In the last issue we talked about how to choose the right
equipment to fit you, and the situations they would be used in.
This month, we will be talking about our quarry, the
largemouth bass. To be
successful fishermen, we need to have a great deal of understanding
and knowledge about the species we are targeting.
I will not go into all detail about the species, if I did you
would be reading for days, so I will leave the rest for you to
discover. But I do want
to give you a good feel for the fish, and point out some facts that
might help you target this magnificent fish.
Largemouth bass are native to portions of the United States.
After they started to join trout as a very popular game fish, they
were stocked in new areas. One very historical moment that increased the range of the
largemouth bass was when a train, carrying thousands of young fish
in mason jars, went off its tracks and spilled all the young fry,
which just happened to land in a mid-west river.
An average largemouth bass is 1-5 lbs., with the world record
being a whopping 22-4 caught by George Perry in 1932 out of Georgia.
Lately there have been a few fish that have came close to
breaking the record, mostly out of California.
Largemouth bass are a warm water species that like shallow,
weedy areas. They like
to be under or next to cover for ambush.
There have been studies done where bass are put in a large
tank of water with nothing in it.
The fish will be schooled up in a corner, and when a rock is
dropped in, they will all gather around it. They relate very closely
to weeds, docks, trees, brush, or anything else that gives them an
ambush point to capture prey.
have been recorded spawning from depths of
nests are generally in the 1’-4’ range, and on a hard bottom
composed of sand or pea gravel.
The Largemouth Bass is a member of the Centrarchidae family.
Its scientific name is Micropterus Salmoides. There are two
strains of Largemouth, the northern and southern, or Florida strain.
Bass exhibit a chameleon-like quality, and vary greatly in
physical characteristics due to its climate and surroundings.
Northern largemouth do not grow as large as their southern
relatives due to the length of growing seasons. Bass have a spiny
dorsal fin; hence the name bass, which means bristly, like a wild
boar. They are a very
adaptable species, and can live in water one third as salty as
To understand the behavior of a largemouth bass, I think this
quote from Bass Master Shaw Grigsby’s Notes on Fishing and Life
pretty much sums it all up. “And
once his survival instincts are fully developed, he looks around his
world with the confidence of a shark.
He reins as the king daddy of predators. The lower jaw juts
forth and sloped back and down so that even when he is resting he
has a bold aggressive look. His
mouth opens to an enormous circle far out of proportion to the size
of his body- so big you can look down it and see his gizzards.
His mouth gives him nicknames of Big Mouth or Bucket Lips.
His mouth gives him his nicknames of Hawg, Lunker, Sow.
And his disposition gives him the simple and always
respectful nickname of Mr. Bass.
He is big, broad shouldered and heavyset; a swaggering
redneck linebacker of a fish. He has two dorsal fins; the first has ten spikes and gives
him the appearance of a prehistoric creature.
He is primitive, powerful, belligerent, and unpredictable.
He is prone to random acts of violence. It
is good that God did not allow him to grow any bigger.
If he weighed 60 or 70 pounds, the waters of America would
not be safe for swimming.”
Largemouth bass are purely opportunistic feeders, eating
anything from golden shiners, to crawfish, to baby ducklings and
snakes. In the spring,
they seem to target the protein-loaded crawfish the most, and in the
fall will follow baitfish back through creek channels where the
baitfish will spawn. To sustain a bass’ body weight, it takes a
one-pound bass about three
pounds of food, and to gain one pound of body weight, it takes about
three more pounds. Fry
sized largemouth feed on macro invertebrates such as fly and insect
larvae, then begin feeding on smaller fish at only two inches in
length. Have you ever heard the term your eyes are bigger than your
mouth? Largemouth bass
live by this saying.
The yearly cycle of the largemouth bass has approximately six
calendar periods. They
are: winter, pre-spawn, spawn, post spawn, summer, and post summer/
fall turnover. During
winter, the water is at its coldest temperature.
Bass move to deep-water areas such as deep, backwater
sloughs, main lake ledges, main lake points and humps, or bluff
banks. Bass are
cold blooded; therefore, their body temperature is controlled by the
water temperature. Bass
are very lethargic or inactive during the winter period, and feeding
is at its minimum. Their metabolism is very slow, and one meal may last them for
weeks. If the water
temperature is less than fifty degrees, one three-ounce shad takes
about five days to digest. If
temperature is over seventy degrees, bass can eat at least three of
these a day.
In the north, as the water temperature reaches 45 degrees,
bass begin to stage. Staging
is when bass start their migration towards spawning areas.
This is known as the pre-spawn period.
Bass first move to main lake points with steep ledges where
they can move from deep to shallow water quickly and easily to feed.
They stage in certain areas to rest and feed during their
trip. Largemouth then
start moving back creeks and tributaries towards spawning areas.
They use creek channels as ‘bass highways’, stopping and
resting at bends in the channel, secondary points, laydowns that
reach from shallow to deep water, docks on steep banks, and other
related structure. As
water temperature continues to increase, bass begin feeding heavily,
preparing for the time of fasting during the spawn.
Bass stay close to deep-water comfort zones, so that if a
late spring cold front moves in, they only have to move a short
distance to ‘get out of the weather.’
Cover and structure are used interchangeably by some people,
but are actually defined as two different things.
Structure is any change in the bottom depth, such as ledges,
where the bottom has a quick drop or break, humps where the bottom
depth rises in a certain spot with deep water surrounding it, or
ditches, such as along an old road bed.
Cover is any physical feature that bass relate to, from old
sunken cars, to stumps and timber, to bridge pilings or weedbeds.
When the water reaches 55-60 degrees, bass begin finding hard
bottom areas made up of sand or small gravel to construct nests.
They also seek areas sheltered from the wind. Males pick nest sites and fan out small debris with their
tails. During this
time, females will use rubbing posts, or the bottom to bang
themselves against to loosen up the roe, readying them for
deposition. When nests
are ready, male’s court with a larger female by bumping and
chasing until the female deposits her eggs into the nest. There is
no problem with the eggs staying in the nest as they are adhesive.
The male encourages the female to spawn on his nest sometimes having
several females use the same nest.
A female largemouth contains 2000-7000 eggs per pound of body
weight, but only deposits several hundred eggs in the nest at a
time. The male
then simultaneously releases sperm or milt over the eggs.
Spawning is thought to peak during the first full moon after
the water temperature is sustained at 65 degrees, though spawning is
known to occur from temperatures of 50-80 degrees.
This variation in timing keeps entire year classes from being
destroyed by adverse weather conditions.
Larger females tend to spawn the earliest.
This may be because they have had many years experience, and
want to get to the best areas first to ensure the highest survival
rates of their young.
Males usually pick nesting sites next to a stump, rock, or
other object. This
gives him at least one side of the nest that is protected from
predators such as bluegill, small fish, crawdads, and salamanders.
After the female lays the eggs, they move back into deeper areas
they accompanied during the pre-spawn.
The male guards the nest for 2-5 days, keeping the eggs
oxygenated by fanning them with his tail.
This also removes waste, silt and other harmful debris from
the nest. After the
eggs hatch, they will stay for another week, sustained by a yolk
sac. At the time of
hatching, bass are only 3 to 5.4 mm in length. Fry, or young bass
then swim together in large dark balls. This gives them a large silhouette, which makes them less
appealing to predators. It
also gives them safety in numbers.
Both of these factors increase their chance of survival.
The period after the spawn is known as the post spawn.
This is a time when bass are recovering from the strenuous
spawning period. Fish
are lethargic and move very little at first.
Some fish will remain the rest of the summer in their
spawning areas, but the majority will follow their same pre-spawn
migration routes back out to main lake areas.
As bass bring their bodies back up to a good condition, and
are rested, they start feeding often, and get into a regular
pattern, feeding most heavily during low light conditions, and
whenever an opportunity for an easy meal arises.
The next period in a bass’ year is the summer.
Bass move to areas that will sustain them throughout the warm
months. These areas
usually consist of weedbeds, main lake points, or main lake ledges. Deep-water areas are common places for summer bass.
Depending on the lake, deep-water areas are usually
considered to be twelve foot deep, down to the thermocline, which is
a stratification layer with an abundance of oxygen and comfortable
In the fall, surface temperatures start to drop, until
turnover takes place. This
is the period when stratification layers mix because of uniform
water temperatures. This negatively affects bass until the water stabilizes.
After the water stabilizes, water temperature continues to
drop, bass feed heavily on baitfish, putting on energy reserves for
the winter period. Bass
follow large schools of baitfish back through creek channels toward
warmer water. This time
of year the only cover bass may relate to is the schools of bait.
They follow the schools, swimming underneath, then corralling
them to the surface, and engaging on a feeding frenzy.
They eat until they look like footballs, feeding constantly,
knowing they have little time left before winter.
Water temperature continues to drop until bass turn lethargic
again, and they move back to their deep winter haunts.
Understanding this cycle is detrimental to our success as
anglers. Not knowing these annual occurrences can be like hunting elk
for days up in the high ranges of the rocky mountains when they have
all actually migrated to the low country.
One more piece of information I believe all of us should have
a grasp on is the economic value of fishing, especially for black
bass. In a 1985 survey
conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the largemouth
bass was the most sought after
species in the U.S. That
number has undoubtedly grown since then.
The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) boasts over
half a million members from 52 countries and 50 states.
The U.S. fishing industry accounts for three billion dollars
each year and a huge part of this is due to the largemouth bass.
Anglers spend millions of dollars a year on tackle, rods,
reels, line, maps, boats, fish finders and other equipment.
As a bass angler we
need to be responsible, and thoughtful as we are in the public eye.
Do not litter, be respectful of all other anglers on the
water, bass fishermen or not, because it will come back to haunt us
if we don’t. Be knowledgeable of your quarry, and proud of your
sport, because largemouth bass is America’s fish!
Bryan Honnerlaw runs Okeechobee
Outfitters, a professional guide service on Lake Okeechobee,
Florida. He is in Florida November-mid May. He does instructional
fishing in Ohio May-October, and tours on the BFL and Everstart
tournament trails. For those of you interested in learning in
depth bass techniques and get hands on experience,
Okeechobee Outfitters offers a four-day bass fishing school,
twice a year, on Lake Okeechobee. One session is in
April, and one is in November. The school includes six guides
in fully rigged tournament bass boats, classroom and on-the-water
time, lodging, and a tournament where you make the decisions on day
four. For more information on this school or on guided or
instructional trips in Florida, or Ohio,
call Okeechobee Outfitters at (937) 728-1344, or email at email@example.com