NEW HILL, N.C. — Fishing for bass this time of the year can be rewarding or frustrating.
A lot of the largemouth bass at Harris Lake — considered to be the state of North Carolina’s finest trophy bass lake — have finished their spring spawning season.
“This one, you can tell, hasn’t yet,” John Henson, who works at The Tackle Box in Fuquay-Varina, said Friday as he gripped a bass in the 3-pound range he had just pulled from the water. “She’s got eggs in her, and she’s got no scars on her tail yet.”
Bass still on their spawning beds can be spotted and easily targeted in shallow water by anglers with the help of polarized sunglasses.
Pre- and post-spawn bass stage in the deeper water close to those spawning beds.
Finding success this time of the year, as fish transition from one phase to the next, can come down to a process of elimination.
“We have the best of all three worlds right now,” Henson said, referring to bass before, after and during the spawn. “But it won’t be much longer.”
Henson can’t resist the temptation to use top-water lures.
“I like to have my fun first on top,” Henson said as he started the day early in a protected cove on the lake.
So the lures were cast to the shallow water along the bank and worked back out to the boat, sitting over the deeper water that also could be holding bass in transition.
Henson cast a walk-the-dog top-water bait and missed his first few strikes before catching a few chunky but smaller male bass.
But a 3-pound bass didn’t miss a high-end popping surface plug that also had a walk-the-dog motion built in.
Fishing nearby was Danny Teal of Sanford, who preferred to throw a plastic worm. He held the belief that most of the fish had finished spawning and all that was left was mostly “buck” or male bass guarding the beds. He was doing OK on the Texas-rigged plastic worm.
“The beds have been picked over by the tournament fishermen, but you might find a big female, here or there,” Teal said.
Bass guard their nests after they’re finished spawning because predators, namely bream, can obliterate a nest’s bounty in short order, which is the main reason some bass fishermen frown upon fishing on top of nests.
When a guard bass bites a lure placed on a nest, it’s not an act of hunger but rather an action to remove the object from the nest to protect the fry.
“The bass will be getting their payback soon,” said Henson, 51, of Holly Springs.
Henson, also president of the Harris Lake Hawg Hunters bass club, took third place in a club tournament on May 1.
Six days after his tournament success, he had to go back to the spot where he and his partner caught five fish on five casts. It was tucked away in another cove that had more than a dozen spawning beds in a couple of feet of water along the water’s edge.
A few fish still were around, but there were no takers, save for a few short-striking bass and some bream. Just to make sure, the top-water baits were switched out for shaky-head jigs, which were placed on top of the beds. But those jigs went unscathed. The fish that were there days before were gone, but that didn’t mean another wave of bass wouldn’t move onto the nests in the coming days.
As the day pushed into the high noon hours, Henson opted for some of the deeper water and chose an open-water flat dissected by a flooded road bed.
The road bed was about four to five feet deep and surrounded by deeper water, probably around 14 feet.
Texas-rigged plastic worms and Senkos produced more fish, bringing the day’s total to about 16 fish, including the outing’s largest, a 5-pound fish that Henson caught on a blood red plastic worm right next to the road bed.
The hefty female seemed full of eggs, and her tail wasn’t scraped at all. It was a hungry bass, as the fish tend to be just before they spawn.
“She hit hard,” he said. “That’s a fish fixing to spawn.”
That deeper water closest to shallow water is a classic big-bass hideout, a truth that’s especially evident around spawn time.
“They’re either moving in (to the shallows) or moving back out,” Henson said. “Right now, you’ve got both.”
And then there are those bass in between.
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