After studying his depth finder, Hunter Miles made a cast in the direction of a submerged tree, working his Carolina-rigged worm into the brush top.
He shook it a little and felt a thud.
A bass slammed the worm and bore down into the cover. Miles set the hook and fought it as it wallowed wildly in the limbs of the treetop.
After the short battle, Miles got his hands on the 6½-pound Okatibbee Lake lunker and put him in the livewell to anchor his limit.
Miles, 18, from Collinsville, had run his boat along a submerged creek channel and studied the side-imaging screen on his Lowrance unit, marking the brush tops and structure he found along the channel. That, he said, is a key to his ledge and creek fishing and finding bait and bass.
“That was a great day on Okatibbee,” Miles said. “I caught one over 6, and a few in the 3- to 31/2-pound range. I marked several tops and stumps along the submerged ledge, but the ones that were loaded up with crappie were the ones that I caught good bass on.
“Every bass that I caught was buried in the brush, and I could feel them in there when I set the hook. I was able to pull most of them out and bring them to the boat.”
Though young by most standards, Miles has been fishing at a high level since he was 13, when won his first team tournament with 23 pounds of bass on Okatibbee Lake. That victory turned him on to bass tournaments; he was instantly hooked and determined to become a pro angler, which remains his dream.
“After winning that tournament I decided that I wanted to fish the professional tour, and I’ve done everything I could to this point to work to that end,” Miles said. “At 16, I fished the (FLW Outdoros) BFL tournament trail as a co-angler, and, at 18, I started fishing the trail as a boater.”
Miles has some specific things he looks for when he heads for reservoirs across Mississippi this month.
Early morning: Topwater
“During May, fish will move out onto the ledges and creek channels, but there will also be an early morning bite on Okatibbee and similar lakes in Mississippi,” Miles said. “I really like fishing topwater this time of year, as the bass are feeding up after resting from the spawn.”
Miles loves topwater lures and prefers fishing around grass and pads when given the chance. He also targets shallow coves, flats and creeks that hold fish in early May. If there’s a shallow pocket or point near deep water, it makes it even better.
“I like to throw a Ribbit frog and a Strike King Sexy Frog,” Miles said. “I’ll burn those frogs and just rip them across the top and get reaction bites; sometimes, they will be bone crushing strikes. But once the sun gets up, the topwater bite will be over fast, and I’ll move out to the deeper water and target those offshore fish.”
Ledges, creek drop-offs
Okatibbee Lake doesn’t have a lot of ledges, but what it does have is a lot of ditches and creek channels that feature stumps, logs and brush piles. Some are natural, but there are plenty of brush piles sunk by bass and crappie anglers, and they brush hold a lot of forage, crappie and lunker bass.
“You can find a lot of schools of spots on the ledges and drop-off areas along the submerged creek channels,” Miles said. “I like to use a Strike King 6 XD (crankbait) as my search bait while I’m looking for schools of bass or lunker bass in water 12 to 20 feet deep. Whether I’m fishing shallow or deep, I prefer fishing a crankbait fast and enticing bass into striking out of reaction.”
Miles burns his crankbaits with an Ardent Reel on a 7½-foot Phenix M-1 Series crankbait rod when targeting deep-water bass, and a 7-foot rod when fishing square bills.
“I like to keep it simple and use basic colors like the Sexy Shad in clear water and the chartreuse/craw color in dirty water,” Miles said. “My biggest bass to date, a 10-pound, 4-ounce lunker, came on a 1.5 Strike King square bill. That crankbait is my best friend on this lake; that and a shaky head.”
If Miles has located bass in a particular area and has caught good numbers, he’ll switch gears and go to his big-bass lures.
“Ninety percent of my bigger fish come on the Carolina rig,” Miles said. “For bigger fish, I’ll stay with the magnum worms like the Zoom Ol’ Monster or Strike King Menace. A Brush Hog is one of my favorite baits too.”
Though May action can be really good, finesse baits will often be required to get bass to bite, and Miles is pretty good at that too.
“I like to use a Shaky Head with a green pumpkin, or black and blue trick worm,” Miles said. “Ninety percent of the time, I’m a power fisherman and like to fish power baits and fish fast, but sometimes you have to slow down to get bites and I’ll do that when the situation dictates it too.”
May offers one period of time when bass will stay shallow and feed all day, and that’s when the Mayfly hatch occurs.
“When the Mayfly hatch occurs on Okatibbee and the water is right, the bass will feed all-day long, and I’ll be there for them,” Miles said. “I’ll throw a frog all-day long and usually catch big bass, but you have to be there when the hatch happens, because it won’t last long.”
Love the ledges at Pickwick
“Pickwick Lake is one of my favorite places to fish, and it has a lot of ledges,” Miles said. “I’ll look for big schools of bass on those ledges, in the grass and on gravel bars. I’ll target the shallow ledges off points if they’re holding and feeding on them, and then move deeper if needed.”
A lot of the deeper ledges run from 20 feet on top to 40 feet off the drop.
“On Pickwick, current is everything; it makes the fish bite,” Miles said. “If you have current, then the fish usually bite, but if it’s shut off, the feeding frenzy usually stops. I love fishing a Ned rig on Pickwick, and I catch a lot of good bass on it along the submerged ledges there."
Ross Barnett flats
“I like to throw a Skinny Dipper or a swimbait across the flats on Barnett,” Miles said. “I’ll throw that Skinny Dipper on an Owner Flash hook to give them a look at something different. The extra flash will draw strikes when a plain Skinny Dipper doesn’t work.”
Miles also likes to fish a swim jig at a very fast pace and cover a lot of water. At the BASS Open tournament at Barnett this year, he caught a 5½-pounder on a swim jig with only 30 minutes to go in the tournament.
“I knew that I needed one more big fish with only a short time until weigh-in so I switched to a swim bait and got a big bite, a 5½-pound bass that smashed it,” Miles said. “That last-minute bass got me a check!”