Bass Fishing – The Basics
There are two main kinds of bass–and if you are reading this you are ready to catch one of them! Largemouth bass are the most popular fish in the US. Their smaller cousin is the Smallmouth bass(who pound for pound fights a lot harder I might add). These two fish species have a lot in common, they are aggressive predators and together drive a billion dollar fishing industry. The key to success with these fish is studying bass biology and learning how they operate. Once you study up on the seasonal patterns and diets of these fish (my articles above are a great place to start), you can finally call yourself a bass fisherman!
Lures That Catch Bass
Bass are opportunistic predators, meaning they will eat a myriad of things as long as they can get their mouths around it. Largemouth bass are especially opportunistic, their primary diet is fish, but they will eat frogs, mice, bugs, worms, and even baby ducklings! Bass in general are looking for the easiest meal they can find. For best results, choose either live bait or an artificial lure that looks like bass’ typical prey.
Sometimes bass are not hungry, but bite for many reasons other than hunger. Curiosity, competition, anger, reaction, and territory defense to name a few. Some lures that often get bass to bite in conditions like these are spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and crankbaits. These baits annoy/attract the fish even if hunger is not the primary reason for striking.
For more advanced fishermen, different rods and reels are used for specific lure presentations. However, for beginners a spinning reel, 6’ rod, and 8lb. test line are about all you’ll need.
Finding the Strike Zone
The strike zone is a measured area from the bass where they are willing to strike a lure. For example, a bass with a 10 foot strike zone means it will bite any lure that comes within 10 feet of it. Conversely, a sluggish bass may have a strike zone of three feet. If the lure is more than three feet away from it, the fish is too lazy to swim over and strike the lure.
The most important factor for lures or bait is where they are casted and the speed of their retrieval. Bass are lazy, yet curious. Make your lure retrieves as slow as possible to give the fish time to come over and check out the bait. A good rule of thumb is wait until the ripples disappearafter a cast before you begin reeling in.
Bass and many other fish like to relate to structure or cover. Structure and cover collectively mean something different in the water. Docks, weedbeds, logs, bridges—these all are unique places where fish will likely hold. Casting as close as possible to these kinds of bass hangouts will increase your chances of being in the strike zone. For a more detail-oriented lesson on where to cast, check out my casting for bass article. The lesson here is make sure all your casts have a purpose and you cast to an object (don’t cast out to open/meaningless water).
Weather and Bass Fishing
Bass have their seasonal movements which you can study, but on any given day the weather is monumental to success. Remember, bass are cold-blooded organisms and the daily fluctuations of water temperature affect their activity levels. Cold weather makes bass sluggish, where their strike zone will be small and their metabolism slow. Medium to warm weather will make bass active. Weather that is too hot (for example in the southern US at noon in the summer), bass tend to get too hot and become very difficult to catch.
During adverse weather (both too hot and too cold) bass tend to either go into deeper water or hunker down in the weeds. Weeds are a bass’ best friend. They relate to weeds in one way or another daily and have specifically evolved to hide and surprise prey in the weeds.
Clouds are good for bass fishing. Clouds keep light levels low as the sun penetrates little, and the bass will hang out in the shallows and cruise around at their own leisure (as long as these clouds aren’t part of a big cold front).
Time of Day to Fish for Bass
Bass, like most other fish, are most active during the mornings and evenings. This is because the low-light levels give them more cover from the sun and better ambush points. In the south, the lower water temperatures of morning and evening are also favorable. Expect bass to be out and foraging around the shallows during the morning and evening, and to be relatively inactive during other parts of the day.
More and more bass are preferring to feed at night. As boater activity and fishing pressure increases, bass are taking their feeding habits to the night. If fishing at night, try using a very bold and noisy lure that attracts bass from far and wide—and keep your lure color as black as night. A very dark black colored lure silhouettes against the sky from the fish’s point of view and makes lure location easier for bass.
Where to Fish for Bass?
Largemouth and Smallmouth bass are located in just about every US state, though neither are located in Alaska. Talk to your local sporting good store (Cabela’s, Bass Pro, or a tackle shop—not Big 5) and they should be able to direct you to a good bass fishing lake. Large lakes hold tons of fish, but small, low-profile ponds receive little fishing pressure and are a great place to learn fishing basics.