By Dr. Hal Schramm

Some largemouth in Oklahoma's Kerr Lake, a 43,800 acre Arkansas River navigation and hydroelectric impoundment, are still spawning and guarding beds, but local tournament pro Rodney Copeland from nearby Sallisaw puts his money on post-spawn fish. Just a couple days before talking with Copeland I read an article about the passing of the effectiveness of spinnerbaits. Well, apparently Copeland didn’t read that article, and neither have the Kerr bass.

Plan A: Copeland fishes the shallow (1 to 2 feet deep) emergent water willow along shore. To better guide you to the fish at this time of year, look for areas of dead, brown stalks that were lush water willow beds last summer. Don’t be turned off by the seemingly dead plants; they will grow back and the hard bottom areas where they will grow remain attractive to the post-spawn bass. Copeland draws reaction strikes by saturating the senescent weedbeds with a white or white/chartreuse BOOYAH Double Willow Blade spinnerbait and pitches a YUM Christie Craw or Christie Critter to every piece of wood he encounters. Wood in 2 to 4 feet of water tends to be most productive. “If it’s hard and big enough to hold a bass, flip to it,” was Copeland’s simple advice. 

Pro’s pointer: When I asked Copeland ― who is a state trooper and marine enforcement officer ― for a pro pointer, he responded, “This may be an unusual pointer, but I want you to mention safety. Check your safety equipment - -throwable device, fire extinguisher, and of course wear your PFD. Make sure you have your boat registration and meet all state boating requirements. Don’t let a small mishap turn into a disaster.” 

Lake Dardanelle, Arkansas; spawn and post-spawn largemouth bass

Lake Dardanelle is a wide spot -- a 40,000 acre wide spot -- on the extensively impounded Arkansas River (McClellan-Kerr Navigation System) and home lake to local pro Sawyer Grace. “Most bass are mid-spawn, but I’m starting to catch some post-spawn fish,” reported the young gun.

Plan A: Bass are concentrated near and around backwater areas. For Grace, backwater areas are any shallow areas off the main river. That’s a lot of aquatic real estate on Dardanelle, so keep moving until you find fish. “Pitch a YUM Christie Critter to every rock or piece of wood you can find in water 1 to 4 feet deep,” advised Grace. “A weightless YUM Dinger fished in pad stems is also a good way to put together a limit. Watermelon/red flake is my preferred color in clear water, but darker colors are best in muddy water.”

Plan B: Spawn and post-spawn bass are also bunched up on the jetties (rock wing dikes) on the river. Grace relies on a black or chartreuse/black Bandit 200 to provoke strikes. “Concentrate on the downriver side of the jetties where the jetty connects to the bank,” Grace said.

Pro’s pointer: The bass have been heavily pressured. Grace makes these pressured bass bite by making long casts to logs or stickups and fishing very, very slowly. “Make repeated casts to likely targets. I may make up to five casts to a spot before moving on,” said Grace. “For flipping cover, I lighten my weight as much as possible, sometimes dropping to a 3/16 ounce weight.”

Lake Tenkiller, Oklahoma; spawning smallmouth

The smallmouth bass spawn is on in this clear-water, eastern Oklahoma reservoir, reported local tournament stick Russ Warner. “Smallmouth aren’t feeding when they are on the bed, so I rely on a reaction bite to put fish in the boat,” reasoned Warner.

Plan A: “Look for gravel flats with rocks close to the river channel,” counseled Warner. “The fish are in 2 to 4 feet of water, and areas with the wind blowing in are better. Fish shallow, and fish fast.“ The Oklahoman’s first choice is a Smithwick Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue (Juice or Blue Herring). If the hard jerkbait bite dies, Warner switches to a YUM Break’n Shad (Sinister Shad or Pearl Blue). Although Warner usually opts for translucent or transparent colors in clear water, he never hesitates to try something gaudy, like bubble gum or chartreuse.

Plan B: Pea gravel and rock banks near deep water are made to order for crankbaits when the wind is blowing in. Warner makes the bass bite with a lavender shad Bandit 100.

Pro’s pointer: “Use one red treble hook on crankbaits and jerkbaits,” suggests Warner. “I replace the front hook on a crankbait, the front or middle hook on a jerkbait. It might just be a mental thing for me, but it gives fish a target. “ And another piece of sage advice from the jerkbait expert: “If you are seeing fish follow the jerkbait but not commit, change color.”

Grand Lake, Oklahoma; spawning largemouth bass

This picturesque, serpentine, 62-mile long reservoir is home water for FLW Tour pro Zack Birge. “This lake has a huge number of 3- to 4-pound bass, and it is notorious for the spawn turning on overnight lakewide,” said Birge. He recommended starting in the lower end where the water is clearer.

Plan A: First thing in the morning, skip docks with a wacky Dinger and finesse jig.

Plan B: As soon as there is enough light, Birge is looking for bedding bass. Everybody can catch a 16-pound bag in a tournament on Grand. “I really think big bass don’t travel far to spawn, and big fish move in and out quickly” said Birge. “To bump up your weight, focus on small pockets off the main lake.” 

The name of the sight-fishing game is not spooking the fish. Birge likes to get close enough to see the bed but not spook the fish. He entices strikes with small creature baits like a YUM Bad Mamma. The key to success is “reading” the fish. “If a fish stays on the bed when you pitch to it, that fish will usually eat in 10 to 20 minutes. If they are ‘shy’ and just swim away or ‘stubborn’ and keep swimming in and out of the bed, leave and return later,” advised Birge. “Your time is better used to find other quality fish.” If you get too close to the bed before you see it, keep moving and circle back.

Plan C: If the sight-fishing game is off or the water is dirty, it’s time to fish blind or skip docks in deep water. “If I had to resort to this, I’d fish a 6- to 8- inch trick worm like a YUM Sharpshooter with a spinning rod. When fishing docks, be sure to thoroughly fish the corners and boat slip.”

Pro’s pointer: “Blind casting is mentally tough, especially when compared to sight fishing. You need to remain confident that fish you can’t see are there,” offered the accomplished pro.