- Lynn Burkhead
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Editor's note: For more on cove fishing, pick up a copy of the July/August issue of Bassmaster magazine, on newsstands now.
When you call a BASS pro up to chat about fishing especially fishing in coves you never know what's about to happen next.
Take, for instance, the conversation I had recently with 1991 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champ Ken Cook.
"Hey Lynn, can you hang on?" Cook queried. "I've got one."
After a few moments, the bass was caught and released, allowing Cook to return to our conversation.
"Hey, pardon the interruption, but that's only the second keeper I've caught all day," Cook laughed.
No problem Ken, no problem at all.
Now what were we talking about? Oh, yeah, fishing in coves.
How does the Lawton, Okla., angler approach fishing a new cove?
The first thing that Cook an Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation fisheries biologist turned BASS pro will do is to use his eyes as he enters a cove.
"The first thing I'll do is to take an assessment of the available cover that's there," Cook said, noting that such cover can include lily pads, cattails, standing timber, milfoil and rocky banks.
Then the six-time winner on the BASS circuit will look below the liquid's edge.
"Once I know what the visible cover along the shoreline is with my eyes, then I also want to know what the bottom looks like and I'll use my Lowrance electronics for that," Cook said.
With his electronics, Cook is on the lookout for such things as creek and river channels, drop-offs, underwater humps and points.
Once he has a thorough understanding of a cove's cover and structure, Cook hopes to see things a bit more clearly.
"I'll look at the color of water and how deep I am seeing baitfish," Cook said. "That will tell me how deep to fish."
Why is that?
Well, at the risk of overstating the obvious, aside from the spawn, what typically drives bass is the presence of or absence of baitfish.
And where will the baitfish be? Generally, wherever their food source plankton happens to be.
"In the spring, as the water warms, the baitfish will begin to migrate to the warming shallows," Cook said. "And as the food congregates there, the bass will move there, too."
Of course, during the spring spawn itself, the bass will go very shallow to answer the annual call to keep the species going.
Afterward, bass will begin to reverse their shallow moving process, traveling from a cove's thinnest water back towards deeper water.
"After the bass quit guarding fry, they'll begin to push away from spawning areas and coves begin to become less important as the fish move to points of a cove close to the main lake," Cook said.
Once summertime patterns are in full control, Cook says that he generally will not go into a cove to fish.
The reason? As Cook's cell phone catch proved it was a half-mile from shore most summertime bass aren't in the coves.
Keep in mind that there are a few exceptions to that summertime rule.
"When you get real heavy rains with water running into the back of coves or ditches, the fishing there can be good no matter what time of the year it is," said Cookson, Okla., BASS pro Jimmy Houston.
Houston, a 15-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, says that such a cove inflow pattern can prove to be true in the dead of winter as well as in the heat of summer.
A second time that coves come into play for hot-weather bass is on deep lakes like Houston's home waters, Lake Tenkiller and Broken Bow Reservoir.
"I've sometimes noticed that the shad will migrate into the end of the pockets late in the summertime," Houston said.
When that happens, Houston has occasionally caught bass in shallow water next to lay-down logs in late July and August.
Timmy Horton, the 2000 BASS Angler of the Year, has also found another situation when bass will relate to coves even in the dog days of summer.
"If you're on a lake with a lot of stain to its water, then a lot of times the bass don't get out on the main lake structure," said the Muscle Shoals, Ala., angler.
"When that happens, bass can stay in them (coves), particularly if there is wind blowing."
Aside from those summertime exceptions, another time that coves become important to bass is during the autumn months.
"When the water starts to cool off, the migration of baitfish from the main lake to coves will begin since the best plankton crop will typically be found up a river, a creek, or in the back of a cove," Cook said.
As the plankton flourish in these more fertile fall waters, the shad and the bass will follow the food.
Bear in mind that this is at a time of the year when bass are aggressively putting on the feedbag to prepare for the coming winter.
In other words, the fall fishing action in a cove can be smoking on some days.
Even so, Horton believes that a mistake that too many anglers make is to not fish a cove out thoroughly enough.
Another mistake is when an angler fails to note the how, where, when, and with what bait a cove bass was caught with.
"If you usually are finding them at a certain length or depth in a cove, you can probably run that pattern throughout the lake," Horton said.
That's because coves fished in the right way and at the right time can be nothing short of a bass angler's pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.