At the crack of dawn, baitfish were flittering across the surface in one area of a small cove on the lake. Slight ripples belied the frenzy that was taking place beneath the surface.

Suddenly, the still morning was shattered as a bass smashed my Devil's Horse offering. The 5-pounder fought like a demon and tail-walked across the water trying to rid itself of the piercing, razor-sharp Gamakatsu hooks.

Time and time again, the bass vaulted towards the sky to try and rid itself of the unwelcome hooks. After admiring the fish and pausing for a photo, we quickly released the bass.

Working our way along the outside of the brush-filled cove, Justin Giles and I quickly developed a topwater pattern by detecting surface ripples, movement, or swirls. While a lone bass occasionally shattered the calm water in search of a meal, most of the activity was taking place slightly beneath the surface.

On this morning, the key was detecting the surface movement first, then hitting the spot the way a pitcher would locate his fastball in a precise part of the strike zone. If you pitched the lure slightly off the mark, you would come up empty handed.

Detecting surface movement in the middle of the cove, the young angler cast his topwater plug just past the dissipating ripples and worked the lure over the kill zone. In an instant, another feisty bass sucked in his offering and dove for the bottom, trying to wrap the line in a brush top. Minutes later, that bass was also boated, admired and quickly released so another fortunate angler could feel the thrill of the catch in the future. The topwater bite continued to be quite productive during the first hour after daylight, as bass were actively feeding on baitfish, bream and on our enticing topwater offerings.

The 12-acre lake we were fishing was near Vicksburg and was chock full of bass. While most were in the 2- to 3-pound range, there were quite a few in the 4- to 7-pound class. Those were the bass we were targeting. The larger bass were regularly striking our topwater offerings. Our lures were white, or shad-colored prop baits. After going through the rigors of the spawn, most bass are ravenous for food and will strike larger topwater prop lures with abandon.

As the sun rose above the trees, the action waned slightly, and we switched to more subtle topwater presentations. After pitching a shad-colored Bang-O-Lure near a brush top, I twitched it slightly, and another lunker bass tried to take it away from me. During the next 30 minutes, the bass kept smashing our topwater lures.

We targeted brush tops or wood cover on the outside edge of a timberline and retrieved the lures in a twitch-and-pause pattern. Once the lure hit the water, we would pause until the ripples rolled outward, then twitch the lure downward, and it would disappear beneath the surface before popping up again. Most of the time, the bass would smash it as it popped back up on the surface.

May has traditionally been one of the best months for topwater action. Small ponds and lakes offer equal opportunities from bank or boat, as most bass will be within casting distance of the shoreline. While many lunker bass are caught on topwater baits, topwater is by no means the only technique that will catch bass.


Plastic is dynamite!

While almost any lure will entice a strike occasionally, perhaps the most consistent and deadly lure for catching bass in ponds and lakes is the artificial worm. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are difficut to fish incorrectly. Several different techniques will work, but it boils down to putting that bait in the vicinity of the bass. Plastic worms are so versatile that they can be fished weightless on top, suspended at mid- depths, or dead on the bottom. Rigged Texas style, they are weedless and can be fished in brush, on smooth bottoms or even in the grassiest waters. You've just got to match your technique to the type of water your fishing.

While many fair-weather anglers are disgusted with lakes filled with vegetation, veteran fishermen have developed techniques and tactics that are deadly when employed properly.

Sound complicated? It's not - once you get the hang of it. Many anglers have used the worms rigged "Texas-style", with a quarter-ounce bullet weight - a good combination in water less than 10 feet deep, if there's no vegetation. If the water is full of grass and vegetation, however, that combination might be too heavy and stay tangled up. And believe me, there's nothing more discouraging than staying hung up or having your lured clogged up with grass.

Bruce Roberts of Meridian, a veteran fisherman and former All American qualifier, is deadly with a trick worm when bass are relating to grass. If the grass is at, or near the surface, Roberts will fish the worm rigged Texas-style with a 3 hook but no other weight. Fishing the worm weightless allows Roberts to work it on top of the grass without getting it buried in the vegetation or matted with weeds. Roberts retrieves the worm in a swimming motion while darting it back in forth, much like a snake. Depending upon the water color, he will use black, yellow and white as his primary colors. If bass are active, they will attack the worm worked across the top or over the openings of the grass.

When bass are suspending slightly below or just under the grass, Roberts will also work along the edges or in the pockets located in the vegetation. In cases where the bass are positioned like this, he may add a barrel swivel about 12 inches above the worm to provide just enough weight to keep it slightly under the surface without weighting it down too much. This also allows a slow and free descent. In conditions like this, a heavier bullet weight may keep the worm clogged up with vegetation and won't allow proper action to develop. A good rule of thumb I've developed over the years is to use as little weight as possible to get the worm down to the fish. Start out with very little or no weight, and progress with bigger weights as needed.

On more than one occasion, I've watched Roberts pick apart a grass field like a surgeon, working the pockets and edges very precisely. Key areas are grassy points, weed-line edges and pockets, or holes in the vegetation. Once Roberts establishes a pattern, he will quickly load the boat. If bass are holding off of the grass points, he will hit all of these areas quickly, spending no time in dead water. If they are keying on pockets and isolated grass patches, he will target those areas. It's a thing of beauty to watch an expert catch bass after bass from identical spots on almost every cast. An expert such as Roberts can literally call his shots when he gets the pattern down right.

State Representative Steve Horne of Meridian is a lifelong bass angler who specializes in fishing small ponds, lakes, beaver sloughs, and oxbows also. Horne's lure of choice is a Texas rigged wing worm teamed with the smallest bullet weight made. Horne fishes that style of worm and catches bass everywhere he goes. The unique bait readily draws strikes when traditional plastics won't. The bass most likely have never even seen another worm like that.

By using a small bullet weight, Horne is able to catch bass in extremely shallow water. Many times, the worm will fall very slowly, and the bass will engulf it on the fall, then simply move off in another direction without ever so much as a tap on the line. The light weight allows Horne to catch finicky bass that otherwise usually have a case of the lockjaw.

Key Locations

Most - if not all - of the top professional bass fishermen began their careers fishing small waters. The basic skills and techniques learned and used on those waters eventually led many of them to successful pro careers. By mastering the basics of catching fish in small lakes and ponds, anglers should be able to find and catch fish anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

Perhaps the most important aspect of fishing any body of water is to be able to "read the water" - looking at a lake and determining the key locations to which bass may relate. By reading the lay of the land and surface water quickly, anglers will be able to use their depth finders more efficiently to locate subsurface hotspots.

Bank fishermen usually develop a unique ability to locate the most productive shoreline areas quickly due to their limited mobility. They have to fish the areas efficiently, because they don't have the opportunity to move from one spot to another at the drop of a hat. Visible cover is one of the first attractions that anglers should look for when reading a lake. Whether it's wood or grass, bass will relate to it. Once you have spotted such locations you must determine if there's enough water depth in to hold bass.

Ledge Magic

While bass in small lakes may stay in very shallow water all the time, they will be more active during the cooler hours. However, even in lakes as small as 8 to 10 acres, bass will school up along drop off areas located along ditches, creeks and flats, much like they do in large reservoirs. Once the early morning, shallow-water bite slows down, you can be sure to find faster action along ledges adjacent to the deep water. Sometimes a difference of only 2 or 3 feet will be enough to hold bass. Humps in deeper water that come up within 6 or 8 feet of the surface are also dynamite locations to catch lunker bass resting up from the spawn. Those fish may congregate in large numbers and provide anglers with hot action right on up into the middle, or hottest part of the day.

During one fishing trip with Scott Davis last year, we experienced the feast or famine effect. We were fishing a lake of about 40 acres, and the bass were really tearing up the surface. They were slashing the shad and chasing them so hard that they were literally blasting baitfish up onto the bank. The only problem was, so many baitfish were in the area that we could hardly entice a strike. After the sun rose above the trees, the temperature started rising quickly, and the topwater action screeched to a halt.

On my first pass through the area, I had detected a ledge near the shoreline between a pile of brush and a submerged pond dam, so we worked our way back to give it a try.

Sure enough, my first cast with a Norman Deep Little N came to an abrupt halt when a 4-pound bass nailed it. Davis followed up and caught one that was almost identical. The bass were F1 Tiger bass and fought about like hybrid stripers. On our next six or eight casts, we both caught fish, doubling up many times.

After the crankbait action subsided, we switched to worms and kept right on catching them. The bass were holding tight to the ledge and wood structure, and we caught almost 35 bass before leaving the ledge. Moving on Davis kept picking up bass on the Norman Deep Little N also. Before the day was over, we found several other similar ledges that all held good schools of bass. Our catch results were very good, and we ended up catching more than 100 fish. Most small lakes won't have that many bass stacked up tight on the ledges, but I have found that many of them hold good numbers of bass.

While many anglers spurn smaller bodies of water in favor of large reservoirs and rivers, there are many ponds, lakes and sloughs ponds that have good populations of bass ready, willing, and eager, to strike your offerings when the conditions are right. Don't miss out on some of the finest fishing of the year.