Best Day of the Bass Spawn: May 23

This Thursday, May 23rd, is the next pick in our Best Days of the Bass Spawn series. Though some anglers in the South might find it hard to believe, the bass spawn is still far from over for a large portion of the country. Yes, the southerly states where I live have seen the bass spawn come and go, and hot weather and hot water are quickly setting in. But things are just getting right north of the Mason-Dixon line—considerably north that is. 

On the Great Lakes, as well as on many other northern fisheries, the conditions are about to be perfect for targeting bass on and around their spawning beds. And we’ve teamed up with the perfect bass fishing expert to break down what you can expect in the middle of this week and how to make the most of it.

The Region: The northeastern United States, over to and across the Great Lakes and into the northernmost states of the central and western US. 

The Expert: YouTube Angler Ben Nowak

Nowak with a huge smallmouth caught during the spawn. Ben Nowak

YouTuber and smallmouth guru Ben Nowak of Michigan has earned a big following for his videos of chasing and boating behemoth bronzebacks all around the Midwest. While Nowak pays close attention both water temperature and moon phase, he pays particular attention to the latter when it comes to the smallie spawn. 

“Smallmouths tend to spawn a little earlier than largemouths, usually when water temps are between 57 and 61 degrees. And they move more on the moon,” he says. Nowak also pointed out that slightly warmer water in the 59- to 64-degree range is when the largemouth spawn really starts to heat up. 

With water temps getting right across much of the northern region of the United States, and a full moon slated for May 23rd, now is the time to be on the lookout for spawning smallmouths especially, and largemouth, too, for that matter, according the Nowak.

Related: Best 25 Topwater Bass Lures

Regional Spawning Conditions Around May 23rd 

YouTube angler Ben Nowak in a boat with a pair of big smallmouth bass.
Wherever you find one spawning smallie, there’s usually another nearby. Ben Nowak

“In Michigan, you can follow the spawn like clockwork. The lower part of the state is going to start around May 23rd, and you can just track it northward into July. That’s pretty much true throughout the entire region. The same holds for Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, etc.”

Smallmouths usually move up in large groups to spawn, so finding one usually means finding several. “Typically you’ll find a group of smallmouth beds. But with largemouth, it’s more about just getting in the back of a pocket and keeping that trolling motor on high until you find a couple.”

Nowak says he looks for “a good mixed bottom” this time of year. Smallmouths like to have a lot of really hard bottom, like a gravel field, though they won’t actually spawn in the gravel, he says. They’ll instead look for mixture of shell, and silt and/or sand for spawning. 

Nowak also pointed out that this type of bottom often extends all the way out into deep water too. So it’s not uncommon to find smallmouths spawning in 25 feet of water on particularly clear reservoirs, where enough light can penetrate to those depths to help incubate the eggs. These deep-spawning smallmouths are referred to by the locals as “flogger fish,” since using a flogger to look for them is about the only way to find and catch them. 

His method for finding largemouth beds is much simpler: “Just look for shallow white spots,” he says. The largemouth spawn in his area is more limited, and hit or miss. Just check those shallow pockets in 4 feet of water or less and cruise around until you find the white spots that indicate fanned out beds.

Top Baits and Tactics for May 23rd   

An angler hold a Ned rig in his hand with a lake in the background.
Nowak likes a Ned rig for slow-working smallie beds. Ben Nowak

Once Nowak finds a bedded largemouth, he’ll pester it into biting just like you would anywhere else. A tube is his weapon of choice here. As for smallmouths, he likes to cover water with a search bait to speed things up. “Throw a topwater or a hair jig, and they’ll show themselves,” he says. They may fly up off a bed and hit the moving bait, but even if you don’t hook up, you can then follow them back to the bed and switch to something slower, he says. What’s more, when you find one smallmouth with that moving bait, there will typically be a whole hive of them nearby.

When following a smallmouth back to the bed, or if he feels as though there may be several bass spawning in the area, Nowak will switch over to either a dropshot or a Ned rig, which are his two favorite baits for plucking spawning smallmouth off beds.

If you live up North, take it from this Alabama boy down South that you better get out there. I know Ben Nowak well, and I’ve watched him catch way too many giant smallmouth online. If he’s saying it’s time, it’s time. And he believes there will be no better day for it than May 23rd. So get out there and get after it.  

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