How to Catch Largemouth Bass
Table of Contents
Largemouth Bass Habitat
The largemouth bass may be the most popular gamefish in all of North America. The largemouth covers all habitats from Mexico to the far north. In fact, the only region they are not located is in the state of Alaska. These fish are also found in many different types of water and ecosystems. Bass can be found in huge man-made reservoirs, natural lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds. All these factors lend themselves to the largemouth bass sitting on the throne of the most popular game fish in North America.
The bucket mouth can be found in almost any conceivable habitat that a freshwater fish can survive in. They will thrive in the smallest farm pond, the swampiest bayou or the coldest reservoir in Canada. That is what makes the largemouth the angler’s best friend. It doesn’t take the fastest bass boat, newest rod and reel or the shiniest 15-dollar crankbait to catch one.
Bass Behaviour & Habits
Fish of any kind, especially bass, are easiest to find and pinpoint in a small body of water. The less area there is to cover, the less time, and more likely, an angler is to find their quarry.
Freshwater Vegetation Hunting Grounds
In small ponds and streams bass will be found amongst the lushest aquatic vegetation. Bass love vegetation, grass, lily pads, and moss; the ecosystem that aquatic vegetation creates is an all you can eat buffet for a bass. They will cruise the edges, or weed lines, and ambush baitfish and crayfish. Bass will also bury themselves in the thickest vegetation to hide, rest and root out a meal.
Areas without Vegation
In waters where the vegetation is lacking, or non-existent, bass will gravitate toward structure of some kind. This may be as simple as a stick coming off the bank or vertical in the mud; it may be a submerged brush pile, flooded timber or wooden brush.
The thing to remember about a bass is they are a predator. They will take any advantage nature gives them to ambush prey and have a meal. Time and the natural world have ingrained these and other predator fish with a killer instinct; ambush prey while expending the least amount of energy possible. It will serve you well to remember this for any popular game fish in North America. A bass will use any natural or man-made “structure” to hide and ambush prey.
In larger streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs finding bass can be a trickier proposition. The larger the body of water the more available habitats there are and the harder it can become to really home in on the fish. The same rules we discussed above still apply but it may take more information to discern the best habitat and fishing location.
Spring Season - Warm & Shallow Water
The time of year can play an important factor in narrowing down likely water for a largemouth. In the springtime, bass are homed in on two patterns, feeding in preparation for the spawn and actually spawning, or breeding. When winter breaks and the weather and water begin to warm the bass’s prey (baitfish, crawfish, etc.) begin to migrate toward the warmest water.
Shallow, murky, nutrient rich water begins to warm first, and this is where the largemouth’s prey begins to congregate. Bass will follow their food to these locations to begin putting on weight after the long lethargic winter. Feeding is not only important for their health and weight but to make it possible to spawn the next generation of fish. Shallow water in the spring not only provides the necessary calories but also the spawning habitat that the largemouth need to propagate the species.
Summer Season - Cool, Deep Water
In the summer months, post-spawn, bass will again remain relatively shallow to feed and regain strength from the rigorous spawn. The warming air and water will slowly push the bass deeper. They will congregate on the first substantial drop-offs into deeper water and river channels, that are adjacent to shallow spawning areas. Fish of all species will do this, not only to take advantage of favorable water conditions but also to follow the baitfish.
In the hot summer, bass will congregate in main lake or river basins taking advantage of cooler, deeper water. At this time of year, bass may school to take advantage of large schools of baitfish in the main lake and river channels.
Fall Season - Return to Shallow water
As the cool nip of fall begins to near, the bass will follow the baitfish back to relatively shallow water. The fall pattern can almost be referred to as a mirror of the spring, minus the spawning activity. Largemouth will move in the shallows and channels off the main lake or river to take advantage of prey activity in an effort to gorge themselves before the lethargic times of winter. Winter will again be almost the mirror of summer, with fish taking advantage of the more stable warmer waters of the deeper main lake.
Watch Local Weather Patterns
It is easy to write a concise script for the bass to adhere to, in reality it isn’t always that easy. Local weather patterns, conditions, hot and cold fronts all play a role in the bass’s behavior. Largemouth will follow the general rules discussed but smaller weather patterns and trends will drive their behavior on a micro level. It is easiest to think of it on a micro and macro level. The seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter are the macro side of the equation; weather patterns and trends are the micro side of the equation. An early warm front in late February and March will have bass moving shallow, probing the warming water for food; a sudden cold snap will drive them back to winter habitat. Their movement is more like a dance, one step forward and two steps back. Eventually, the larger seasonal trend will make the fish commit to a specific pattern but there are always smaller trends that affect behavior and habitat on a micro level.
Largemouth Bass Fishing Strategies
- the season and general weather patterns
- the body of water
Knowing the body of water means that you should have some experience with that area. Not every body of water will have a map, but if it does, use it. It will show you the general contour of the bottom and point out those shallow areas, transitions, drop-offs and creek channels. These shallow areas may be good targets in the spring time.
Next use your eyes to scan for visible vegetation growing above the surface. Or, look for visible structures like trees or stumps out of the water. You can also use fishing lures to feel your way around new water. Probing areas with crankbaits can help you determine depth and find hidden structure under the surface.
You should also take full advantage of electronic fishfinders. We will discuss the use of fishfinders later in the article but for now, know that they are a wealth of information. Use them to find hidden vegetation, structure, and bottom features. A fishfinder is the single most useful tool and strategy for finding the most productive water.
Helpful Products for Catching Largemouth Bass
Pro anglers have boats full of baits, lures, hooks, weights, rods, reels and electronics. It is easy to look at these anglers and become overwhelmed, thinking you need to spend thousands to even attempt to bass fish. In reality, these pro anglers, like pro golfers, play a different game than us amateurs. Fishing recreationally can be economical and relaxing, like any hobby should be.
With that being said, a bass fisherman could get by with one rod and reel and a small tackle box of lures. In many situations that is all you need to catch some fish and have a good time. However, to maximize your chances and fun, it's important to have options.
Rods & Reels
Most weekend anglers can get by with 4 basic rods and reels to cover most presentations. To fully encompass the breadth of possibilities it may take a dozen or more rods and reels to fully cover most scenarios, but for the average angler and this article, 4 set ups will do.
Two spinning rods and reels will kick-off of our arsenal, covering light to medium presentations. A light spinning rod and reel are extremely versatile and will cover most of the finesse bass fishing applications. At those times when bass are lethargic or simply don’t want to bite, downsizing and using finesse baits and presentations will keep you from getting skunked.
A medium spinning rod and reel will cover the lighter side of more targeted or deeper-water, light bait applications. These are generally more active applications covering more water. It may be smaller crankbaits, topwater plugs, weightless worms or drop shot rigs.
The next two rods will be baitcasters. These are ergonomic set-ups that are versatile and powerful. The third rod will be a medium power rod with a relatively fast tip. These will be used for spinnerbaits, smaller crankbaits, jerkbaits, topwaters, etc.
The fourth and last rod will be a heavy or medium heavy rod. This will be used for fishing plastic worms, jigs, and heavy baits or for applications where heavy line and brute strength are needed to pull fish out of cover.
Largemouth Bass Bait
- Minnows or large shiners
You can catch largemouth on a variety of live and artificial baits and lures. For a relaxing day nothing beats fishing with live bait. You can fish live bait under a bobber, straight down in deeper water using a drop shot, fish it on the bottom or drift. Minnows or large shiners are good options and are easy to find at bait stores. Worms can be effective but are less popular for bass. An excellent option for bass in many waters is live crawfish, they can be difficult to find for purchase, however.
One option for live bait fishing is to catch or trap your bait yourself; this is an excellent way to get crawfish. Using a crawfish trap in a creek, you can catch many of the mudbugs for fishing. You can also trap minnows and other baitfish using a minnow trap in your favorite river, lake or pond. Sometimes local forage is hard to beat because that is what the bass are used to eating.
Artificial Bait & Lures
There are countless options for artificial baits and lures, and they will all catch a bass at one time or another. We will discuss a few of the most popular options and ones that catch a lot of fish for me. Like many sports, you can make your lure options as simple or as complicated as you want.
One of my go to baits are soft plastics. There are literally, thousands of options when it comes to soft plastics. One stand by is the plastic worm. It can be rigged countless ways. I like using a Texas rigged plastic worm. It is a simple setup, a free moving bullet weight, worm hook and the plastic worm. It is fished on the bottom, popping it off the bottom or slowly bouncing it back to the angler.
Another option is drop shotting soft plastics. This technique utilizes a weight below the hook and a soft plastic. It is a dynamite set up and produces great action with little rod manipulation.
Another line of plastics is the swimbait, these are soft plastics made to imitate a baitfish. They often use a jighead, where the weight and hook are linked. These are fished by throwing out and reeling in the lure, trying to make it swim and look like a wounded baitfish. I have personally used these with great effect at all times of the year.
The last soft plastic option we will discuss are trick worms or senkos. These are usually fished weightless and hooked in the middle. This presentation can be deadly on fish in shallow water. I highly recommend giving a weightless senko a try.
One piece of equipment that will help you catch more fish and spend less time looking for them is an electronic fish finder. There are tons of available options developed by several manufacturers. Fish finders can be inexpensive, costing less than $100. Or, you can easily spend more than $3000. But the most popular price point is for fish finders are about $200.
Fish finders are one piece of gear that will make your precious free time on the water more productive. There are fish finders with standard sonar capability. This will only offer some good information about the bottom, structure, hardness of the bottom and fish.
Today, however there are some really amazing things that fish finders offer. My two favorites are side scan and down scan. Different manufacturers call them different things but basically, side scan shows you a picture-like view of the bottom off the sides of the boat. They are usually adjustable to scan from 0 to 240 feet on both sides of the boat.
In my opinion, side scan is the most important time saver in fishing. It allows you to scan a new body of water at record speeds, which helps the user quickly rule out unproductive water.
Down scan will give a picture-like view of the bottom and water column directly under the boat. This makes it possible to clearly tell what the bottom looks like, what a brushpile looks like, or see individual fish on a piece of structure. There are tons of units that have both these options, and it is money well spent.
Although we do encourage the use of fish finders, don't let that stop you from fishing if you don't have one. The biggest thing is to get out there fish and have fun and don’t be afraid to try new techniques.