Bass Fishing Techniques and Tips

There are two main types of Black Bass in the US. The Largemouth Bass (Micropterus Salmoides), and the Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus Dolomieu). They have different behavior, and inhabit different environments, although they can over lap. They do not inter-breed. There is a 3rd species, the Spotted Bass, that inhabits the Tennessee River Valleys, but their habits are almost identical to the Smallmouth Bass. There is also a sub-species of Largemouth, called the Florida Largemouth. As the name suggests, they are from Florida, although there have been attempts to breed and stock them outside the state. Another bass similar to the Largemouth is an exotic species transplanted in Florida from Central and South America called the Peacock Bass. They are beautifully-colored, and their habits are similar to Largemouths.

The Largemouth Black Bass is a bruiser, by freshwater standards. They are mainly sight-feeders, but can also use smell and vibration to locate prey. They eat just about anything they can get into their huge mouths, including small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, ducks, and birds, hence one of their nicknames…Bucket-mouth Bass. They can swallow things almost as big as themselves, and are perfectly willing to do so most of the time. They are ‘ambush’ hunters, prefering to hide near structure and ‘pounce’ on unsuspecting prey, swallowing them whole, in the blink of an eye. And, if it happens that what it has swallowed is not edible, they can ‘spit’ it out just as fast. Many a bass angler has wound up with a multi-hooked lure in his lap from a forceful ejection by an enraged Largemouth Bass. They can ‘spit’ a lure 20′ or more. Largemouth Bass can exceed 15 pounds, and 20 pounders have been caught. Largemouth Bass prefer slow-moving, slightly turbid water with lots of cover. Hydrilla beds, and submerged timber are some of their favorite haunts. Although they can be found in rivers, they are mainly a lake fish. They spawn in shallow water in late April in the south, to late May in the north. Their metabolism slows down in winter, but they can be caught all-year, using the proper techniques.

Smallmouth Bass , on the other hand, prefer moderately moving, clear, cooler water. Except for temperature, the prefer the same conditions as trout…clean, clear, easy moving water, around 72 degrees F. In fact, one of their nicknames is Green Trout. They can be found in lakes, and in fact, some lakes are famous for their Smallmouth Bass, such as Dale Hollow in Tn., and Kentucky Lake in Ky. Smallmouths are also ‘ambush’ predators, lying in wait, in cover, for an unsuspecting meal to drift by. They are particularly fond of crawfish. Most baits and lures that work for Largemouths will work for Smallmouths, albeit in smaller sizes. Also, Smallmouths are not known to eat birds or mammals, but probably only because their mouths are smaller. Smallmouths only grow to around 5-7 pounds. The record is slightly over 10 pounds.

Largemouths and Smallmouths can have similar coloration, and markings, depending on where they came from. And their habitats can overlap. The way to identity the species is to look at where the mouth corners end. If the mouth extends beyond the eye, it is a Largemouth. If it only comes to mid-eye, it is a Smallmouth.

Both Largemouths, and Smallmouths put up a tremendous fight when hooked. Some will go deep and slug it out in the depths, with wild evasive manuevers, and even trying to wrap the line around obstacles. Other times, they will shoot out of the water like an out-of-control Polaris missile, repeatedly, and perform acrobatics that would make any trout proud.

One trick to entice moody Largemouths, and to a lesser extent, Smallmouths, is to hook a live worm through the center, ‘wacky’ style, and then hook a minnow right behind it, on the same hook, so that the worm extends out on both sides of the minnow. It looks like the minnow grabbed a worm, and is trying to swallow it. This drives predators insane, because they think they can get two meals for the price of one.

Another trick, that works on almost all predators, is to rig a live baitfish, worm, or crawfish under a bobber. Then, with another rod, cast a small spinner, jig or crankbait out beyond the bobber, and reel it in quickly just past the bobber. To the bass, it appears that another fish is about to chomp the tidbit they have been watching. Nothing enrages a bass more. The strikes will be particularly vicious.

When fishing with a minnow, sometimes it helps to take a pair of fingernail clippers, and clip the lower lobe of the minnow’s tailfin. This makes it swim with a wounded motion that can drive bass crazy.

Another way to entice finicky bass is to rig a soft plastic minnow-bait, or jig about 2′ underneath a top-water ‘Chugger” or ‘Popper’. As you work the top water, the noise draws bass in, and it appears that an unwary smallfry is tracking the lure underwater. Sometimes the bass will try to beat the minnow to the punch and engulf the Popper, and other times, they will attack the jig for having the audacity to try to steal it’s supper. And sometimes, you can double up, and catch a bass on each one at the same time.

New Englanders have one thing we don’t have down south here…ICE! Most bass anglers up north hang up their bass gear until ice-out in the spring. But I have developed, through trial and error, a method to catch bass THROUGH THE ICE, much like you would Walleyes and Northerns. When I was in the Navy, I spent a lot of time at the Submarine Base in New London (actually, the base is in Groton), CT (yes, I was a Bubblehead, which is Navy slang for a Submariner). I learned to ice fish quickly, and adapted what I knew about bass to the technique. It is a myth that bass go dormant, and do not eat in water less than 50 degrees. Their metabolism slows down, but they still eat. What eventually worked for me was to use a regular ice-fishing rod, but spool the reel with 8 pound test line (you’ll be pulling the line against the ice no matter what you do). The best lure was a #7 jigging Rapala Minnow, with the treble hooks removed, and replaced with smaller single hooks. The best color was silver and black. I would make my hole in the ice in about 20′ of water, with a weedy bottom, or some other type of structure, usually near a channel or drop-off. I would drop the Rapala all the way to the bottom, then gently jig it up and down about 12 inches. If I didn’t get a strike in a few minutes, I’d reel up a few feet and repeat, all the way to the surface. I would catch bass anywhere from right on the bottom, up to 2 feet under the ice. I would catch my limit almost every time I went out.
These techniques should help you fill a stringer with bass next time you are up North.

Happy fishing.

Dan Eggertsen is a fellow bass fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on bass fishing since 2004.

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