Ultimate Guide To Bass Fishing
Bass fishing can be enjoyed by all ages and in all seasons, which is probably why bass are one of the most popular game fish in the United States. There are several bass species to be found in the US, with some having been introduced to various countries around the world for the purpose of fishing.
So how do you catch them? We’ve put together this specific bass guide (you can read our all-round fishing guide here) to let you discover a little more about bass and to help you learn some tips and techniques that might improve your fishing game.
Let’s Talk Bass
Where They Are Found?
Bass can be found almost everywhere around the world, thanks in part to the species being introduced in various countries. But bass are native to North America and can currently be found all across most of the United States and Canada.
They can be found in lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, reservoirs and even in some coastal bays and estuaries. Remember, in many places you will require a state fishing license in order to fish for bass in these waters.
Types Of Bass
Largemouth bass are probably one of the most popular game fish in the United States. They favor warm freshwater and can be found in lakes, ponds and rivers all across the United States and parts of Canada.
They feed on small fish, crawfish and frogs and can frequently grow to around 16 inches. The longest length recorded was 38.2 inches.
Smallmouth bass can be found in freshwater ponds, streams, lakes and rivers across North America. They prefer to live in areas with rocky or gravel bottoms and tend to handle current a little better than largemouth bass. However, largemouth and smallmouth bass can often be found in the same bodies of water.
Smallmouth bass eat crawfish, small fish and insects. Frequently recorded sizes of smallmouth are between 12 and 16 inches, with the longest ever caught measuring 27.2 inches.
Striped bass are native to the Western Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico and can generally be found anywhere from the St. Lawrence River in Canada down to the St. Johns River in Florida, as well as the northern Gulf of Mexico. They can live in both saltwater and freshwater, with many living in the sea and migrating into rivers to spawn. However, some will live in rivers all year round.
Their sizes vary, often being between 12 and 30 inches but a common size for catches of striped bass is over 3 feet, with the record length being 6 foot 6 inches. Their diet includes flounder, herring, eels and menhaden.
White bass can be found in both Canada and the United States, including the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River basin and the Rio Grande. They tend to prefer clear freshwater with no vegetation and feed on shad and other small fish.
A common size for white bass catches is 12.5 inches with the longest length recorded being just under 18 inches.
Hybrid bass are a cross between striped bass and white bass and can be found in various lakes, reservoirs and slow moving streams in the United States, where they are often stocked for fishing purposes.
They tend to favor deeper, open water and are unlikely to be found near vegetation. Hybrid bass usually feed on shad and grow to around 21 inches. While they are often stocked in freshwater, they can survive in saltwater.
Spotted bass can be found in various locations across the contiguous United States, with their native range being from the Mississippi River basin and along the Gulf Slope drainages.
They have an average size of about 10 to 12 inches for a 3 or 4 year old fish, with a maximum length of 2 feet. They feed on a diet of minnows and shad, as well as crawfish and worms and they tend to prefer freshwater with a bit of a current.
How Easy Are They To Catch?
Generally speaking, bass can be easy to catch if you know where to look and what techniques to use.
This is because they have a wide range and can be found in many waters in every state in the US, with the exception of Alaska (although there were reports of a bass being caught in Alaska).
In many places, bass can be caught all year round, which can make them an easy fish to target compared to some other species that may only be available for fishing during a seasonal window, such as salmon.
There are many lures, for example, jigs, that can work on bass at all times of the year, which can improve your chances of catching one. Once you know what lures to use and where the bass might be at particular times of year, just about anyone can fish for bass no matter what age you are.
Ok, So What Gear Do I Need To Use To Catch Bass?
The best type of bass rod to use will need will usually depend on the techniques you want to try and the type of conditions you want to fish in. If you’re fishing in heavy cover, you might want to opt for a heavier power rod because of the weeds or vegetation you may have to contend with to pull the bass out.
A medium power rod can be a good one to choose if you’re looking for a rod that can handle a variety of techniques. But if you’re looking for a finesse rod, then you’ll probably want a light or ultralight rod.
Most bass rods are fast action rods, which means the rod bends closer to the tip, but they can range from moderate to extra fast action.
The length of your rod will also usually be tied to where you’re fishing. For example, for long casting, a longer rod may be suitable but if you’re fishing in a small pond or stream, a shorter one might be better.
Whether you opt for a baitcasting reel or a spinning reel is usually down to personal preference and skill level. Baitcasting reels can be more tricky to use if you’re not used to them but they can be better suited to longer distance casting and using with heavier lines and lures.
Spinning reels can be more suitable for techniques where you use lighter line and light lures, such as with shakey heads or finesse presentations. Spinning reels can also be easier to use if you’re a beginner, as the line is less likely to birds nest on a spinning reel compared to a baitcasting reel.
Spinning reels come in various sizes, with a 2500 or 3000 reel being a good size to use for bass fishing in various bodies of water.
When it comes to baitcasting reels, a typical option for bass fishing tends to be a low profile reel. They vary by gear ratio, with a good all-round option being a 6.4:1 as this can let you try various bass techniques. If you want a faster retrieve, a 7.1:1 gear ratio may work better.
Bass lures come in various styles and designs, with many built to mimic baitfish either by physical appearance or movement.
It can be a good idea to find out what your local bass are feeding on at a particular time, as this can help you to choose the most suitable lure to catch them. Often your local bait and tackle shop will have information that can help.
Soft plastic lures can be a good option to use for bass, as these can often be rigged in many different ways depending on the technique you want to use.
Texas rigging can be ideal for a weedless presentation, as this embeds the hook within the soft plastic to prevent it from getting snagged. This weighted rig can let you fish on the bottom and into weeds and brush piles without your hook getting caught on any underwater objects.
Crawfish lures can also be a good option to use, as these can either be used as jig trailers or fished on their own. These can be particularly useful when bass are naturally feeding on crawfish, but, like with most plastic lures, it can be a good idea to match the color of the lure to the natural prey of your local bass.
Unless the water is muddy or it’s low light, when brighter lures may work better.
You’ll probably find that there are three types of fishing line that can be ideal for bass fishing: monofilament, fluorocarbon and braided. Each one has its own benefits and uses but it may be a case of personal preference for some techniques.
Braided line tends to float. It is very strong because of its braided design and it has a small diameter, which means you can usually fit more on your spool compared to monofilament of the same strength. Braided line can be ideal for using with topwater lures but it’s not invisible.
Monofilament line can be ideal for crankbaits and spinnerbaits. The lighter the weight of the line, the faster it should sink and the easier it’s likely to cut through water. A lighter monofilament line should also let you cast your lure a greater distance than on a heavier one. However, it may not be as abrasion resistant as braided line.
Fluorocarbon can be ideal for fishing in clear water because it can almost be invisible underwater. This means it can be great for finesse techniques but it can also be ideal for a range of other techniques because of its high strength and abrasion resistance.
When you’re heading out to fish, it can be a good idea to check the weather before you go so that you can be better prepared with your clothing, whether you’re going bank fishing or heading out on a boat.
Fishing boots or water shoes can be ideal, depending on the season and the conditions, or you may find bibs or waders more suitable if you’re fishing from the shore and plan to wade.
Waterproof clothing can be essential if you’re heading out in the rain, but if it’s sunny and warm you might want to opt for quick drying fabrics. Wearing layers can be a good idea, and it might also be helpful to pack a dry bag with some spare clothing, just in case.
Polarized sunglasses can be a handy accessory to have with you, as they are designed to block the sun’s reflection on water, meaning you can usually see under the water, which could lead to you catching more fish.
Bass Fishing Tips (for Beginners Upwards)
Bass Fishing Rod And Reel Set-Ups
A baitcasting rod of around 7 feet, with medium heavy power and fast action can be ideal for fishing with Carolina rigs. A medium speed baitcasting reel with a gear ratio of between 6.3:1 and 7.1:1 can be a good choice.
When you’re choosing your line, a 15 to 20 pound fluorocarbon could be a good choice or you could also use a heavier braided line if you prefer.
For fishing with a shakey head worm, a medium power fast action spinning rod could be the ideal option. You may want to think about a shorter rod if you’re fishing in tight quarters but a 6 foot 6 inch to around 7 foot rod should work well.
A small to medium size spinning reel, around 2500 to 3000 can be a good choice when paired with either monofilament or fluorocarbon line of around 8 or 10 pounds. Braided line can also be used but you may find that because of the more finesse presentation of a shakey head you might want to add a fluorocarbon leader to braided line.
For the most part, when fishing with topwater lures, you will likely want a faster speed reel to account for faster moving bait in the shallows. A 7 foot baitcasting reel with medium to heavy power and fast action can be a suitable option with a baitcasting reel with a gear ratio of around 7:1.
Braided line can be a good choice for topwater fishing because of its buoyancy and strength. A 30 pound braided line can be useful for walk-the-dog lures and buzzbaits but you may want to increase the strength if you’re fishing with topwater frogs. Monofilament of around 12 to 15 pound test can also be ideal for lures such as poppers.
A medium heavy baitcasting rod of around 7 foot to 7 foot 6 inches can be a good option for jig fishing. You might want to choose a reel with a medium speed gear ratio, somewhere around 6:1 and 7:1.
For the line, a 12 to 17 pound fluorocarbon could be a good choice but if you’re throwing around heavy cover you may want to increase the weight of the line or opt for braided line of around 40 to 65 pound test strength.
When To Go Hunting Bass
Bass can be caught all year round but you may find they are in slightly different areas of the water depending on the season, as the temperature of the water can have a significant effect on bass behavior.
Late winter and through spring can be when bass spawn, depending on where you are in the country. The more south you are, the earlier the spawn will likely occur, and the more north you are, the later it will likely be.
> Winter bass fishing guide
The prespawn can be a good time to look for bass as this is often when they are actively feeding before they settle down to spawn. During this time they will often be making their way from their deeper winter homes and into the shallower spawning grounds.
During the spawn, bass will usually not feed at all, so this might not be the best time to catch them. It may also be against the law in some places to target bass during the spawn as this can affect the survival of the next generation of bass, so it’s best to check ahead of time to make sure you’re not breaking the rules.
After bass have spawned, they will usually be actively feeding again and may be more likely to bite.
During the warmer months, you may find that good times to fish for bass are during the early mornings and late afternoons, as this is often when the sunlight is less bright and water temperatures can be more comfortable for bass.
> Bass fishing during the fall
Night fishing during the summer can also be a good time to hunt for bass, as this can often be when they are most active, usually around lit docks or other artificial light.
Bass Fishing Techniques
Walk The Dog
The walk the dog technique can be a great way to work some topwater lures and help you catch more bass. The technique allows you to make your lure “walk” across the water, which can attract bass in open water and in shallow areas.
The way the lure moves is down to the jerking of your rod and the reeling in of your slack line to create a realistic motion to mimic a swimming baitfish.
Finesse fishing can be a good technique to use in cold conditions, or on heavily fished waters at any time of the year. It requires lighter gear and smaller lures so that you can present the lure in such a way that a bass will want to eat it whether the bass are actively feeding or not.
Video: Tips for Finesse Fishing: What It Is And When To Use It
There are various lures you can use for finesse techniques, including soft plastic worms, tube baits and senko lures, as well as lightweight finesse jigs.
When your local lake has frozen over, that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the fishing season. Ice fishing can be a fun way to catch bass in the winter, as long as you stay safe and follow local regulations.
Ice fishing will usually require much shorter rods, usually in the 24 inch range and lighter lures and line for more of a finesse presentation. To ice fish, you will usually drop your lure into the ice hole, rather than cast it, so using a fish finder can be a good idea so that you can locate the fish before you cut your hole and drop your lure.
Jigging for bass can be a great way to catch bass all year round. Jigs are versatile lures that can be fished on their own or by adding a crawfish trailer to give the jig a larger profile and added movement.
Skirted jigs create movement under the water that can look like a variety of baitfish, including crawfish. They can be fished in weeds and vegetation because of their weedless design and they can be fished along the bottom, over rocks and logs to mimic crawfish. You can also swim them through the water.
Fly fishing for bass can be a fun way to catch bass, especially when the bass are in the shallows. If you know a particular body of water holds bass then you can probably try fly fishing.
There are various types of flies that can work well on bass, including popper flies for targeting bass in shallow water and jigging flies that can be ideal for targeting less active bass in deeper water.
When you’re fly fishing for bass you will probably want to opt for heavier gear than if you were catching other fish, such as trout. A 9 foot 8 weight fly rod can be a good option to use because of the heavier flies you may need to use. This can also be an ideal size for fly fishing in and around weeds.
Kayak Bass Fishing
Using a kayak to fish for bass can make it easier, as you can get yourself closer to the fish. You can also access shallow or tight areas that may be inaccessible in a larger boat or on foot.
Another benefit to using a kayak is that you can load up your fishing gear and make a day of it, moving around the lake or river to target different areas. If you were bank fishing, you might find that moving around the water’s edge is a bit of a hassle if you have a lot of gear to haul with you.
Many kayaks are geared up for fishing, with angling kayaks usually featuring storage areas for your gear, rod holders and places to mount your gadgets and accessories.
Bass fishing can be a fun sport and activity for all ages because you can find bass just about anywhere. Remember to check your local laws before you head out and make sure you have a fishing license if you require one.
Do you have any bass fishing tips you’d like to share with us? Leave us a comment. And help out your fellow bass anglers by sharing this guide with them.
Otherwise, here's some useful guides to help you with your bass knowledge: