Watching a bunch of boats blast off for a bass tournament was not what Steve Grace wanted to see when he pulled up to the ramp at Kemper County Lake, and it meant the fisherman would have to alter his plans on the 652-acre lake.
Seeing the parade of boats heading up the lake toward the shallow spawning flats, Grace launched his Ranger boat and turned left into the cove at the landing.
“I wanted to go check out the upper lake to see if there was any grass or pads up there yet,” he said. “Since it’s crowded up there we’ll work this cove first instead. There should be a few fish in here too. I’m going to cover a little water first and see if I can pick up a reaction bite with a fast moving bait like this Skinny Dipper.”
Grace was using a Penetration colored Skinny Dipper on a 4/0 Owner Beast Hook with a 1/8-ounce Tungsten weight pegged to the front of the lure.
“This combo just gives you incredible action with the bait and allows you to cover a lot of water and find the bass, or a pattern of where they’re at,” he said.
6:41 a.m., keeper No. 1: Grace pitched the Skinny Dipper into shoreline brush and began a swimming retrieve, but he didn’t go far before — Wham! — a hungry bass smashed the lure. Grace drove the steel hook deep into the jaws of the unsuspecting bass and was on the board only a few minutes after starting fishing.
Mixed vegetation along the bank, including buck brush and other wild shrubbery, provided plenty of shallow cover for the bass along the shore, with a few scattered brush piles at random places. The depth of the cove ranged from 4 to 6 feet making it prime for both post spawn and pre-spawn bass.
“All of the bass don’t spawn at the same time and I’m sure a lot of them will spawn in this cove during the next full moon,” said Grace, pointing out several vacant beds, evidence of past spawning activity in the area.
6:48, keeper No. 2: Grace pitched his lure to a brushpile and swam it near the cover and another hungry bass nailed it. The angler made quick work of this one, quickly landing and releasing it to grow some more.
7:15, on the move: The first cove had bass for sure, providing several bites with Grace boating a couple of keepers. But after working the cove over and hitting a lot of the cover, he announced it was time to move and search for more and bigger fish. Grace moved to the mouth of the cove and worked it, until we got to the main lake where he picked up, cranked up and made a move.
7:40, looking for grass: Grace ran to the upper end of Kemper County Lake in search of grass, pads and bass.
“It’s been at least eight years since I’ve been up here and there used to be a lot of fish in the grass and pad fields,” he said.
The time between had changed things, and, unfortunately, he found only a small amount of pads. Several boats had already worked the area, and he didn’t like what he saw nearby.
Recent floodwaters had raised the lake level and had muddied it quite a bit. Grace said it takes a lot of water in a short period of time to muddy Kemper.
7:55, seeking clean water: Grace didn’t need long to realize that it was time to get out of the muddy water.
“The water in the lower end of the lake is much clearer than this so we’re going back down and try to catch a few down there,” he said before cranking his big Mercury, racing back toward the dam and taking a left to stop in a large cove full of laydown trees, logs and other wooden structure.
Grace chose a critter bait, and started pitching it into each piece of cover. He picked the wood apart with surgeon like precision until …
8:05, keeper No. 3: Grace finally pitched the lure right in the mouth of a bass, felt the small amount of tension and set the look on his third keeper.
Grace continued working toward the back of the cove, but the bites quit coming. His next move was short, cutting across the back of the cove where he switched lures to work the east bank with a Lake Fork Hyper Stick.
“With the clear water we have on this end I’m going to make some long casts and see if I can get a bite with the Hyper Stick,” he said.
9:10, a good sign: After a long cast, Grace rocked the boat when he reared back on the rod but missed a fish.
“I know he was there but I didn’t feel him when I set the hook,” he said.
With increased confidence, Grace continued working the Hyper Stick on long casts. Keeping the boat in six feet of water, he continued working the east bank of the cove toward the main lake. It is the shallow side of the cove and he felt it would be holding a few more fish.
9:20, keeper No. 4: Grace was right. After slinging a cast as far he could another bass nailed the Black and Blue lure. Grace set the hook with a flip of his wrist.
10:00, moving deep: The shallow side of the cove failed to produce another keeper, so Grace made a major change. He moved across the cove to fish the main lake point at its mouth.
“There’s plenty of deepwater points on this lake that are good for holding post-spawn bass,” Grace said. “There’s also a lot of spotted bass in the deeper water and we should pick up a few on these points.”
For that, the expert angler and accomplished tournament pro made a tackle change.
Grace grabbed a lightweight spinning rig with a shaky head and a trick worm, and started working a ledge off the outer edge of the point.
10:05, keeper No. 5: Wham! A spotted bass couldn’t stand the enticing action of Grace’s shaky head wiggle and is quickly boated. The confident Grace had actually called the shot, getting the bite just when and where he predicted — when the shaky head dropped off the shelf into deep water. He missed two more fish at the same spot, and then made a short move to the next point, a smaller unobtrusive secondary point that most fishermen never consider.
10:15, Keeper No. 6: Working the deeper water adjacent to it and switching to a watermelon candy colored finesse worm, Grace quickly got a bite but missed the short-striking bass. A couple of casts later he enticed a bass to strike his offering and boated his second keeper spotted bass.
Grace was convinced that with things heating up, he had found the pattern, keying on post-spawn bass off the points. The quantity was fine, but he wanted a better quality fish.
“I’m going to try and catch a bigger bass, but the fish are probably in an in-between stage right now,” Grace said, referring to the lull that female bass usually enter right after the spawn.
10:44, keeper No. 7: Moving further up the lake to another point, Grace switched to a Zoom Magnum shaky head worm and another spotted bass nailed his lure.
“I tell you there’s some 5-pound spotted bass in here,” he said. “We’re just not getting on the bigger ones today, but I know they’re in here. Once they rest up from the spawn and gang up on these points you can catch an awesome string of spotted bass.”
11:04, keeper No. 8: Grace continued working his spotted bass magic, keying on the drops at the ends of the points with his lightweight spinning rig offering.
“I’m just pitching the lure up onto the shallow ledge and working it back down the point until it falls off,” Grace said. “They’re hitting it right on the top of the ledge before it falls into the deeper water. You can hit almost every point on this lake and pick up a few spotted bass even when the conditions aren’t just right.
“Just keep that shaky head in the water and twitch it slowly and you’re bound to get a few good bites.”
Suddenly Grace reared back and jacked another bass’ jaw, his fourth spot and his eighth keeper bass.
He was on the money now and almost calling every shot, working the prime staging points with his shaky head combos. But, he was still thinking about bigger bites and wasn’t giving in.
11:30, flipping the switch: Grace moved back up lake and stopped on the west bank.
“We’re going to work a couple of these coves and hit the laydowns and any brush and structure we can find,” he said. “We should be able to get a flipping bite now that the sun’s out bright.”
Grace combed the shoreline structure, pitching and flipping his lure around and in every piece of cover he could spot. By now the tournament boats were really roaring back and forth on the lake looking for another good spot to fish. By the sound of things the bite must have been tough for them.
11:40, keeper No. 9: Grace picks up his finesse rig again and pitches a watermelon candy shaky head up to a tree to work back towards the boat. He didn’t get far.
Wham! Another spotted bass couldn’t resist the temptation and Grace made him pay for the mistake. It was another spotted bass, which didn’t surprise the angler since he was fishing another secondary point.
12:20 p.m., on the road again: Still unsatisfied with the size of the fish, Grace moved further up lake and graphed an old roadbed, finding both structure and shad on the edge of the bed.
“I’ve really torn up the post-spawn bass on this roadbed,” said Grace. “I mean you can really catch them bunched up sometimes on this spot if you can find the sweet spot.”
Grace switched to a Bifflehead jig and Bifflebug and got down and dirty in the structure, searching for that sweet spot. He missed the first fish to hit the lure, which made him fish just that much harder and methodically.
“The Bifflehead Jig and Bifflebug can be fished anywhere you have a hard bottom and it’s been working pretty good for me,” Grace said. “And the good thing about the Bifflehead is that they’re not being used by a lot of anglers around here yet.”
1:00, keeper number 10: Wham! This time Grace got a hard strike, and he buried the hook in the largest and final fish of the day.
Grace’s day ended with what could have been culled down to a very nice limit of largemouths and spotted bass, probably enough to win or be near the top of the tournament on that tough, cold, post-spawn day, had he been entered.
As it was, we had a great day on the water and he had unlocked a tough post-spawn pattern.