Bass Fishing Tips: How to Catch Bass

No other common freshwater sportfish surprises an angler more than a bass. No other requires the arsenal of tackle an angler needs to catch bass. No other adapts to its environment and reproduces as readily as a bass.

Bass Fishing Tips

Perhaps this large member of the spiny ray family owes its high popularity to these factors. Though you can eat bass, it is not the palate that causes anglers to feverishly chase it in and out of lily pads, bullrush, underwater rock piles, surface-protruding snags and similarly problematic haunts.

It is the thrill they seek from bass that fuels this fever. Bass attack lures and mimic a circus act once hooked. For these reasons, it epitomizes the “sport” in sportfish.

The Bass Bio

A bass features a spinier and larger rear dorsal fin than its front dorsal. Together, the dorsals extend across most of the fish’s back, unlike most other freshwater sportfish.

Generally, freshwater bass come in three varieties: largemouth, smallmouth and white bass, which is actually relegated to “panfish” status because of its smaller size and different shape than its bigger brothers. For the sake of practicality, we will focus here on how to catch the largemouth and smallmouth.

As their names suggest, the mouth of a smallmouth is smaller than that of a largemouth. However, the smallmouth’s go-getter still appears sizable when compared to other sportfish. Both types of bass feature large scales.

Besides their mouths, the two can be differentiated by examining their colors and markings.

“Largemouth Bass” by NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

A largemouth is usually greenish with a relatively thick, interrupted lateral line that resembles a heart-rate reading on a monitor if not a crenated or zig-zagged line of splotches extending from the gills to the tail.

The smallmouth sports a bronze-like body with vertical striping. Because its mouth is smaller, its head and gills appear slightly smaller than that of a largemouth and absent of a noticeable lateral line.

How to catch a bass (smallmouth)
Smallmouth Bass

Largemouth usually grow larger than smallmouth, depending on the type of water habitat. Some anglers hang the stuffed skins of 15-20-pound largemouths on their walls.

Smallmouth usually don’t exceed 4-5 pounds, though the world record tops 11 pounds. On the line, a smallmouth generally produces more spunk per pound than a largemouth.

Where Do Bass Live?

A largemouth finds its home in ponds and lakes, including reservoirs or impoundments behind dams, whereas a smallmouth stretches its existence from the same water bodies to streams and even large rivers.

Each demands their own hiding spaces where they can lurch out to feast on unaware smaller fish and creatures.

They follow the food, no matter where they dwell, thus presenting the ultimate challenge for an angler because a bass swallows so many different types of food.

From reptiles, to small birds, to minnows and juvenile fish, to swimming insects, crustaceans such as crayfish and swimmers like leeches, a bass’s diet covers a wide expanse.

An angler must find out which of its favorite foods it seeks during the day to find out where it is living at a particular moment.

Drop-offs, whether a smallmouth in a stream or largemouth in a lake, will find bass stacked up and mostly waiting for minnows lingering along shelves above.

Swimming creatures, from leeches to frogs or salamanders, draw bass to weedy and lily-pad filled shallows of lakes. Especially in the shallows of lakes and ponds, largemouths are known to even swallow baby ducks, mice or other rodents.

Largemouth bass fishing

Both smallmouth and largemouth bass will also hover around submerged rock piles where not only minnows might congregate but crustaceans as well—crawdads in particular.

Dock pilings offer bass both a shadow for cover and a hub for smaller food fish.

Rock faces or cliffs provide a shadow directly below from which a bass can dart to engulf minnows or other creatures as they pass by at shadow’s edge.

Lily pads and similar weed cover create shadows in which a bass can hide as well while it waits for its meal.

When the water becomes too warm near the surface or too cold elsewhere, bass will gravitate to their ideal temps, ranging from 80-82 degrees Fahrenheit, if they can find such water.

A smallmouth’s preferred range falls just a couple degrees lower. Bass can function in water as cold as 40 degrees and as warm as 90, but they become dormant when temps fall below 39.

As a general rule, the colder the water, the less active a bass. However, it will continue feeding in water dipping down to 40 degrees.

Best Time to Fish for Bass

Almost any time of day is bass catching time, as long as bass can find cover. Because of their ability to thrive in very warm water, the only negative aspect to midday and afternoon fishing is the sun’s brightness or a severe wind in lakes and ponds.

A bass will not want to be extremely visible to its prey or its predator. At this time of day, focus your offering around structures that hide and protect bass.

Mornings bring a burst of activity from many smaller creatures. A bass will therefore become active as well with its feeding regimen.

best time to fish for bass

Just after the sun rises, prey becomes more easily visible from a distance and bass will course a cliff line, shelf, shallow or other feature with stealth and voracity.

As for seasons, the dog days of summer and into fall prove the most stressful on bass. Oxygen levels decline, daylight (i.e., feeding time) begins to shorten, water levels dip to their lowest volumes of the year and water temps peak at this time. Their feeding activity can dip commensurately.

Spring and summer prove prime time for bass anglers. Life abounds with increased daylight, water temps are only on the rise and not declining, while spring freshets fill ponds, lakes and streams.

Read more: When is the best time to fish in freshwater?

The Right Bass Fishing Rod and Reel

Predominately, bass anglers use bait-casting gear, whether a closed-face reel or bait-caster.

Choose bait-casting rods from 5-1/2-6-1/2 feet with a stout butt for getting out of the many snags in which a bass will lead you. You will cast almost constantly when fishing for bass. Therefore, a light, graphite rod serves as the best weapon.

As for reels, pick the one that feels easiest and quickest to release the bail when casting. Bassing is all about casting, casting and more casting.

Reels should capacitate around 150 yards of monofilament, give or take, but you can often get by with 100 yards.

Some reels, especially spinning reels, come with a band around the spool that allows just 100 yards of line to reach the lip of the spool.

When casting for bass, make sure your line on the spool does not end too short of the spool’s lip or cap. This can impede the distance of your cast, most critical when casting light balsa-wood lures such as divers and floating minnows.

If you are already acclimated to spinning gear, you can use it for most occasions when bass fishing, especially for smallmouth.

Best Lures and Baits For Bass

Because, as already mentioned, the list of edibles for a bass rivals that of a goat, the best lures and baits vary widely.

As for live baits, salamanders, waterdogs (of the salamander family), worms, minnows and other swimming creatures—even a small crayfish—can prove fruitful for bass.

You need to know which of these creatures flourish in your lake, pond or stream of choice before putting them on your hook. Before dropping your line in the water, however, check your state’s regulations to see which baits can be fished alive.

Some jurisdictions disallow live minnows in certain waters while others ban waterdogs altogether.

Bass lures probably host more variations and designs than any other type of lure.

Off the shelves, you can find plastic worms and even ones you can inflate to further entice a largemouth.

You will find in similar abundance, grubs (rubbery cylindrical bodies with a flimsy tail end) and jigs of myriad colors in the body and skirt or hackle. Many plastic baits feature sparkly fragments inside and outside the body.

Best Bass lures

Just as abundant at tackle shops and retailers are the diving and floating lures. These include solid, balsa bodies with a diving lip that brings the lure a foot or more below the water before it bobs back up to the surface like a wounded minnow.

Some are called crankbaits. Again, these consist of fairly buoyant bodies but are designed to simply dive and not bob back up to surface in perfect form.

A tip for diving lures: Bring along a pair of pliers to tweak the angle of the eye on the lure where the line is attached. You may gain more alluring action from adjusting the eye’s angle than if it remains as it left from the store’s shelf.

Spinners with skirts or hackle around the shaft of the hook, which often faces skyward to avoid bottom snags, also come in wide varieties of sizes, shapes and colors.

Don’t discount the old-fashioned spoon for bass. Often a skirt at the rear or even hackle will help nudge a bass closer to your offering.

Spoons often come equipped with a weed guard so that their hooks don’t snag in bottom structure and weeds, where they can be most effective.

If any of your bass lures with fixed hooks facing downward lack a weed guard, don’t fret. Tie a couple inches of very high-test mono (40-50 pound test) to the eye of the lure so that it slants down toward the hook’s barb.

Bass Fishing Techniques

Because bass are all about bait that entices, the action on said bait or lure proves essential to success.

Sometimes a jerky retrieve—especially when fishing floating lures, divers, poppers (built for fly fishing mostly) or jigs—will make the difference between catching or a skunking.

With jigs, worms and other flimsy plastic lures, letting it fall freely for a while after it hits the water can prove all the difference in the world when it comes to strikes. Bass, like any other fish, will respond best when baits appear to be natural.

If you want a worm or grub to ply deeper waters, you can add a sliding, pointed sinker to the end of your main line just above the knot to the lure’s eye.

Most of a bass’s prey swims across or sputters through the water in surges. Therefore, whether using fly gear or conventional gear, your best bet is to jerk your rod tip now and then, if not often, to emulate the nature of baits that attract bass. The colder the water, however, the slower and milder your retrieve.

Bass Fishing for Beginners – Tips & Advice

If you are a stone-cold beginner and short of knowing all the different methods of taking bass, resort to the simplest form of any fishing.

Clip a bobber on your main line, attach a swivel and leader below it with a nightcrawler attached to your hook below. Many a bass veteran has even defaulted to this method on those dead days.

Better yet, bring your worm and bobber to a pond that is planted with bass. Many farmers own such bass meccas. Some charge you to fish and some don’t. They usually charge if the bass in their ponds reach wall-hanging size.


Virtually all bass fishing requires a valid fishing license, no matter your home region. Usually, a general license for trout, panfish or spiny rays covers bass. Special permits are very rare.

Bass Fishing FAQs

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