by Dan Kibler
If two better months exist for fishing in the Carolinas than April and May, they must be recent inventions, because nobody knows what they are.
April and May are, in a word, dynamite. It doesn’t matter what species you’re targeting, it’s likely to be biting.
Bass fishermen will be working on prespawn and spawning fish in relatively shallow water. By the middle to end of May, those same fish will be finished their reproductive cycle, heading back toward deep water. But they generally stop about halfway through their trip and feed like there’s no tomorrow.
April – the month the dogwoods bloom – is the peak of the crappie spawn. Fish are likely to crowd into the banks to get rid of their eggs, choosing spots close to some kind of cover or obstruction: a pier post, a stump, brushpiles. While they’re up shallow, they’re feeding all the time.
Striped bass start on their spring spawning run to the headwaters of reservoirs late in the month, and they feed along their entire route. When they crowd into tailraces, they’re often within reach of bank-bound anglers using long casting rods and bucktails.
And catfish are extremely active – all three species: channels, blues and flatheads.
Catawba River Lakes
Shannon Lyndon at Lyndon’s RiverView Sports said April should be wide open on Lake Hickory as far as largemouth bass are concerned.
“There should be some spawning going on, so April should be a strong month,” said Lyndon (828-632-7889). “What I look for is flats that are close to deep water – that’s where they like to spawn. And I like to find coves that have a creek feeding into them.
“I like to throw a tube at bedding fish; I like a tube with a chartreuse tail so I can see it better. A spinnerbait is good to get reaction strikes from fish that are moving up, getting ready to spawn.”
Most bass will be in a post-spawn mode in May, Lyndon said, but there are some tactics that worm consistently in drawing strikes. “I’ll fish a floating worm or a stickbait like a Rapala, and twitch it above those fish that are guarding fry. That will eat ‘em up on Hickory,” he said.
“Another good thing to do in May is swim a white jib around boat docks. Later on in May, the water will have warmed up enough that you can catch ‘em on a Rico or a buzzbait around docks early and late.”
Guide Andy Fox of Claremont loves to fish Lake Norman in April and May, because they’re such great months to use topwater baits.
“By the last part of April and through May, a lot of the bass will have already spawned, and you can catch ‘em pretty good in post-spawn on topwaters,” said Fox (827-312-8771). “I love to fish topwater baits like Pop-Rs and Chug Bugs. By May, they’re really ready to feed. You can catch ‘em early and late.”
Most of the lake’s largemouth and spotted bass will be spawning throughout April; they tend to go in waves. “It’s like flipping a coin that time of year,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to catch, but I usually catch more largemouth than spots.”
Fox likes to fish secondary points on the outside of spawning coves. If the cove has a little water coming in or some rip-rapped banks, that’s even better.
Mountain Island Lake
April and May are great bass months on Mountain Island, the little lake that’s tucked away between its two larger neighbors – Norman and Wylie.
Guide Chris Nichols expects a load of bass to spawn early in the month, thanks to the timing of the full moon. “The banks will be loaded pretty good on that full moon,” said Nichols (704-868-2298). The full moon in March is pretty early, so the full moon in April will pull a lot of fish to those beds.”
With so many fish moving shallow – those actually spawning and the ones moving in, getting ready – Nichols targets the backs of coves and pockets, rarely fishing deeper than five feet. He utilized two different baits: a floating worm and a plastic lizard, fishing the latter on a split-shot rig or Texas-rigged with a small worm weight.
“When the sun gets up, you can see the spawning fish pretty good, but anytime else, you’re just fishing,” he said. “A lot of times I think you do better not trying to see the fish, just casting where you think they might be – the back end of a pier, a piling, a stump, rocks or brush. Any of those places will probably have a fish bedding next to it.”
As May approaches, more bass will be backing off, headed back toward deep water. Nichols intercepts them again on the corners of spawning coves and pockets and on secondary points. “That’s when I love to fish a topwater bait, a spinnerbait or a buzzbait,” he said. “You’ll still have a number of fish spawning in May, but I don’t think those fish are as big in the second wave. I think the biggest fish move in earliest. Those fish will be moving back out.”
Guide Jerry Neeley loves to bass fish on Lake Wylie in the spring. In April, despite the number of fish spawning, he catches them; when they come off the beds and recover in May, he really catches them.
“There are three basic ways you can catch ‘em,” said Neeley (704-678-1043). “First, you go all the way back in the backs of coves and fish a floating work in the shade. You twitch it up there close to the bank, right down a shady bank, and they’ll kill it the first two or three hours of the day.
“Second, you can take a 4-bladed spinnerbait and fish secondary points, because that’s where they’ll stage before they move in – and there will be some there, ready to go. The last way is to fish a Rapala or a Bang-O-Lure and just pop it along the top. They will kill it early and late.”
Neeley tends to fish secondary points during the middle of the day for staging fish that move up to feed. Early on, he’ll be looking for some of the bank grass that grew up during the low water of the past two summers. A ChatterBait is the ticket around that grass.
In May, especially from the second week on, bass will get back to feeding after they take a week off to recover from the spawn. And that means bass ganged up on secondary points, humps and main-lake ledges, feeding like crazy.
“Boy, is it a good crankbait month; just take your favorite crankbait and go,” he said. “I like a crankbait in a bluegill pattern, or some other shade of blue. There are a lot of colors you can use, but you need a crankbait that will run down to 12 feet deep, because they’ll be there or shallower.
“They’re not all the way back to the deep water. And you can catch ‘em on a Carolina rig.”
Developing into one of the southeast’s best all-around fisheries, Lake Wateree has just about everything a fisherman could want: great crappie, largemouth bass, stripers and catfish.
And because of the canary reed grass that lines many of the lake’s banks, May presents a fantastic time to catch bass on an exciting lure: a buzzbait.
Eric Weir of Big E’s Guide Service targets those grass beds with a buzzbait early each morning, spending a good two hours casting parallel to the grass or fishing any ditch or indentation in the grass line that might hold a bass.
Later in the day, when the sun gets up, Weir (704-860-0356) is likely to return to those grass beds, but this time with a jig in hand, pitching and flipping to holes back in the grass, looking for a big fish that’s hanging out, using the cover as an ambush point.
The rest of the time, Wateree fishes like most lakes: crankbaits on secondary points, plastic worms around boat docks. The most fertile lake on the Catawba River system, Wateree is full of gizzard shad, and bass can gang up on ledges or drops, ambushing passing schools of baitfish.
Yadkin/Pee Dee Lakes
High Rock Lake
There isn’t anything bad that guide Maynard Edwards of Lexington can think of to say about High Rock Lake in April and May.
The bass fishing is great, and the crappie fishing is probably better.
“April is the best month of the year to catch crappie,” said Edwards (336-249-6782). “You just go find something on the bank – a pier, brush or rocks – and you’ll have fun. It’s a great time to carry a kid fishing. You can take just a cane pole and some minnows and catch fish.”
Edwards said April is the peak of the crappie spawn, with fish heading for any kind of shallow cover to rub against and drop a load of eggs. A live minnow or colorful mini-jig are killer baits.
As far as bass are concerned, the peak of the spawn is early May, so fish are shallow and feeding up for most of April and part of May, Edwards said.
“The biggest bass move up in April, because those bigger females are the first ones to move up and look for places to spawn,” he said. “You don’t have fish very deep. You can catch ‘em on a jerkbait, a spinnerbait or a small crankbait. Jerry Lohr’s Little Cassie is about the best crankbait I can think of for this time of year. It’s got a tight wobble like a Shad Rap, but it’s got a bigger body. It’s a great bait if you’re fishing three to five feet deep.”
Striper guide Jerry Hill likes April but has trouble in May on Badin Lake – in both cases, because of the stage of the spring spawn.
“April isn’t bad; they’re starting to run up the river; May isn’t that great,” said Hill (336-247-1265). “They can be around the islands, up near the golf course (Old North State Club) and Old Whitney.
“You can stay around Gar Creek and Old Whitney and catch fish; I don’t go up past the (railroad) trestle.”
Hill said that stripers will really be feeding up the first two weeks of April, before they head up to the tailrace below Tuckertown Lake. He has a stretch of three or four miles of lake where he can regularly catch stripers.
“They’ll be spread out everywhere. From the first of the month through the middle of April, they’ll be around Lane’s Chapel, feeding before they go up,” Hill said.
Small baits are still the ticket. Hill trolls 3/8-ounce white or chartreuse bucktails and 3-inch Sassy Shad on a small jighead. The key depth is between 12 and 16 feet.
“Chartreuse is great if the lake clears up; if you get dirty water, the white or pearl works great,” he said.
Joe Aldridge at Joe’s Bait & Tackle in Albemarle said that April and May are hard to beat when it comes to catching crappie and largemouth bass.
“The dogwoods are blooming, you’ve got some pollen on the surface of the water, and the water’s coming up,” said Aldridge (704-982-8716). “That’s hard to beat.”
Crappie fishermen will continue to catch fish drifting live minnows over creek channels until the dogwoods bloom – a sure sign that crappie will move to the banks to spawn.
“That’s when you need to get in close to the bank and fish bushes and brush,” Aldridge said. “If you can find brush six or seven feet deep that comes up nearly to the surface, you can wear ‘em out. I like to put a cork or float on about eight inches above the jig, and just pop it in and around the brush. They’ll usually be up in the top of the brush.”
As far as bass-fishing is concerned, Aldridge sticks with shallow-running spinnerbaits until he feels like most largemouths are very close to spawning. Then, he’ll go to soft-plastic baits.