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Tourney Stop #3 – Bull Shoals


New Insights on The Spawn


If you were to read a book on bass spawning behavior, you would find that once the water warms to roughly 60 degrees and is stable, bass will go shallow and begin spawning on hard bottoms with some sort of cover.  It appeared that Bull Shoals had all the markers for bass to begin their spawning ritual in about mid-April, which is not uncommon.  This, along with local intel stating bass were on beds and actively spawning further verified this theory.


Then the bottom dropped out.


Bull Shoals was at one point in April, 21 feet above full pool.  Then, right about the time bass really started to spawn, the Army Corp of Engineers started to drop the lake… and fast!  In a week prior to the tournament, the lake dropped around 8 feet.  They were moving some water!  Not only did the water begin to drop, the new water from the White River cooled down the lake.  Water temps dropped from 60-64 degrees down to the upper 50s.

This made for a very interesting situation.  You had reports of fishermen catching spawning bass the week leading up to tourney day and suddenly the water conditions drastically changed.

So now the question was, what do we do on tournament day?


Planning and Practice


My initial thoughts before getting on the lake were to target pre-spawn and post-spawn areas.  I would be looking for the fish that were either done spawning or wanting to spawn, but were not yet able to.  The closer I could find deep water and cover near the spawning pockets, the more confidence I had. 


My dad and I got to the lake later than anticipated.  It always seems like that happens on tourney day, doesn’t it?  The water was clear and it was all sunshine and blue skies ahead. After making a run to a creek I had researched all week, we started on a very good-looking main lake point.  We fished intentionally with everything we could think of and slowly worked our way back into the creek.  We made our way back almost into the creek arm before we got our first clue.


After getting snagged on a submerged bush, I was forced to go shallow and retrieve my crankbait.  Sitting over the clear water in about 10 feet, I saw what looked like a very nice-looking bass just cruising along.  With that information, we held the boat out in 20ish feet of water, while focusing on fishing in the 8-12 foot range.  I did this until I got all the way to the back of the creek and the water shallowed out.


We decided to go as far back into the creek as we could.  That is where we got our second clue… more bass shallow!


You could see schools of them stacked up in heavy cover.  Most were small, but occasionally, you’d find one that looked decent.  The problem? They were not in a biting mood.


I did get one hit on a weightless wacky worm but he was small and came off rather quickly.

We continued to look at other spawning areas in the backs of creeks.  The more cover in the water, the more bass.  That’s not surprising.  What was surprising was their lack of interest. Worms, jigs, flukes, you name it. The bass were not fooled despite our best efforts.


As the practice day neared its end, we hit one last creek close to the marina we’d be taking off from in the morning.  With the wind picking up a little, I decided to keep the green pumpkin with chartreuse wacky rig tied on, but I added a small piece of a nail weight to the non-chartreuse end of the worm.  This would allow it to sink slower and keep the heavier end on the bottom.  The chartreuse tip would be up and moving around with any little twitch or water movement.


This resulted in the first fish of the weekend!


I threw the worm into a submerged bush and dead sticked it.  Dead sticking is when you just let your lure sit in a spot without moving it. Yes, I did this on purpose.


After a few seconds, I moved it slightly, and there was a fish.  A small, 10-inch spotted bass.  I thought, “cool,” but I knew one fish didn’t mean anything.

It didn’t take long for the second fish to appear.


Doing the same thing, we worked our way out of the pocket.  Towards the front, I got hit again.  This time a keeper spotted bass.  Still not massive, but it gave me confidence that if I stuck to this pattern, I could probably get 5 keepers in the boat.

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