But if the Mississippi River doesn't rise, you still can catch bass at Lake Ferguson if you'll fish the other side of the lake and use different tactics.
The light conditions on the days you fish will determine what lures and tactics will produce the most bass.
My favorite weather condition is a bright, sunny May day because the sun moves the bass to the bases of the willow trees, where they can find shade and cover. Those bass are easy pickings when anglers flip jigs, my favorite way to catch bass where there's an abundance of visible cover like the willow trees. Then I have a target to throw to, and usually the bass will be within 2 or 3 feet of the trunk of the tree.
Equipment to use in shallow water at the willows
I'll fish a ½-ounce, black/blue Mann's HardNose jig with a black/blue HardNose trailer on 65-pound-test Berkley Sonic Braid.
I like a 7-foot, 6-inch Seeker Flipping Stick with a Pinnacle 6.4:1 reel and Gamakatsu hook.
If there's 3 feet of water or less flooding the willow trees, that's when this tactic works best because I can target the bases of the willow trees. That's why I need that 65-pound-test braided line: When I set the hook, the bass will try and break the line off on the willows.
If the water's deeper than 3 ½ feet deep around the willow trees, I'll be fishing a Mann's Classic ½-inch spinner bait with tandem No. 7 and No. 3 gold Indiana blades and a chartreuse-and-white skirt.
I like a 6-foot, 9-inch Seeker Spinnerbait Rod with a 6.4:1 Optimus Pinnacle reel and 20-pound-test Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon line in this deeper water.
How to fish spinner bait and buzzbaits in deeper water around the willows
Although you'll be casting the spinner bait, you don't want to make long casts. Make short casts, just past the willow trees and the bushes, and use a steady retrieve.
Don't wake the spinner bait, but you do want to be able to see the blades as you're retrieving the lure. Let that spinner bait bump the trunks of the willow trees, which will make the spinner bait flutter down some.
Continue your steady retrieve. The only time I hesitate the spinner bait during a retrieve is when it hits an object.
This type of bass fishing is basically target fishing. Once you get past the target, reel the spinner bait in, and make another cast. This spinner bait tactic is also productive on cloudy, rainy and overcast days, since on those days the bass will move somewhat farther away from the willows.
I'll also fish a 3/8-ounce black buzzbait in water more than 3 feet deep in the willows.
I like to fish the buzzbait or the spinner bait early in the morning, late in the afternoon or on cloudy or overcast days.
I use the same rod, reel and line with the buzzbait that I use with the spinner bait, and I fish it the exact same way I have the spinner bait: I'll throw the buzzbait past a tree, let it bounce off the side of the willow tree, retrieve it about 5 or 6 yards past the willow tree and then fast-retrieve it back to the boat.
How to fish the points and underwater flats on the north side of Lake Ferguson
The north side of Lake Ferguson has underwater, sandy points that come off sandy flats. The water will be 3 to 4 feet deeper than it is on the flats.
In these areas, I'll use deeper-diving crankbaits, like a Mann's 20+ in a brown/back with chartreuse sides and the gray-ghost color that imitates the shad
Also, if the water's down, I'll fish a Carolina-rigged worm on these deeper points and drop-offs.
I'll have 40-pound-test Sonic Braid on my reel, and use a Seeker medium-action rod and have a 3/4-ounce weight up the line with a plastic bead under it but just above a barrel swivel.
On the other end of the barrel swivel, I'll tie 3 feet of 20-pound-test Berkley Big Game monofilament for a leader, which I like because it will stretch before it breaks.
On the other end of the leader, I'll have a No. 5/0 Gamakatsu wide-gap hook and a 6-inch Mann's Jelly Worm in either a green/pumpkin or black/grape color.
I'll fish this Carolina rig in the same places I'll fish a crankbait for bass.
How flooding affects Lake Ferguson
One of the reasons that Lake Ferguson is so productive in May is because, when the Mississippi River rises and floods the lake, it puts the bass on the willow trees.
That new water more or less flushes the lake out and gives the it new life, inundating new land. Usually about three out of five years, high water will cause the lake to rise into the willow trees. That high water generally results in a new spawn and a new crop of bass being born.
How to fish the south side of Lake Ferguson
If you reach Lake Ferguson, and the water's down and not in the willow trees, you're not out of luck.
On the south side of the lake is where you'll find channels, deep water and a rocky shoreline.
So, if the water's not in the willows, go to the south side of the lake and fish the rocky shoreline with shallow-running baits like a Mann's C4 Crankbait in a bluegill pattern with chartreuse or a black back/chartreuse or a black back/purple.
I'll be fishing these crankbaits on a 7.3:1 Optimus Pinnacle reel with 12-pound-test Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon line on a 7-foot, 2-inch Seeker Crankbait Rod. I'll retrieve that crankbait pretty fast, and let it bounce off the underwater rocks and other structure.
During a May day of fishing at Lake Ferguson, I expect to catch 15 to 20 bass that weigh from 1 ½ to 6 pounds each. Although most of them will weigh about 2 pounds, there's a good chance of catching a 5 pounder, or better.
If you enjoy oxbow fishing like I do, Lake Ferguson will be a great place to fish this month.