During different times of the year, largemouth bass seem to key in on particular bait. In the early spring, as the water warms and the crawfish really begin to emerge they are pursued heavily by the bass. In the late summer and fall the threadfin shad seems to be the food of choice for most bass. Right now, during the late spring and early summer there is another choice; the "bluegill" -- also called bream, shell crackers or sunfish.
The bluegills this time of year are spawning and making their beds, sometimes in large groups. It's not uncommon to find 25 to 50 bream beds all grouped together in a small area. While the bream are spawning, males herding females to their beds and chasing rival males out are distracted and often are easier prey for the bass. Their beds are usually found in sandy, shallow cuts or coves and are usually easily identified by the many plate-sized depressions created by the bluegills.
Besides the bream beds there are tons of bream/bluegills around the many boat docks on the lake. You can see them feeding on the algae growing on the bottom of the boat dock floats. Again, these bluegills are easy prey for the bass that are sitting under the dock waiting for the opportune moment.
So how do you catch the bass keying on the bluegills? First, the bait choices:
There are a few key baits that work in either situation: a jig, a swimbait and a topwater bait. The jig I use is a Tom Tom's Tournament Tackle (TomTomsJigs.com) Big Meat jig in the "EZMoney" color with any number of green pumpkin-colored trailers. Any of the swimbaits on the market that you can retrieve slowly without them sinking too fast will work. As for the topwater baits, a prop bait has gotten a lot of attention over the past couple of years but a buzzbait or walking stick bait will work as well. Just remember that you're trying to imitate an injured or fleeing bluegill and the color of your bait should be similar to the color of the bream.
Next, the presentation: It's easy with boat docks; cast, pitch or skip your bait into, under or alongside the boat docks and retrieve the bait, keeping it high in the water and beside the flotation of the dock. Typically the shaded side of the dock is better, and you'll have to vary the retrieve until you find the presentation that triggers the bass to strike. Erratic movement of the bait is important.
When you find the bream beds it's a very similar situation to the dock pattern except that often the bass will be sitting just outside the bream bed in a little deeper water and will dash into the beds to grab bait. So, keep your boat back and make long cast, landing your bait well past the bream beds bringing your bait through or over the beds, again making erratic movements with the bait mimicking an injured or fleeing bluegill.
Some of the biggest fish being caught this time of year are caught on this pattern, so get out there and give it a try.
There is no substitute for time on the water!
Rusty White of Rock Hill is a professional fisherman and full-time guide on the Catawba chain of lakes, offering full- and half-day services. For more information, visit www.fishingwithRusty.com.