It was a real honor for us when Jay Yelas accepted his second Day on the Lake challenge, this one on March 9, 2020, at hyper-obscure Lake E. As you’re about to discover, Yelas can still summon up the mojo required to score a bodacious bag of bass!
6:48 a.m. It’s 56 degrees, damp and windy when Yelas and I arrive at Lake E. “It’s supposed to be cloudy all day with rain late this afternoon,” he says as he pulls an arsenal of Lew’s rods and reels from storage and fans them across the deck of his boat. “Moving baits like crankbaits and spinnerbaits should work, but ‘bite windows’ are typical in early March, so I’ll probably have to go to a jig when the action tapers off.”
7 HOURS LEFT 7:15 a.m. We launch the Skeeter. Yelas checks the water temp: 52 degrees. “This is a tricky time of year to fish because bass are starting to move up shallow from their deep winter haunts, but with the spawn still a month away, they’re probably not locked into skinny water yet. They’ll often ‘stage’ around isolated wood, rock and grass cover near potential spawning areas and will fatten up prior to going on bed. “I want to run the lake for a few minutes and see what cover and structure options are available.” 7:34 a.m. After some exploratory cruising, Yelas drops his trolling motor near a main-lake point in Lake E’s upper end and makes his first casts of the day with a chartreuse shad Lucky Craft 2.5 squarebill crankbait. “A small squarebill is a good choice in early spring; it deflects off cover and resembles a crawfish, which are shallower and more readily available to bass now than baitfish like shad. Biologists also tell me that [crawfish] are a great source of calcium, which promotes bass egg sac development.” Wow! Who knew? 7:40 a.m. Yelas switches to a 1/2-ounce red craw XCalibur lipless crankbait and quickly bags his first keeper bass of the day, a 1-pound largemouth. “This fish was on a patch of gravel on the point. I was using a yo-yo retrieve and it hit on the fall.” 7:46 a.m. Another bass pops the lipless crankbait but doesn’t hook up. 7:52 a.m. Yelas tries a 6-inch plum/emerald flake Yamamoto Senko on the gravel patch. 7:59 a.m. He cranks a red craw Strike King 1.5 squarebill across the point. “You shouldn’t have to use a finesse approach in these cloudy, windy conditions to catch fish. They should hit a moving bait.” 8:04 a.m. Yelas slow rolls a 1/2-ounce chartreuse and white MGC spinnerbait across the point. “Spinnerbaits are a good choice in choppy water; they put off a realistic diffused flash.” 8:08 a.m. The point transitions to a steep channel bank with multiple blowdowns. Yelas tries the spinnerbait and 1.5 here without success. 8:11 a.m. Yelas moves to a nearby tributary arm where he casts the lipless crank around a dock.
6 HOURS LEFT 8:15 a.m. Yelas dredges the red squarebill down a submerged tree on a secondary point and bags keeper No. 2, 1 pound, 4 ounces. “This fish was parked halfway down that sunken tree.” 8:17 a.m. Yelas casts a 1/2-ounce black and blue MGC jig with a matching Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog trailer and swings aboard keeper No. 3, 2 pounds, 12 ounces. “It hit bottom, I twitched it one time, and she popped it! This is a textbook early spring staging spot: an isolated tree on a point near the entrance to a spawning cove.” 8:20 a.m. Yelas moves to a series of docks where he tries a 3/8-ounce black and blue Z-Man ChatterBait bladed jig with a matching Yamamoto Zako trailer. 8:27 a.m. He’s probed three docks with the jig and his crankbait arsenal. No takers here. 8:30 a.m. Yelas cranks the ChatterBait around a seawall. “They’ll spawn against these vertical walls.” 8:36 a.m. He pitches the jig around a series of laydowns. “Often the more wood cover there is close together, the less bass like it. Isolated wood is usually better, especially in early spring.” 8:42 a.m. Yelas is moving rapidly down the bank while making short casts with the red squarebill. “I was in a bite window a half-hour ago, but it may be closing!” 8:50 a.m. Yelas moves straight across the lake to a point with a solitary laydown and tries a white 3/8-ounce MGC swim jig with a matching Strike King Rage Craw trailer, shaking the rod tip during the retrieve “to activate the skirt and trailer.” 8:54 a.m. He casts the jig to the tree. “Make sure you stay well off these big laydowns; they often run out a long distance from shore, and if you bump a branch with your boat, it’ll spook the fish.” 9:01 a.m. Yelas zips downlake a quarter-mile to a point at a cove entrance, where he tries the Lucky Craft squarebill. 9:04 a.m. He moves into the cove and casts the lipless crank around a cluster of submerged stumps. 9:09 a.m. Yelas rakes the red 1.5 over a secondary point.
Photo: Don Wirth
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5 HOURS LEFT 9:15 a.m. Yelas casts the 1.5 to a sunken tree and bags his fourth keeper, 3 pounds, 5 ounces. “They’re getting bigger, which is a good thing! I didn’t get bit on any of those stumps; they seem to like these big, long trees.” 9:24 a.m. Yelas presses into the back of the cove with both squarebills and the spinnerbait. 9:51 a.m. No more love in the cove, so Yelas is out on the main lake, casting the 1.5 to an abandoned boat ramp. “It feels 20 degrees colder out here with that wind blowing!” 10:05 a.m. Yelas moves into a shallow pocket and tries the 1.5 around a sunken fencerow.
4 HOURS LEFT 10:15 a.m. The wind is howling out of the south as Yelas hits a series of shallow pockets with the spinnerbait and 1.5. 10:25 a.m. The pocket pattern isn’t paying off, but Yelas isn’t overly concerned. “These dead zones are typical of early spring. No need to panic; just keep doing what you were doing to catch fish and another bite window should eventually open up.” 10:48 a.m. Yelas has been banging the 1.5 off shallow stumps without success. He runs back to the main-lake point where his caught his first keeper and hits the gravel patch with the lipless crank. 10:52 a.m. He retrieves a SteelShad metal blade bait across the rockpile but hauls water. 11:02 a.m. Yelas races back to the isolated tree where he bagged two keepers. He tries the jig and 1.5 but can’t dredge up another fish. 11:09 a.m. Yelas bags his fifth keeper, 1 pound, 9 ounces, when his 1.5 deflects off a stump on a nearby mud point. Now that he’s got a limit, what’s his take on how the day is unfolding? “So far, the major pattern seems to be isolated wood in areas close to shallow spawning grounds. Big laydown trees have been better than stumps, but neither has produced a really big fish so far. They haven’t moved up to shallow flats or pockets yet – the water’s still too cold. The obvious game plan for the remainder of the day would be to keep focusing on isolated staging cover, but I want to explore new water with different structure and cover combinations that might produce some significantly bigger fish.”
3 HOURS LEFT 11:15 a.m. Yelas has moved into a large cove with multiple vacation houses and their obligatory docks, boathouses and access canals. He cranks the 1.5 around a chunk-rock bank.
Photo: Don Wirth
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11:19 a.m. He tries the jig and spinnerbait around a boathouse. Nothing here. 11:25 a.m. Yelas spinnerbaits another boathouse. Again, nothing. 11:33 a.m. Yelas hits another seawall with the 1.5. An American flag is snapping on a nearby pole. “The wind is picking up and it’s getting colder. Hopefully, we’ll be finished before that storm hits.” 11:38 a.m. Yelas moves farther into the cove and begins working around a small island with the 1.5 and jig. 11:46 a.m. Yelas pitches the jig to a stickup close to the island, and a big bass loads on! He works it carefully to the boat and swings aboard his sixth keeper, 4 pounds, 9 ounces. “I love it when a plan comes together! Hopefully, I can tap into a few more big fish back in here.”
Photo: Don Wirth
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11:53 a.m. Yelas casts the chartreuse 2.5 to a mud point running off the island and hangs another big fish! His seventh keeper weighs 5 pounds, 13 ounces.
Photo: Don Wirth
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Photo: Don Wirth
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11:53 a.m. “Man, what a chunk! My crankbait was kicking up mud like a nervous crawdad when it hit!” 12:00 p.m. As the sun momentarily tries to burn through the dense cloud cover, Yelas moves into a nearby cove and tries the 2.5 and jig around scattered wood. 12:07 p.m. He tags a short fish on the 2.5. 12:11 p.m. Yelas speed trolls back to the island and bags a 2-5 on the 2.5. “This fish was sitting on a little secondary point off this island. All the fish I caught this morning were on isolated wood; my last two have been off shallow mud.”
2 HOURS LEFT 12:15 p.m. Yelas is dialed in to the jig and two squarebills. He cranks the 2.5 on a shallow point. 12:28 p.m. Yelas tries the 1.5 and jig around a seawall and a boathouse.
Photo: Don Wirth
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12:40 p.m. Yelas bags a humpbacked 2-12 bass off a rock bank on the 2.5. 12:46 p.m. Yelas casts the 2.5 to a point and hangs it in some unseen object. He spends the next 10 minutes sprawled on his boat’s deck as he struggles to retrieve the lure and finally works it free. “It was stuck in an old burlap sack. I’ve been catching quality fish on that bait and I really wanted it back!” 12:59 p.m. Yelas is moving rapidly along a seawall, making short pitch-casts with the 2.5. No love here. 1:06 p.m. Yelas again hangs his prized Lucky Craft 2.5 in a submerged obstacle; this time he’s not so lucky and has to break off the costly lure. He ties on a Strike King 2.5 squarebill in the same color and resumes casting.
Photo: Don Wirth
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1 HOUR LEFT 1:15 p.m. Yelas grinds the Strike King 2.5 around another shallow point. It hangs in a stump and he pops it free. 1:38 p.m. Yelas runs back to the stumpy cove he fished earlier and cranks both Strike King squarebills. 1:51 p.m. He exits the cove and chunks the spinnerbait to a windblown point. 2:05 p.m. With 10 minutes remaining, Yelas rockets to the dam and casts the chartreuse squarebill to riprap. He gets a hard strike at boatside, but the fish pulls free. “Rats, that was a big one!” 2:09 p.m. The wind is raging as Yelas hangs another good fish on the squarebill! He quickly maneuvers his boat away from the rocks and swings aboard a 2-14 largemouth. 2:14 p.m. With exactly one minute remaining, Yelas boats his eleventh keeper of the day, 5 pounds even, on the chartreuse crank! He’s had another awesome “Day On The Lake,” with his five biggest bass totaling a hefty 21 pounds, 9 ounces!
Photo: Don Wirth
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THE DAY IN PERSPECTIVE “There were bite windows opening and closing all day, and by not getting overly attached to any one area of the lake, I was able to put together a really nice bag of bass,” Yelas told Bassmaster. “It’s not surprising that I caught a couple of good fish on a jig, but the squarebills allowed me to cover productive water much faster and accounted for most of my keepers. If I were to fish this lake tomorrow, I’d – hey wait, it’s going to be lousy weather tomorrow! I believe I’ll take a rain check!”
WHEN AND WHERE JAY YELAS CAUGHT HIS FIVE BIGGEST BASS
3 pounds, 5 ounces; red craw Strike King 1.5 crankbait; isolated tree in cove; 9:15 a.m.
4 pounds, 9 ounces; stickup near small mud island; 1/2-ounce black and blue MGC jig with matching Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog trailer; 11:46 a.m.
5 pounds, 13 ounces; chartreuse shad Lucky Craft 2.5 crankbait; shallow mud island point; 11:53 a.m.
2 pounds, 14 ounces; chartreuse shad Strike King 2.5 crankbait; riprap at dam; 2:09 p.m.
5 pounds; same lure and place as No. 4; 2:14 p.m.
TOTAL: 21 POUNDS, 9 OUNCES