Monday, December 14, 2009

Bass Fishing Basics


Widespread distribution and aggressive behavior has helped establish the largemouth bass as North America's most popular game fish. Current range of distribution includes the fringes of southern Canada, temperate regions of Mexico and every state in the U.S. except Alaska. Due to the largemouth's accessible nature and willingness to strike a wide variety of lures with ferocity, it's no wonder Mr. Bucketmouth holds a treasured place in the hearts and minds of anglers everywhere.


One of the greatest aspects of bass fishing is that anyone can do it. A bold statement, I'll admit, but one that holds true regardless of your experience level, financial position or background. Although an expensive bass boat and top-of-the-line equipment is often associated with the sport, a tremendous amount of enjoyment can be had simply fishing from the shore with a handful of simple lures and an inexpensive rod to keep you company.
Another encouraging fact is that largemouth bass can be found in most lakes, rivers, streams and ponds across the continent, probably no further than a few miles from your home!

Largemouth bass fight hard and are cunning enough to provide excitement and intrigue, making them a great target species for the entire family. From young to old, a jostling bass at the end of the line will always get the heart rate up a notch or two. If you enjoy competition, largemouth are the number one game fish when it comes to tournaments, so joining a local bass club and fishing tournaments can be an exciting way to hone your bassin' skills.

Overcast days will push largemouth out from cover, oftentimes making them easier to locate and catch.

They will eat a wide variety of prey, but the top three choices would have to be baitfish (perch, bluegill, shad and minnows), crawfish and frogs. Due to the size of their cavernous mouths -- hence the moniker "bucketmouth" -- bass can eat prey up to half the size of their body length, and it's not uncommon to find ten-inch perch or jumbo bullfrogs inside the stomach cavities of this freshwater brawler.
The neat thing about largemouth bass is that you can catch them on a wide variety of lures, including plastics, topwaters, crankbaits and live bait. (To learn what lures to use and why, check out our guide to Bass Tackle Basics.)
Those new to the sport of bass fishing are probably thinking, "Okay, so where do I find them?" Although there are numerous places within a body of water where largemouth can be found, the most important ingredient for locating largemouth is aquatic vegetation (weeds).
Largemouth bass and weeds go hand-in-hand, and very rarely will you find one without the other. Key vegetation to concentrate on would be lily pads, hydrilla, bulrushes, grasses and coontail. Bass use this vegetation for a number of different reasons, namely shelter, protection and as an ambush point for capturing prey. (Weeds also attract many types of baitfish and other food sources, hence the presence of the marauding bass.)

Finding vegetation is key to locating bass.

If you can find a mixture of more than one type of vegetation, the spot will often produce much better. And if that vegetation is found intermixed with other features such as wood, rock, undercut banks or sand, then your chances for success improve significantly.
"Slop" is another excellent vegetation to seek out. Amongst anglers, slop refers to any vegetation that congregates on the surface of the water, usually composed of a mixture of dying weeds or vegetation sliced up from outboard props. Depending on wind direction and the structure it butts up against, you will often find slop to be a gold mine. Largemouth will sit under this canopy of green stuff, waiting for bait to swim by, or amphibians to travel overhead. Weedless baits like hollow body frogs and Texas-rigged soft plastics will often trigger these fish into striking.
Light penetration is another important variable. As the sun reaches higher in the sky, largemouth will retreat from the open areas in order to bury in the weeds, searching out the cooler water that this shade provides. This is an important concept to grasp as anglers should target sparse weeds or open water during early morning and evening periods, and then move to thicker cover during midday when the sun is directly overhead.
The warmer and sunnier the day, the closer to cover bass will be found. It also goes without saying that cloudy or rainy days will pull bass further out from the weeds as they more actively roam in search of food during these low-light periods. Fast moving lures -- spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, topwaters and jerkbaits -- will account for the most fish during these aggressive periods.

Bass Basics
The largemouth bass truly lives up to its moniker of bucketmouth.

If you haven't guessed by now, vegetation provides important cover for bass to key in on. Very rarely will a largemouth hang out in open water void of any cover. Other excellent structures and covers that bass will seek out are boat docks (they love to hide out underneath in the dark recesses), stumps, logs and fallen trees (underneath and alongside the wood), undercut banks (underneath), and bridge pilings (adjacent to the structure itself.) Finding these features will help you in locating the bass that call these places home.
A great way to put a bend in your rod is to always think of bass fishing as a game of hide-and-seek. Try to uncover the hidden fish and eventually you will find them.
Another important aspect to consider when searching for largemouth bass is their affinity for shallow water. Unlike their cousin the smallmouth bass, largemouth thrive in skinny water, meaning that 75-percent of your fishing will likely be done in water ten-feet deep or less. In fact, plenty of my time is concentrated on water that is between two and six-feet deep! Sure, bass can be found in deeper water under certain conditions (cold fronts, post spawn, late fall and winter), but for my money, I'd have to bet on shallow water for coughing up the most fish on a consistent basis. Shore anglers can certainly excel by grasping this information, as moving up and down a shoreline, looking for features mentioned above, can be the best way to thoroughly cover prime bass habitat.
The most important piece of advice I can give to those interested in bass fishing is to stay focused and have fun. Whether you catch one fish or twenty, practicing and mastering new techniques and tactics are sure-fire ways to bring down the learning curve.
Bass fishing is a wonderful sport that is fun for the entire family. Take it from me. Largemouth fishing will become very, very addictive in no time. Have a great season and go catch a bunch!

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