Largemouth Bass Lure Selection: Water Temperature Matters Most!

Written by: Pete Danylewycz
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Water temperature is the single best predictor of which lure, presentation, and technique to pick when bass fishing.

Yes, water clarity, barometric pressure, the current prey items, and even the moon phase impact bass behavior, but not nearly as much as how warm (or cold) the water is.

That’s because while the “best” lure can vary quite a bit from lake to lake and region to region, bass biology remains constant - and for the most part, so too does their response to water temperature.

That has profound consequences that every angler should understand.

If you want to take a deep dive into how water temperature affects lure and technique selection, keep reading!

Water Temperature and the “Best Lure”

On the East Reservoir of the Portage Lakes chain in Ohio, April bass are regularly crushed by working soft plastics dragged slowly over the bottom in transitional zones. Deep diving crankbaits are money as well, because until the water heats up to about 51 degrees, the bass will be holding deep.

But in early March, anglers on Falcon Lake, which straddles the border between Mexico and Texas, enjoy ideal bass water temperatures, though the afternoons are starting to get hot. The spawn is over, and bass have returned to active post-spawn feeding patterns. Spinnerbaits, top water, and worm fishing are dominating the lake.

That should tell you something important, and seasoned anglers will be nodding their heads.

If you fished Falcon Lake in March with the techniques and lures that work on the “East Res,” you'll likely strike out. Ditto if you fish the Portage Lakes chain in early spring by popping a plug over live weed beds in shallow water.

There’s a truth that pros and tournament winners really take to heart: the best lure, technique, and presentation depends on many small details and one big one: water temperature.

Water Temperature and Bass Biology

The most successful bass anglers have spent a lot of time studying bass behavior, and the more you know about what makes largemouth bass tick, the better you understand lure selection, technique choice, and the importance of presentation.

If you want a refresher on some of the most significant aspects of bass biology, check out these articles:

Sight: The Largemouth Bass’s Most Important Sense

Good Vibrations: Lures to Trigger a Largemouth’s Lateral Line

Largemouth Bass Hearing: Sounds that Trigger Flight or Feeding

Largemouth Bass Anatomy: What You Need to Know

What Do Bass Eat?

Savvy anglers know that the one constant of bass fishing is biology. Wherever you fish, whatever the conditions that day, largemouth bass are always largemouth bass.

That may sound trite, but biology determines behavior.

Largemouth bass are cold-blooded, meaning that their body temperature isn’t self-regulated, but rather a direct reflection of the surrounding water temperature. 

The magic number for bass is 55.

When the water temps drop below 55 degrees, bass are going to slow down, the bite will drop off, and you can expect bass to look for warmer water. While warm weather still prevails, they’ll hang out near heat sinks like concrete bridge pilings that radiate heat, or stick close to big rocks warmed by the sun. But as fall turns cold, they’ll head for deep pockets of warm water under the thermocline, and stay there all winter.

water temperature seasons

That’s true anywhere the water really cools down, and bass respond to water temperatures in very similar ways, from central Ohio to southern Texas.

Another number to keep in mind, especially in warmer climates, is 80.

As water temperatures rise to 80 degrees, the bass will start to experience heat stress, and as that number ticks further upward, they’ll retreat to the deepest, coolest spots they can, seek shade, and generally lose their appetite. And while that may be rare in cooler climates, from Florida to Texas, you can bet that summer’s a tough season to catch bass during the day.

The flip side is also true: fall bass on the East Reservation are going to slow way down as the days get short, but on Falcon Lake, fall just means the bass are finally turning on.

The “best lure” depends a lot on how actively bass will be feeding, how deep they’ll be holding, and whether they’ll be tightly schooled or spread out across the lake. 

If you want to catch more and better bass, you need to watch the water temperature like you watch your thermostat’s setting all winter.

Water Temperature and Lure and Technique Selection

Let’s break down lure selection as it relates to water temperature, moving from early spring to late fall.

For the best bass fishing lures, see our guide: Best Bass Fishing Lures Reviewed

32-40°

Bass will enter a cold-induced state of torpor that leaves them sluggish and uninterested in feeding.

To escape the coldest water, which will be high in the water column as the thermocline flips, they’ll find the deepest holes they can and cluster in tight schools 

They won’t have the energy to chase fast-moving presentations, and only the slowest presentations have any chance of attracting a bite.

Options like Damiki rigs, jigs, and jerkbaits are the only game in town when the water’s this cold, and it’s essential that you present them as slowly - even dead-stick - as you can.

For me, nothing beats a Damiki rig when the water is this cold and the strike is this lethargic.

I’ll throw a ¼-ounce Damiki jig head with a Z-Man Jerk ShadZ, take particular care with how my rig looks, and almost dead-stick it when I find a school of bass below a cluster of bait fish.

damiki rig jig head

While small jig heads can work in a pinch to make a Damiki rig, dedicated Damiki heads have small hooks for their size, making them ideal for this finesse technique.

41-50°

Water temperatures in this range still leave bass lethargic, but they’ll strike slow-moving prey items, and even have the energy for very short bursts of speed.

Expect bass to be holding deep and sticking tightly together. At the upper end of this range, bass will be higher in the water column, in transitional zones between spawning shallows and winter holes.

These temps are still well below triggering the spawn, but it’s time to start considering craw-patterned crankbaits. 

The ⅜-ounce, 2 ½-inch Bomber Flat A is a staple of pre-spawn fishing, especially as the water edges toward the high end of this range. But I love my Bandit Series 300 Crankbaits, too.

At just ¼-ounce, the 2-inch Bandit is murder on spinning tackle.

Bandit Series 300 Crankbait

Pre-spawn, I think “crawfish.”

And what seasoned pros will tell you runs contrary to what most anglers are thinking: skip the banks and stumps and work those transition zones.

 Bomber Flat A crankbait

The real secret is to select a finesse crankbait with the right color and pattern that dives just deep enough to make occasional contact with the bottom. If you find where the bass are transitioning, and you get a small, light crankbait to bounce off the bottom every now and then, you’ll catch fish.

These temperatures signal me to start throwing Texas- or Carolina-rigged craws like the Strike King Rage Tail.

Rage Tail Craw

These 4-inch creature baits are simply deadly when bass are feeding on crawfish pre-spawn.

And don’t forget about the under-utilized tube. A Z-Man’s EZ TUBE or 4-inch Yamamoto Fat Ika can be dragged across the bottom in transitional zones and hit after hit.

4-inch Yamamoto Fat Ika

51-55°

At the magical 55-degree mark, bass will move to their spawning beds and lose all interest in feeding.

But just before that, the pre-spawn bite is nothing short of magnificent!

Having fully shaken winter’s shackles loose, largemouth will be looking to make up for lost time. They’ll be feeding aggressively, targeting crawfish to ensure healthy eggs and fry, and they’ll move into transition zones and shallow water.

Now is the time to throw full-size crankbaits in craw patterns, targeting shallow water, live weed beds, stumps, blow downs and other cover.

I like to run a 13 Fishing Jabber Jaw into everything I can find in 5-feet of water, slamming this ½-ounce crankbait to create erratic darting motions with every impact.

13 Fishing Jabber Jaw

When the bass are hunting crawfish, that’s the pattern to throw.

And another crankbait for pre-spawn that I can’t get enough of is the Strike King KVD 1.5 Flat Side in “Delta Red.”

But crankbaits aren’t the only thing that’s hot, and you really want to give those soft plastics a go.

If you’re not Texas or Carolina-rigging them, try a chatterbait.

A ⅜-ounce Z-Man Original ChatterBait and a Zoom Z-Craw trailer, popping and fluttering on the fall, can drive bass crazy. And while it may be counter-intuitive try this combo in clear water during the pre-spawn, and hold on!

61-70° 

As the water temperature continues to rise throughout the spring, bass will become progressively more active.

As their body temperature rises, their metabolism speeds up, allowing them far more energy to hunt, chase, and ambush prey items. And while this temperature range is still a little shy of ideal for largemouth, they’ll be feeding actively and venturing into shallow water for prey items like minnows, immature bluegill, shad, and the like.

Shallow-running crankbaits are still lethal, but you want to switch up to minnow imitators.

Jerkbaits like the Strike King KVD and Rapala X-Rap will allow you to work shallow around cover, matching the hatch perfectly and staying in the strike zone longer than crankbaits.

Strike King KVD Elite Jerkbait

Buzzbaits really come into their own, too, and options like the Booyah Buzz Blade become really effective as the water nears 70 degrees.

Booyah Buzz Blade

Buzz baits are under-utilized in spring and fall.

Neko and Ned rigs really come into their own in spring as well, and while the hatch is still small, a light Z-MAN Finesse ShroomZ Jighead with a Z-MAN TRD TicklerZ is just the finesse presentation you want now that fishing pressure is heating up, too.

Z-MAN Finesse ShroomZ JigheadZ-MAN TRD TicklerZ

Frogs like the Lunkerhunt Lunker Frog, as well as plugs, torpedoes, spooks, and other topwater lures are really hopping until the heat dries bass into deeper water.

Lunkerhunt Lunker Frog 1

Frogs are money once the water warms up, and even in the summer, especially at night, they can be deadly.

71-80°

Summer has started in earnest, and the water is really heating up.

Mornings - and even nights - are super productive, as afternoon and early evening temperatures can be high enough to start causing heat stress.

Nearly any presentation and lure is effective in this temperature range, with your best bets coalescing around your local hatch.

From wacky rigs to drop shots, Ned rigs to Nekos, finesse techniques can help you catch bass that other anglers have missed. And since fishing pressure will be high, you’ll want to think about finesse approaches more often than you might otherwise.

Texas- and Carolina-rigged soft plastics are money in warm to hot water, especially when you need to target bass near the bottom.

Thick vegetation is a reality of summer, and so, too, are presentations like the Punch rig.

Your soft plastic trailer options are rich right now, and nothing’s too big to throw, from mammoth Culprit Original 7 1/2" worms to 4 ¼-inch Wooly Bugs.

Culprit Original worm

Massive hard-bodied swimbaits are ideal for warmer water, too, and options like the Storm Arashi Glide, 6th Sense Flow Glider 130, and Deps Slide Swimmer 250 are excellent lures to throw to aggressive bass.

 

Deps Slide Swimmer 250

Big bluegill imitators like the Deps Slide Swimmer 250 are ideal for warm water bass.

Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, topwater, worms - everything goes in this temperature range. Just match the hatch in your area, and let ‘er rip!

Above 80°

Depending on where you live, this may never be an issue, but in much of the south, water temperatures will continue to rise throughout the summer and the bass will really feel the heat.

As water temps cross the 80-degree threshold, the bass will seek cooler, deeper water with more dissolved oxygen. Deep points, depressions, and channels, and especially deep weed beds and drop-offs, are great places to begin your hunt.

You’ll want really good fishing electronics to help you locate dispersed bass and schools of bait fish. Ideally, you’ll have access to maps and GPS that lets you find the deep spots the bass are calling home to wait out the heat.

Texas and Carolina rigs are fantastic options, as are deep-diving crankbaits, jigs armed with swimbaits, and anything else that can get down and stay down where the bass are.

Soft plastics like the Keitech Fat Swing Impact and 6th Sense Divine can be fantastic behind a heavy jig head or chatterbait, and there’s no need to go small!

Keitech Fat Swing Impact

6th Sense Divine

High-quality swimbaits can be expensive, but you really get what you pay for!

But as many anglers can attest, the dog days of summer are tough.

One tip when the water is hot is to switch to the night. Heat-pressured bass will really feel some relief by mid-evening, and they’ll start feeding actively and return to the shallows.

You can hammer big bass at night in just feet of water, and one of my favorite high-summer night fishing options is the ⅜-ounce Z-Man Original ChatterBait in “Candy Craw” with a “South African Special” Zoom Z-Craw trailer.

Z Man Original ChatterBait

zoom z craw

Chatterbaits can be exceptional at night in the summer.

And as water temperatures drop at night, descending into the high 70s, pretty much everything goes again, including spinnerbaits like the War Eagle Night Baits Spinnerbait, big Heddon Super Spooks, and buzz baits like the Strike King Tri-Wing Buzz King.

War Eagle’s Night Baits Spinner in Black BlueStrike King Tri-Wing Buzz King 1Heddon Super Spooks

Dark patterns and lots of commotion are the trick for night fishing bass in shallow water.

Fall and Winter

From summer, the cycle repeats itself, with water temperatures slowly dropping as the year progresses, reversing the pattern you witnessed from early spring to summer, with one exception: the hatch.

Early spring bass are gearing up for the spawn and looking to put on weight quickly. They’ll preferentially target crawfish, as the minnow, shad, and bluegill populations are at their lowest ebb all year.

But in the fall, plentiful minnows and bait fish of all kinds are the primary food source for largemouth bass. And while the lures and techniques of spring and early spring still apply in fall and late fall, the color patterns you choose should reflect this change in the available prey items.

For instance, when the water has cooled to 41-50°, the Bandit Series 300 Crankbait is still just as effective as it was pre-spawn, but your color and pattern should mimic shad rather than crawfish.

Bandit Series 300 Crankbait

While minnows and small fish were scarce in the spring, in the fall, they’re the primary prey item for bass.

And since the bass are getting more and more sluggish over time, slow presentations like Texas and Carolina rigs remain murderous with worms. 

Finesse rigs like the Ned, especially in conjunction with a high-quality paddle tail like the Keitech Fat Swing Impact or 6th Sense Divine, can trigger finicky fall bass into a strike, and working behind big-worm or crankbait anglers can help you find bass the other have missed.

Bass Fishing Lure Temperature Chart

Bass Lure Temperature Chart USAngler

Final Thoughts

While barometric pressure, cloud cover, water clarity, and a host of other factors impact lure and technique selection, the single most important thing that determines what to throw and how to throw it is water temperature.

Because largemouth bass can’t regulate their body temperatures, they’re prisoners to the water around them, behaving as nature dictates.

And if you know the water temp, you’ll have a very good sense of how the bass will behave, allowing you to select the right lure and technique every time.

We hope you've learned something from this article, and we’d love to hear from you if you have!

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.
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