"Late May and early June offer perhaps the very best fishing for big numbers of big bass — largemouth and smallmouth — in the middle part of the country," says full-time guide and tourney pro Roger Stegall of Iuka, Miss. "Now these fish are moving from spawning areas back to creek and river humps and ledges, and they're hungry after their spawning effort. They're also bunched up in tight schools. If you can find a school and work it properly, you can have the best fishing day of your life."
For instance, Stegall points to Memorial Day of 2006 when he and partner Todd Rasberry were fishing a tournament on Pickwick Lake in southern Tennessee. "We found some big bass bunched up on a main lake bar, and for a while we were catching one every cast. In fact, we started taking turns. I'd catch one and he'd net it, then he'd catch one and I'd net it. We won that tournament with five fish that weighed 23 1/2 pounds. The second-place team weighed in 15 pounds."
So what's Stegall's secret for working this deep water structure? "I'll fish likely spots with a tube jig dragged along the bottom. This looks like a crawfish scooting by, and the fish can't stand it. They have to bite! This is a deadly pattern when all the elements fall into place."
The first "element" is the spot, and Stegall is specific about what to look for. "I'll fish underwater bars that are way out off the bank. Typical depths are 8 to 20 feet of water on top and 15 to 40 feet — or deeper — off the side of the bar." Such spots may be main channel ledges; outside bends on a major tributary creek; a long submerged point running parallel to a creek channel; or a sunken roadway, levy or dike.
Stegall prospects for these spots with a sonar unit, and he looks specifically for a break in a ledge or bank or for stumps or rocks on the structure that provide current buffers and ambush cover for feeding fish.
He explains, "An ideal situation is a cut in a ledge, usually where a creek empties into the channel, with a high spot on the downstream point of the cut. If this downstream point has anything to deflect or change the current flow, watch out!"
Speaking of current, this is Stegall's next "element" for making this pattern work. "Current triggers fish to feed," he explains. "It stirs up the bottom and activates the entire ecosystem. This excites bass and concentrates them in feeding areas where the water is pushing food to them, like the downstream point scenario. Sometimes you can catch bass off these places if there's no current running, but current makes them a lot more active."
Before fishing, Stegall will scan a spot electronically. "If I see shad on top of the structure, that's good. If I see schools of baitfish with larger fish holding nearby, that's better. I'm probably going to catch some. But if the larger fish are suspended out over deep water, then it's going to be harder to get them to bite."
Now for Stegall's "secret weapon" — his tube jig presentation. "I use a 3 1/2-inch green pumpkin or watermelon tube jig. I rig this by inserting a 3/8-ounce leadhead jig into the tube, leaving the hook exposed. I fish this on medium-heavy baitcasting gear and 10-pound-test line."
He positions his boat a few yards downstream from his target zone, and he makes a long cast upstream over the target, allowing the tube jig to sink to the bottom. Then he begins a series of short pulls, scooting the tube across the hump or bar. "This is very similar to fishing a Carolina rig," Stegall explains. "I literally drag the bait; I don't hop it. I do this by pulling the rod tip sideways, and I move the tube 1 to 2 feet at a pull. I'm trying to make the bait look like a crawfish flipping along the bottom." He typically fishes a target area 20 to 30 minutes before moving on.
Stegall says strikes fall into two categories: (1) hard thumps and (2) the bait starts swimming away.
"Sometimes they'll almost jerk the rod out of your hand, and other times you won't feel anything, but your line starts moving sideways. In either case, jerk immediately. Don't wait for them to swallow it."
When he catches a bass, he boats it as quickly as possible, then he returns to the same spot and tries to replicate the exact same cast (see Tackle Tricks). By doing this, Stegall frequently catches multiple fish from the same school.
Stegall stays with the tube lure until bites quit coming, then he also tries a crankbait, a big plastic worm and a single-blade spinnerbait on the same spot. "Sometimes I can catch another fish or two by trying these different baits before leaving the spot," he maintains.
One other key to success with this pattern is having water color that's not too stained. He explains, "If the water's muddy, the fish have trouble seeing the lure. This pattern is best with what I call normal water color, where visibility is at least a few feet where the bass are holding."
So, on Pickwick Lake where Stegall guides (www.fishpickwick.com) or any mainstream reservoir, the postspawn, main lake structure bite can be red-hot, and tube jigs crawled along the bottom are the ticket for an exciting ride. "I'm telling you, this really works," Stegall says emphatically. "I'm dead serious when I tell you this pattern can provide the best action any lake offers."
In June, when fishing ledge structure, one productive cast should be followed immediately by another. Legendary bass guide Roger Stegall says in the immediate postspawn period, bass hold and feed in tight schools, and if an angler can precisely duplicate a cast that's hooked a bass, he'll probably catch another.
"I'm talking about having the boat in exactly the same position, casting exactly the same direction and distance, and retrieving your tube lure or crankbait on exactly the same track along the bottom," he explains.
Stegall keeps a marker buoy handy, and when he hooks a fish, he immediately drops the buoy off the side of his boat. Next, he takes three quick shoreline or buoy references to triangulate his exact casting position. Then he concentrates on playing the fish to the boat.
"With the marker and the three references, you can ease right back to the exact same spot to repeat the cast you've just made."
Gear To Grab
Following is a list of bait, tackle and accessory items that Roger Stegall uses when fishing his deep structure pattern in June:
All Star Platinum model 786 casting rod
Pflueger Supreme 6.3:1 baitcast reel
Shakespeare Supreme Super Smooth 10-pound-test clear line
Strike King KVD Pro Model tube lures 3/8-ounce jigheads with 4/0 Gamakatsu hooks
Fishing "Hard Spots"
When Roger Stegall's ledge-fishing pattern isn't producing (usually when current is slack), he switches to a different pattern — fishing "hard spots" on flats in major tributary creeks.
"Hard spots are places where the bottom is hard, either rocks or mussel shells," Stegall explains. "Some of these may be no bigger than a house. Others may be several acres in size. The smaller spots are usually the best since the fish are more concentrated on them," he continues.
Stegall finds hard spots by cruising and watching his sonar. "I'll look for flats in 8 to 12 feet of water, and I'll zigzag across them while watching my Garmin. A hard spot is very obvious on the bottom display. With a little practice, you'll have no trouble recognizing them."
Stegall continues, "A soft, muddy bottom grows nothing. But a hard bottom grows lots of stuff, including algae on the rocks and shells. Minnows come to feed on the algae, and bass come to feed on the minnows. That's why they're there."
Stegall fishes hard spots with a Strike King Series 5 crankbait, fancasting and digging the bait along bottom. "Just keep your bait in the water and you'll catch some fish," he says. And he adds, "These will be bass most anglers don't know about because this pattern is relatively unknown. This is a good thing to try when fishing pressure is heavy and everybody's beating the banks and the choice spots out on the ledges."
Before You Go
1. Spool on new line. You're likely to encounter some trophy-sized bass.
2. Make sure trolling motor batteries are fully charged. You may be pulling against strong current all day.
3. Check the weather forecast. Strong winds can make fishing this pattern impossible.
4. Take plenty of drinking liquid — bottled water, Gatorade, etc.
5. Dress properly and use sunscreen. Stegall wears a thin cotton Columbia long-sleeve fishing shirt and long pants that zip off to transform into shorts.