Largemouth and smallmouth bass are North America’s most popular gamefish, and for good reason. They’re abundant for starters, holding down lakes, ponds, and just about every other body of water in each of our states. They fight hard, they’re relatively easy to catch, and chances are you don’t have to travel more than a few miles to find a body of water holding some bass worthy of your time.
Tracking down trophies, however, can be a daunting task. There’s no perfect formula for consistently catching big fish across the board, but learning and practicing the right tactics and techniques will improve your catch rate and size. Follow these ten tips for catching bigger bass your next time out on the water.
How to catch big bass
“Location, location, location.” Real estate agents could have a smooth transition to selling bass ponds… It’s all about location! Don’t misunderstand me here; it’s likely you don’t have to travel to find hefty fish. Bass can flourish just about anywhere: lakes, rivers, streams, small stocked ponds, the drainage in your neighborhood where that one guy dumped all the bass he caught in the spring of ’99… Don’t underestimate your local bodies of water. If it looks fishy, it probably is. It’s no secret that the south and western parts of our country hold the more predominant trophy waters, but secret ponds from Maine to Washington hold lunkers salivating at the thought of your perfectly swung soft-bait.
Learn Their Cycles. With bass swimming in every state, there’s a multitude of variable that can affect the hot bite. Generally speaking, spring and fall offer up the most trophy bass. As the water hits 60 degrees and the angle of the sun is just right, hormones begin racing through fish triggering their spawning time. Bass create “beds” in the shallows and protect them at all costs, eagerly smashing whatever swims within striking distance. February through May are the hot months in most states, and the key here is big lures fished slow. Let them attack! In the fall, seek out the deeper drop-offs in the 6 – 20 foot and weedlines where fish can easily ambush innocent baitfish and smaller species.
Fish Big. Whenever someone asks me how to catch big bass, I tell them fish bigger lures. It is a simple fact, that bigger lures will get you bigger fish. Bigger buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, soft plastics, swimbaits, and spoons in the 4 – 7 inch range will keep your average fish on the larger side. Trophy bass tend to be lazy. They’re interested in finding substantial meals in the easiest way possible. Fish them slowwwwww. The big boys don’t like to work for their weight.
Choose the Right Gear. It’s pretty safe to say that bass are caught just about daily on everything from kiddie barbie rods to saltwater rods. Technique and bait are more important than the rod, but a 7 or 8 foot medium action rod strung up with 20 lb test line can handle anything you hook up with. I prefer rods with a responsive and sensitive tip to feel subtle takes and a high-speed reel to make taking up slack super easy. Don’t get caught up in having top of the line gear – it’s easy to get carried away and spend a paycheck when the basics will do.
Sight-Cast to Shallow Cover. Bass tend to like holding down their domain. They’ll stake out a nice pile of rocks, a fallen tree, a clump of weeds… Anything to feel safe and within striking distance of weaker prey. When bass are hanging in the shallows, it’s common to see them “pushing bait” along the bank. You’ll see schools of baitfish trying to flee the bass as it swoops through trying to inhale whatever falls behind the rest of the pack. If the weeds allow it, you can cast buzzbaits or soft plastics “texas-style” using a twitch and fall technique.
Target Weedlines & Laydowns. Like the previous point, weedlines and laydowns provide ambush cover for the dominate bass in a given body of water. Baitfish need to hide, but so do big bass, which makes these “protected” areas a battleground for predators and prey. Fishing topwater lures like frogs and poppers can be some of the most rewarding action, just make sure to use lures with weed-guards and focus your time on the first couple hours of the day and the “golden hour” just before the sun sets. Cast into the weeds and let it rest for a few counts, twitch, twitch, and (hopefully) BANG.
Switch to Live Bait. Some consider is cheating, some consider it a last resort. However you look at it, it’s tough to beat live bait. Chances are, a good old-fashioned hook and worm setup was your first experience with fishing, and some would argue it’s the most reliable. Along with worms, minnows can catch you bass all day long. If you’ve got your sights set on the king of the lake, big bait is in order. Hook a small bluegill or a large shiner just under the dorsal fin and let it swim around under a bobber near structure or drop-offs. There won’t be any tippity-taps on your bobber… the strike will be unmistakable!
Fish the Tough Spots. This one’s simple enough, but can’t be overstated. If you’re willing to get to the spots that receive less pressure than the typical public access spots or easy-to-cast-to structure, there’s a good chance the risk will be worth the reward. The big boys in the 5 to 7 pound range will seek out the spots they can feel safe in without being chased out with clunky lures and bad casts.
Master the Pitch. The pitch technique is much easier to do from a boat or canoe, but it’s one every bass fisherman should have in their arsenal. It’s crucial for fishing shallow water and thick cover, especially when the bass aren’t actively feeding. Here’s how it’s done… Let out about a rod’s length of line and open the reel while pinching the line. With your non-rod hand, grab the lure and in one smooth motion, let the lure swing – or pitch – while simultaneously releasing the line from your thumb. The swing and release are all about timing, and make sure to close the reel as soon as the bait hits the water to be able to set the hook properly on quick strikes. This works especially well when the bass are easily spooked, and a longer rod certainly makes this cast easier. Since you won’t be “casting” the line out here, the pitch technique is typically used with soft-plastics.
Put in the Time! Here’s your cliché number one… But it’s the truth! Only time on the water will help you recognize patterns and improve your fishing efficiency. You’ll start to pick up on where fish are likely to be in certain conditions and you’ll be able to lock in on where the hogs call home. Sure, there’s some luck involved, but like anything your skills will improve with practice and exploration.
Hopefully you were able to pull a few nuggets of value out of this list to take with you on your next fishing trip. Bass tend to share the same needs and habits regardless of their location and where there’s one, there’s many, and where there’s many, there’s a beast lurking around ready to be teased, caught, admired, and released to make someone else’s day.
Be sure to adhere to any regulations on your local waters, and catch and release practices, especially for spawning females, should be part of your angler’s code of morals. Here’s a parting bonus tip… Don’t forget to check out the inside of any good-sized bass mouth. If they’ve been in a feeding mood, you just might find a partially digested fish or crayfish that can help you zero in on what they’re naturally going after.
There you have it 10 tips on how to catch big bass. Now it’s your turn. Share with us your tips in the comments section below.
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