KJ May Day for Major League Size Bass
Photo and story by Lynn Burkhead
While many anglers live to target big lunkers in skinny shallow water during the height of the spawn -- and I'm one of them -- the real truth is that some of the year's biggest and best fish can be caught during the late spring.
In fact, the month of May is one of Major League Fishing pro Kelly Jordon's favorite times of the year to ply the lunker rich waters of his home lake, East Texas' famed Lake Fork.
"May is my favorite month," says Jordon, who lives down the road from Fork in Palestine, Texas. "Why? Because the fish bite so good."
Odds are, once the bass go through the funk of a short post-spawn recovery period, they'll be feeding up and biting next month on your home water too.
The primary reason that Jordon - one of the four championship round finalists at last fall's inaugural Jack Link's Major League Fishing Challenge Cup on Lake Amistad - is so bullish about May's big bass potential is due to one simple fact.
After the rigors of the spawn are over, bass are going to put the feed bag back on. With a Texas-sized appetite, mind you.
"It's the best month to me, the best time to be on (Fork)," said Jordon, a four-time winner on the B.A.S.S. circuit.
One reason is because bass will smash a topwater bait early in the day.
"It's a killer time to throw topwaters," said Jordon, noting that he thinks that the month of May could actually be the best topwater month of the whole year.
Even though the spawn is over, Jordon says that bass will still often be found in shallow water, hanging around growing lily pads, emerging grass beds, creek mouths and places where bluegills are spawning.
One of Jordon's favorite topwater tactics in May is a buzzbait fished around emerging lily pads. Other topwater lures he recommends include a Lucky Craft Sammy, a Lucky Craft G-Splash, or his own signature bait, the Lucky Craft Kelly J prop bait.
When fishing a topwater bait, KJ recommends that anglers use at least 14-pound test monofilament for surface fishing, often bumping up to 17 and 20-pound test lines.
Why so big? Jordon says that the bigger mono line actually helps a topwater bait float a little bit better on the water's surface.
With that last thought in mind, the B.A.S.S. "Millionaire's Club" member doesn't recommend the use of fluorocarbon line for topwaters since it will sink and severely limit the action of the bait.
An exception to KJ's topwater mono rule is when he will tie on 30 to 50-pound test Spiderwire Stealth High Performance braid to a buzzbait or a grass frog thrown around tough stemmed lily pads.
While the surface bite might be best during the first light of a May Day outing, keep in mind that topwaters don't just work the morning shift in late spring.
"A topwater will work all day at (this) time of the year, even in middle of the day, especially a buzzbait," said Jordon.
"Sometimes, they'll bite a buzzbait better in the middle of the day around 1 or 2 o'clock, especially around grass or lily pads."
Topwaters aren't the only lures that Jordon will try early in the morning.
"Some other baits I like are Senkos, Wacky Worms, shallow crankbaits and spinnerbaits," said Jordon.
As the morning wears on, Jordon will work grass beds, stumps and points as he begins to probe deeper water looking for bites below the surface.
"I like to throw a Texas-rigged worm, especially around grass," said Jordon.
His favorite bait for this presentation is a 7 ½-inch Lake Fork Tackle worm in blue-fleck, June-bug, red shad or watermelon red colors. He'll toss those with a 3/16-ounce slip sinker fished on 14- to 20-pound test line.
Jordon will toss such baits around places where bass have recently spawned including big creeks, main lake coves and smaller pockets, particularly those laced with lily pads.
"You can cast a worm around grass that is coming up (in May)," he said. "It's (usually) not really tall enough yet to flip a jig although you can cast a jig and swim it back. I (still) prefer to use a 7 ½-inch worm although some days they'll prefer a 10-inch worm in zero to 10 feet of water."
Another dynamite bait to use at this time is a spinnerbait. When doing so, Jordon recommends using a half-ounce model with a #6 Colorado blade and a trailer to slow it down. He wants to slow the bait down so that he can tick it over the top of a grass bed, typically in four to eight feet of water.
"Fishing a spinnerbait over grass can get the bait killed -- they'll murder it at (this) time of year," said Jordon. "This can be real easy fishing. If you can get around them, they'll bite and you'll catch them."
On most days, Jordon will fish shallow early and then he'll begin to move towards deeper water.
Notice that's on most days.
"The bite might be so good in the grass that you might not want to leave," he said. "If you're catching them up there, then dad gum, don't leave."
One thing that KJ does stress for May's bass fishing action is not to waste much time looking for bass in fishless water.
He says that since the fish are moving back into feeding mode at this time of the year, if an angler is not catching bass, they're probably not there.
"If you're not catching fish in May, then you need to change what you're doing or what you're fishing with because you should be catching fish," said Jordon. "Move until you find them."
Sometimes that will mean moving to the offshore structure bite, something that begins to develop in late spring and an angling technique that Jordon truly excels in and is known for.
How do you go about catching big fish hanging around off-shore structure?
To start with, be sure that you are looking in the right place, that is in water that is 18 to 25 feet deep according to Jordon. If that deeper water is on the main lake and reasonably near springtime spawning flats at the back of major creeks, all the better.
According to Jordon, a lake's supply of old flooded road beds with their accompanying underwater bridges, deep points, humps and submerged pond dams are all excellent spots to look.
"Buy a good map and use your electronics," said KJ. "It really helps to have a good graph to help you go around and look (for deep water bass).
"Start looking on points, channel bends or humps sticking out in the main lake. Start in 16 to 18 feet, down to 25 feet of water. Try to mark a lot of fish and when you do, fish there."
Then be sure that you are fishing with the right techniques and lures for that depth.
"Carolina-rigging or deep crankbaiting is my mainstay," said Jordon. "On deep structure, I'll Carolina-rig or throw a deep-diving crankbait (like the Lucky Craft Moonsault CB 250) or (something like) a Norman DD-22, the big, deep-diving stuff."
Don't like deep cranking or dragging the ball-and-chain?
"Other alternative stuff includes a Texas rigged worm with a fairly heavy weight in the 3/8- to 1-ounce range," said Jordon. "A half-ounce to 1-ounce jig is also a good deep water bait."
KJ also excels at throwing a big swimbait at such offshore fish, a bait that will often produce deep water bass weighing eight pounds or better.
In fact, Jordon's expertise with this bait at such depths made for great video on the "Classic Patterns" DVD series a few years back.
During that filming session, the nine-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier literally hammered the big fish on a deep swimbait bite, one right after the other.
So what's the bottom line here? During the merry month of May, bass fishing can be nothing short of superb on the Lone Star State's Lake Fork, literally from top to bottom as post-spawn fish begin to feed heavily.
And the guess here is that it will be equally good on your home water too.
Just ask Kelly Jordon.