Billy Cole eased up to the old submerged lake dam and cast a watermelon seed Zoom lizard over it into the deep water. As Cole slowly moved and twitched the Carolina-rigged lizard over the dam, he felt the tap of a bass sucking it in.

Cole reeled in his slack, and drove the hook home. When the monster bass felt the bite of the steel, it bore down toward the 30-foot depths, and stripped off line.

"I knew it was a really big one when it kept stripping my line off over and over," Cole said later.

Time after time, Cole battled the lunker bass, and turned it toward the boat only to have it strip out line again. After an epic battle, Cole finally subdued the bass with the help of his son Billy. Though Cole normally releases all of his bass, he did remove this one from the lake to have it weighed. The 12-pound, 4-ounce fish had already spawned, and was holding on the original upper lake's submerged dam when he succumbed to Cole's presentation.

Located only minutes from downtown Meridian, Bonita Lakes is a jewel in the rough when it comes to catching trophy bass in the springtime. The upper lake is actually two lakes combined. Bonita Lakes originally had a series of lakes that served as water-control structures for the city of Meridian's drinking water.

The lower lake, which is the first lake you pass after exiting Highway 19 south, is actually undergoing reconstruction work, and is not currently available to be fished, though it still has its share of lunkers caught each spring.

The upper lake has become quite the honeyhole for lunker lovers in the springtime, with reports of bass regularly being caught in the 9- to 13-pound range. Along with the lunker possibilities is the opportunity to catch large numbers of bass, if you know how to catch them, and sometimes that requires a little finesse and extra work due to the extremely clear water.

During normal spring patterns, the lake is gin-clear and very conducive to locating spawning beds along its sandy clay bottoms. Depending upon the weather conditions in March, there may still be some spawning activity during April as the bass will bed and spawn at various times.

Cole prefers targeting post-spawn bass, but he has caught his share of lunkers on the beds also.

"Once I find a bed, I'll work that sow over with a lizard until I catch her, or decide to try her later," Cole said.

When it comes to catching bedding bass, there's a short window of opportunity to actually find the females on the beds when they are receptive to striking lures. It's much easier to catch the smaller buck bass that fan the beds and protect the fry.

If you're a bed fisherman, then simply get out your best pair of sunglasses, put the trolling motor on high and cruise the shallow coves and shorelines until you pick out a few beds that have bass on them. Once you find the beds, keep an eye on them until the temperature gets right and the big old sows move up to spawn.

Cole's specialty, however, is catching the post-spawn sows that are resting and waiting for easy meals.

"I like to work the ledges and shallow drops right off the banks where the bass retreat after spawning," said Cole. "I'll work an area with a crankbait and sometimes catch numbers of small bass, and then work right back over the same area with a large lizard looking for a big female."

Cole usually catches the more aggressive male bass on crankbaits and then catches the larger females on slower-moving plastics such as Texas-rigged lizards. And he catches more than his fair share of lunkers on Carolina-rigged lizards.

"I'll stay way off the bank and away from the beds to keep the bass from seeing me, and make long casts," Cole said. "It's really important to keep your distance to prevent spooking the bass in the crystal-clear water."

During one club tournament on the lake, Cole and his partner caught a five-fish limit that weighed over 18 pounds with a couple of 6-pounders anchoring their limit. Though anglers won't usually catch multiple bass in the 8- to 12-pound range on one outing, it's not unheard of to catch more than one when the conditions are optimal.

Have you got a hankering to try something new? Then head to Bonita Lakes' upper lake, and try a few of Cole's favorite fishing spots for yourself. Once you try Cole's spots, simply look for other areas that have similar characteristics. But hold on tight to your rod, because you're only one cast away from the bass of a lifetime.

 

No. 1: N32 21.187 x W88 39.695

After launching, turn right and motor to the first cove on the right. This cove has deep water running well into the back portion. The clay bottom along the edges of the cove makes for excellent bedding areas.

"I'd fish this sheltered pocket, and concentrate on the back left side near the old beaver dam," said Cole. "I've caught several good lunkers along the next-to-last point on the left side, and the entire back of the cove is a possible bedding area."

Cole usually pitches a watermelon seed lizard up to the bank or any visible cover, and retrieves it back to the boat in a very slow, methodical presentation.

 

No. 2: N32 21.282 x W88 39.566

Leave the cove, and go a short distance until you see the island just to the south of the cove on the right.

"I'll work the island with the lizard and also back off about 50 yards, and work it even deeper with a Carolina-rigged lizard," Cole said.

Cole prefers fishing a Texas-rigged lizard around the island shoreline targeting any visible cover first. If there are still bedding fish in the area, he'll have a shot at them. Once the bass finish bedding, they'll sometimes drop back and relate to the deeper ledge around the island after spawning.

 

No. 3: N32 21.219 x W88 39.543

Leave the island, troll just south of it toward the old intake structure controls and read the bottom with your LCR or depth finder and mark the old submerged dam.

"I like to fish around the end of the submerged dam, buoy it off in a place or two and work the entire length, which runs all the way across the lake," said Cole. "I've caught quite a few lunker bass on the dam, and they'll relate to it during the rest of the year."

Depending on the water clarity, amount of sunshine and temperature, the bass may hold on top of the dam, or off to either side. Yours truly has also caught quite a few bass along the old intake controls and along the dam on a shad-colored Norman crankbait.

 

 

No. 4: N32 21.100 x W88 39.463

After covering the roadbed, move to the next point on the right, or east side of the lake, just to the south of the old island and intake structure.

"There's a point with three pine trees out on the end and a shallow shelf that runs way out into the lake," Cole said. "I'll start out on the deep end and then work toward the shallow point on the bank."

The clay bank just to the north has about 7 to 8 feet of depth right off the bank and then drops off into 20 feet, which also makes for a prime ambush zone for shallow bass. Cole also likes to cast shallow- to medium-running crankbaits, and bounce them off the bottom, thus attracting reaction bites from bass holding along the points and ledges.

 

No. 5: N32 20.738 x W88 39.400

Leave No. 4, and go south to the far lower end of the cove on the south side.

"You'll see a dry dam that catches water runoff and sediment," said Cole. "There are several culverts that let the runoff come into the main lake when we get a lot of rain. Once that current starts flowing through the culverts, bass in the main lake will stack up and feed on the bait flowing through the pipes. Throw into the pipes or right into the current, and hold on."

Anglers may catch a good bass or they may catch several smaller ones. However, current is the key to catching bass in this spot. If there's not any current flowing through the pipes, then target any laydown logs or trees that are located along the shallow shorelines.

 

No. 6: N32 20.917 x W88 39.316

After covering No. 5, turn back toward the main lake, and head northeast targeting the points jutting out into the lake. Fish each point and any visible wood structure. Stop at the most prominent point that has several pines sticking way out on the point, and work it over really well.

"On one stop here, I pitched a shallow-running crankbait out and caught two on one cast," Cole said. "I like to use that shallow- to medium-running crankbait when they're aggressive and pulled up shallow on the point."

Of course, Cole will hit the bass with the one-two punch of crankbaits, and follow up with a lizard, or vice versa. If the bass are hitting the crankbaits aggressively, he'll stay with that and follow up with soft-plastic lizards. If they want something slower, he'll usually stay with the lizard, but this veteran angler will let the bass tell him what they want.

 

No. 7: N32 20.981 x W88 39.205

Leave No. 6, go the next point to the east and fish all around the shallow point thoroughly.

"This time of year, I'm going to fish each point with crankbaits and lizards until I find the most productive points," he said. "Sometimes I'll find one that really has some good bass on it, and sometimes I'll pick up one here and one there, really scattered. But I'm always on the lookout for that one sweet spot."

 

No. 8: N32 20.968 x W88 39.009

Continue on toward the east, go up into the next cove on the right, go to the back and locate the culverts coming through yet another drainage dam.

"Just like the other cove that had the dam and pipes, current is the key to this spot," said Cole. "If there's current flowing through, then you'll probably get a bite or two. If there's not any current, you're just wasting your time and need to move on."

But if the water is flowing through at the right speed and has been flowing long enough, you just might rack up. Water flow and timing are critical on spots like this.

 

No. 9: N32 21.168 x W88 39.151

Go back out of the cove, turn right, head east and fish the back of the cove targeting any structure or wooden cover found. However, start on the left side near the old landing and boat ramp that is right near the parking spot on the farthest eastern point of the pavement.

"Start fishing the bank on the north side about 100 yards to the west of the parking spots, and work the bank thoroughly until you get to the back of the cove," Cole suggested. "The old gravel boat ramp had gravel on it, and the gravel will attract bedding fish and bass, even though the ramp is no longer visible."

 

No 10: N32 21.122 x W88 39.283

Once you fish the back of the cove, go back toward the main lake, and head west toward the point that separates the cove and the main lake.

"Start fishing the bank about 150 yards to the east of the point, and work it out past the point and around to the north," Cole said. "I like to work the steep bank and point with a crankbait and follow up with a watermelon seed lizard.

"Once the bass have finished spawning they like to stage along steep ledges or bank and rest up while recovering from the spawn."