Bass Behavior – Why they do what they do.
Today we’re going to talk about seasonal bass behavior specifically, where you can locate bass from season to season, why they’re there, and also some good baits to catch them on.
Remember – bass have just three primary concerns: food, survival, and reproduction.
All three also greatly contribute to seasonal movement. For food, a bass must follow migrating food supplies.
For survival, they must seek ideal water temperatures and oxygen levels.
For reproduction, they must spawn in areas where eggs can hatch successfully. Water temperature. Oxygen levels. Light penetration and food supply…these are all driving factors.
Fall, winter, spring, and summer – The Four Seasons – except, in bass fishing, there’s more like six. Behavior is pretty diverse in the spring when bass reproduce so it makes much more sense to divide this period further into three different sub seasons: pre spawn, spawn, and post spawn. So let’s start breaking this down season by season beginning with the fall.
The fall season begins with a movement from deep summer sanctuaries to shallower water. As temperatures begin to cool bait fish play a huge role this time of year. On typical reservoir style lakes, schools of bait like shad will migrate into the shallower tributary arms where they become extremely active.
Shad are constantly on the move in the fall often roaming in slightly deeper areas of these creek arms for most of the day then retreating to shoreline cover in the evening.
With so much activity bass have numerous opportunities to feed, and they take full advantage of it. You can expect bass to be located in a variety of areas, but the common denominator is always nearby bait fish.
Structure found where creek arms open into the main lake like shallower humps, large flats, and main lake points are all areas where bass can lie in wait for schools a bait to bunch up as they move by. Also, shad will push further back into tributary arms as water temps continue to fall and bass will follow. So fishing nearby coves and secondary points near the mouths of these creeks can also be productive. You can expect bass to be holding to various cover in these areas like boat docks, timber, and grass lines.
What Bait to use to catch the Big Bass.
Because bait fish are so prominent, your choice of lure needs to reflect that. Shallow to medium-running crank baits and willow leaf spinner baits are probably the most effective baits this time of year.
A lipless crankbait or even a topwater popper style bait can also work wonders if you happen to find bass in a feeding frenzy near a school of shad. Shad are not fully grown this time of year so you’ll have more success with smaller profile baits. Also, they suspend. So you typically want to make sure to keep your baits off the bottom.
Color will mostly depend on water clarity with natural colors working better in clear water and flashy colors working better in stained water. From one of the most active seasons of the year to the most inactive season of the year: winter.
Cold weather pushes bass and shad to deeper main lake areas where water temperatures are more stable and less cold compared to shallower water. Before we continue let’s clarify that bass do not hibernate. They don’t stop feeding. They don’t stop moving in the winter. They simply do much less of each.
Bass are cold-blooded which means their bodies take on the temperature of their environment. Cold water slows their biological processes, and they simply require less food and have less energy for movement.
Less movement is a big factor in where and how you’ll catch bass this time of year. Expect them to be located around structural areas with steep depth changes like creek channel drop-offs or rock ledges which allow them to cover depths quickly without exerting much energy.
Bass and Structure.
Main lake humps, submerged roadbeds, standing timber in deeper water…these are all high percentage locations, and you’ll likely find them grouped up this time of year. A slower presentation is usually needed in the winter since bass feed far less frequently and are less willing to chase baits. Baits like jigs, spoons, and grub-style plastics rigged on jig heads can be hopped slowly along the bottom and are great at probing deep vertical structure.
Crankbaits and bladed baits like under spins work as well especially during warming trends. If you’re in need of a search bait and wants to cover lots of water quickly don’t discount the lipless crankbait which tends to single out more active fish.
In clear water, a jerkbait also makes for a great search bait and is considered one of the more effective winter baits.
Bass – The Spawn!
The first big warming trend marks the beginning of what has to be the most exciting, diverse, and sometimes confusing season: spring. Bass leave their winter sanctuaries and begin the process of reproducing which involves building up energy in the pre-spawn, working to hatch eggs in the spawn, and then recovering from the stress of reproduction in the post-spawn. The interesting thing about the spring season is that all three of these sub seasons are often happening at the exact same time as bass do not spawn uniformly.
Bass in the pre-spawn stage begin to move closer to their desired spawning locations. As bass leave their deep winter spots they will migrate back into tributary arms using structure and cover exclusively as navigation points. So fish any structural features between winter spots and likely spawning grounds.
Bass become more and more active as temperatures warm and they also tend to stick tightly to cover as they make this journey. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, lipless crankbaits, chatterbaits can all work quite well this time of year. Work these baits faster and faster as temperatures rise to cover water quickly, slowing down along the way around isolated cover like brush piles and stumps with a jig or Texas rig. In lakes and reservoirs the red rattletrap has become known as THE primary pre-spawn baits as crawfish become a prominent food source in late winter to early spring.
When bass are ready to spawn, male bass move on to spawning grounds which are often shallower, hard-bottom flats and wind- protected areas. Females wait nearby until they’re rounded up to drop their eggs, and the male is then left to defend the nest as the eggs hatch.
For spawning bass a variety of baits can be used successfully. During this phase soft jerkbaits like a fluke, jigs, lizards, and ribbon tail worms are just a few that work well. Keep in mind though that bass are often not drawn to your lure as food this time of year. It’s much more likely they are reacting to baits based on their protective instinct of the nest.
A couple of important notes about when and where bass spawn…expect the spawn to kick off in the northern parts of a body of water first because these areas typically warm faster since they’re protected from colder north winds. Also, water clarity is important for spawning fish as the right amount of sunlight is needed to successfully hatch eggs.
Water conditions matter.
So on murkier lakes, you can expect spawning bass to be in shallower water. On clearer lakes, you might see this occurring at deeper depths.
The post-spawn is where things can get tricky. Bass are in full recovery mode after spawning which usually puts them into a sort of a funk. Females will often be suspended under cover not far from beds like boat docks, submerged brush, or lay downs and you’ll have to rely on erratic action to get them to bite.
Bluegill imitators or even a top water walking bait around nests can work great here. Also, the shad and bluegill spawn occurs not long after bass spawn in similar shallow protected areas so choose colors to match whatever bass are currently feeding on.
Watermelon reds, pumpkin colors are all great choices for soft plastics, as well as natural colors like sexy shad for spinnerbaits, or chatter baits. The summer heat pushes most bass back to deep main lake sanctuaries where temperatures are cooler and shad are plentiful.
Deep main lake river channels, ledges, and humps are common locations. You might think this sounds a lot like winter except this time of the year bass do remain active.
They ARE warm water fish after all and can thrive in the summer. However, extreme heat is a stressor so to compensate summer bass typically will feed aggressively but only in short bursts. Jigs, Carolina-rigged soft plastics, drop shots, deep diving crankbaits are all great deep summer baits. Timing is often critical.
So, if you happen to locate deep water bass that aren’t currently feeding, resort to much slower presentations.
Another critical component of summer bass fishing is depth because there is such a thing as too deep. Lack of light penetration and insufficient oxygen levels become an issue the deeper you go.
Fishermen often refer to something called the thermocline as the barrier to which bass will not descend below. For the purposes of this video, we can say that on clearer bodies of water bass will often be deeper than on lakes with stained water but be aware that a sort of dead zone CAN exist at the deepest depths.
What about shallow summer bass? Several ecological factors prevent the majority of bass from setting up in shallower water, but you will find some of them there.
Bigger Bass – Watch what they’re eating.
Focus on shaded cover for shallow summer bass and you will always have your best luck in the early morning and late evening when bass might be tempted into feed around highly vegetated areas where bait tends to hover. As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, we can never fully predict bass behavior with 100% accuracy because there are just too many different variables that can change even hour to hour much less season to season that make it really tough.
So by applying seasonal techniques to your fishing, you can effectively and efficiently eliminate unproductive water on any body of water that you go to.
So we’re talking about making a highly educated guess here that’s going to greatly increase your chances of catching fish quickly and catching more of them as the seasons change.
Now – Go Fishing!