fishing in general. These childhood trips planted the seed that still grows within me today. If he had not taken the time to take a smart-mouthed, pain-in-the-shorts kid fishing back then, there is a good chance that I would not be writing this article today. Whether Marvin realizes it or not, I owe him a great deal for the success that I have been blessed with both as a fisherman and as a freelance writer. Well, that’s a long enough walk down memory lane. Thanks for indulging me, now let’s get down to the matter at hand.
Marvin has fished Eufaula for many years, almost since the lake was impounded. He has fished the lake from its hey-days to its “dead-sea” period and all times in between. To say he knows the lake well would be an understatement. He has won many tournaments on Eufaula over the years and will no doubt win some more. He fishes the lake often and has faced just about every possible fishing situation one angler could face on this reservoir. He certainly qualifies as someone who can help anglers put more fish in the boat.
“For the most part, May is a postspawn month,” said Marvin. “Postspawn fishing can be tough on Eufaula. Really tough.”
During the first part of May, probably 95 percent of the bass are finished spawning. These postspawn fish are tired and depleted from the spawning cycle and are trying to recuperate. Fish that are just coming off of the nests are not very interested in eating for at least several days. Rest is their main objective. These fish will suspend in and around cover near spawning areas before beginning their journey out to their summer homes. Slow and deliberate presentations are very important during this time. These fish will eat, but they are not going to expend very much energy to catch their meal. Slow-moving baits are your best choice now.
Topwater lures worked slowly around cover near spawning flats are a top choice early and late in the day. Lures that can be worked slowly, such as prop baits and poppers, regularly draw strikes from lethargic bass. These baits can be worked very slowly with long pauses, giving bass ample time to strike without having to expend much energy.
When the sun is overhead, the topwater bite will taper off. Fish will usually hold very tight to cover. Grass, bushes, stumps and laydowns will all hold fish. Now is the time to get out your flipping stick and really pick the cover apart.
“I flip a Zoom Ol Monster worm in red shad the majority of the time,” said Marvin. “It has worked best for me over the years, and I have a lot of confidence in it. When the fish don’t want the big worm, I will go to a Zoom Speed Craw in blackberry.”
It is important to note that you need to use the lightest weight you can get away with. The bass are often suspended in the cover during this time, and a slow-falling bait requires less effort to eat.
As the month progresses, the bass will begin to regain both their strength and their appetites. Priorities turn from rest to food, in particular shad. Shad begin to spawn on Lake Eufaula on the new and full moons in May. Literally millions of these baitfish invade shallow cover to perform their spawning ritual. Rock, grass, bushes and wood all attract these shad. They can be seen churning the water and flipping on the surface. This causes quite a disturbance, which is easily spotted by both anglers and hungry bass. Of the cover types mentioned, probably the most preferred are rip-rap and grass. The sheer number of shad congregated in these areas attract great numbers of bass.
The shad are distracted spawning, which makes them easy prey for bass. Feeding bass can be seen busting the surface as they voraciously feed on the shad. Be prepared, because largemouth are not the only fish that feed on these spawning shad. Hybrids, stripers and even catfish will take advantage of this all-you-can-eat buffet. This situation is every bass angler’s dream, as the bass are totally dialed in to one thing…. eating. It usually doesn’t take long to fill out a limit, and hookups on nearly every cast are not uncommon at times.
“I really like to fish a buzzbait when bass are keying on the shad spawn,” Marvin comments.
A buzzbait is a very good choice, as its churning blades closely resemble a fleeing shad. Bass will strike out of reflex, and with a buzzbait you can fish very quickly. In a situation like this the more casts you can make results in more hookups. This top-water bite usually dies as soon as the sun hits the water, so you need to make the most out of the small window of time that you have. Fishing time can be extended by seeking areas that have shade. It should be noted bass will often become very finicky during this time. They are so dialed in to shad that anything that looks unnatural will be ignored.
It pays to be observant of the size of the shad the bass are feeding on and match the hatch with your baits. In addition to the buzzbait, a spinnerbait and small crankbait will also produce, as will a Zoom Super Fluke. A trick to consider when the fish snub traditional buzzbaits and spinnerbaits that have standard skirts is to remove those skirts and put a small grub in their place. I have seen times when this made the difference between catching fish and not even getting a bite.
The shad spawn is very important to the overall bass population in the lake. A good shad spawn usually means that there will be a good year class of bass. These shad comprise probably 90 percent of the bass’s diet on Eufaula. It’s not hard to see that the more shad that are in the lake the more available food there is for the bass to eat. Their growth rate increases and the fish are healthier. By keeping records, one can see that the best years for bass fishing have coincided with a good shad spawn.
When the surface feeding stops, don’t just pick up and leave. Both the shad and the bass are still in the area. They have just stopped surfacing and have moved deeper in the water column. Slow down and fish baits that will allow you to fish deeper, and you can usually pick up a few more fish. Crankbaits and Texas-rigged worms are good choices.
While the shad spawn usually lasts all month to some extent, the deeper into the month you get the less activity you will see. By now the bass are beginning to move out of the shallows in favor of a little deeper water. Shallow ledges, points and humps in eight to 12 feet of water will begin to concentrate some fish now. Man-made brushpiles are also very good places to catch fish. Now is the time when crankbaits and spinnerbaits really begin to shine. With water temperatures usually in the upper 70s to low 80s, bass metabolism is high. This means that they will feed more often, thus increasing your odds of catching fish. Now, for the first time of the year, bass will begin to rely on current to feed.
Power generation at the Walter F. George dam creates current in the lake, and to a bass this current is like ringing the dinner bell. They will group together in schools on underwater structure to ambush prey that is washed by with the current. Once you find a school of fish it is very possible to catch several from one spot. When the current is moving the fish are biting, so you want to find a concentration of fish. It is important to keep moving, hitting likely spots until you contact some fish. There is no need to fish slowly, as the current makes the bass very aggressive. Keep moving and covering water. When you get around some fish, they will let you know they are there.
Another tactic that Marvin really likes during May is flipping.
“This lake is really changing,” said Marvin. “All of the grass and other cover we have in the lake now is changing the bass’s behavior.”
The grass, hydrilla and what locals call “watermelon grass,” will hold some fish virtually all year long. The lake also has abundant water willow and some lily pads. This cover provides shade and oxygen.
Marvin likes to start his day fishing topwater. He normally reaches for two baits. A Devil’s Horse, a topwater prop bait, and a buzzbait catch a lot of fish for him. He fishes these baits tight to shallow cover until the sun hits the water. Instead of leaving when the top-water bite dies, he will usually stay in the same area and break out his flipping stick. He flips a Zoom Ol Monster worm in the red-shad color almost exclusively. He fishes this bait very slowly in the thickest part of any cover he can find.
“A few years ago this wouldn’t have worked,” said Marvin. “Before we got all of the shallow cover in the lake, the fish would go straight out to the ledges after the spawn. Now we are seeing more and more fish stay up shallow. This lake is changing, and we are having to adjust our fishing methods to those changes.”
I asked Marvin to point out some areas he likes to fish during May, and he offered the following suggestions.
“The big flat just north of Cool Branch on the Georgia side of the lake is as good an area as there is during May,” said Marvin. “It has grass and bushes that will be holding fish. Cowikee Creek is another good area with a lot of shallow cover. This area gets fished a lot, but you can always catch some fish in there.”
The day Marvin and I fished, the lake was a mess. Recent rains had left the lake very muddy, and the corps was dropping the lake as fast as possible. Even under these less-than-favorable conditions, we managed to catch several nice fish on spinnerbaits and by flipping. As tough as it was, I can only imagine how much success we could have had if the conditions had been right.
Fishing on Lake Eufaula in May can be very difficult, but as noted also very good. The key is knowing what the fish are doing and where they are located. Marvin has filled in the blanks to these questions for us. All we have to do is go out and put this new-found knowledge to work. Incorporate the tactics outlined here into your strategy this month.
You might find yourself filling a big tournament sack when others are struggling.
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