Consistently catching largemouth bass demands on more than just the right tackle. Savvy anglers know that understanding seasonal bass behavior can be the difference between an exciting weekend on the water and going home disappointed.
If you do well all spring but start to strike out when the heat rises, or find that summer’s fine but fall leaves you skunked, the problem isn’t your rod, reel, or line.
Instead, it’s your largemouth know-how!
Want to understand how each season changes bass behavior, prey, and feeding patterns? What is the best time to fish for bass?
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In many respects, spring is the most complicated season to wrap your mind around, as it includes three distinct periods of bass behavior, each driven by water temperature and time.
As winter gives ground to warmer spring weather, with water temps rising to 55 degrees, bass will shake off their torpor and become more active.
For both genders--but especially for females--that means it’s time to find high-quality sources of protein to improve egg development and build some much-needed fat to support the coming spawn. But as wildlife biologists can attest, winter is especially cruel to baitfish, and most of the smaller shad and minnows won’t have survived this long.
Larger prey items like mature shad and bluegill will be around, but their numbers won’t be as abundant as later in the year.
Instead, largemouth rely on aquatic invertebrates like crawfish in the pre-spawn.
And as the weather warms, largemouth will start to collect on the northern and western sides of lakes and ponds, where the water gets the most sun. Look for them on or near steep inclines adjacent to the shallows where they’ll spawn.
You’ll often need to work some water to find them, and they’ll typically be fairly deep.
For me, this means working lures like the Bomber Lures Model A in colors and patterns that mimic crawfish.
I also like to run the Strike King Red Eye Shad in “Delta Red.”
Both these designs provide excellent vibration and action, and with colors that mimic the top-choice prey item, it’s hard to go wrong.
As the water hits the magical 55-degree mark, the largest bass will begin moving to their spawning beds. This creates both challenges and opportunities.
The challenge is that actively spawning females stop feeding, forgoing a meal for as long as two weeks. This seasonal anorexia is as predictable as it is problematic, and you simply can’t get these ladies to take a bite.
One approach to mitigate this difficulty is to keep working for largemouth that are still waiting to spawn. They’ll be actively feeding, and you can keep fishing those steep drop-offs with great success. Just keep doing what you’re doing pre-spawn until it stops working.
And it will stop. As the water warms further, the spawn will catch the attention of every mature bass, and it’s time to change tactics.
With nests in place in the shallows, females become aggressive, chasing off any potential predators. Everything from bluegill to shad to salamanders are looking for an easy meal, and your best strategy is to find these nests and throw lures that mimic these nest raiders.
Among my favorites for rousing an angry female are Berkley’s lizards. I Texas rig mine and run them along the bottom, jerking them up and letting them fall again. A few passes usually elicit a strong reaction!
I also like Strike King Red Eye Shad in “Gizzard Shad” and “Green Shad,” as they seem to stir up trouble with the big females.
And I won’t work a spawning bed for largemouth without the tried and true Rapala Shad Rap.
Post-spawn is complex as well.
Exhausted from the spawn, the females retreat into deeper water, while the males take over guard duty. This gendered split can leave many bass anglers scratching their heads, but the trick is to switch the way you think about largemouth.
As Pete Robbins explains, “If you look at the ecosystem comprehensively … bass can be as predictable during this supposed tough time. Simply focus on fish other than the bass you're after—whether they're the recently hatched bass fry or other species that are vulnerable to hungry bass at this time. As Rick Clunn has reportedly said, ‘If you want to understand the owl, study the mouse.’”
For the males, consider their vulnerable fry. For the females, think about shad.
Those guardian males will be in the shallows with their fry, and the trick is to harass them with topwater lures, as this will definitely provoke a response!
But for the tired ladies, you need to think about the shad.
By this time, the water will have warmed significantly, and the bait fish will be spawning. Spend some time locating their spawning beds, and you’ll find the hungry largemouth looking to make a meal of them.
But if there’s a secret weapon in my post-spawn arsenal, it’s the Yo-Zuri 3DB squarebill. This deadly crankbait has the looks and action to temp a hungry bass to hit, and I work this guy relentlessly over shad beds until the sun starts to top the trees.
Check out our Spring Bass Fishing Tips!
Summer is the season most familiar to the casual largemouth angler.
Now that the water has reached its highest yearly temperatures, feeding opportunities are everywhere. Baitfish like shad and bluegill are plentiful, as are large insects, crawfish, frogs, lizards, and snakes. Bass have a full menu, and the most important considerations are technique and location.
When the post-spawn bite drops off, and topwater lures no longer force a strike from protective dads, you know it’s time to switch to summer fishing. Another cue is offered by Patrick Meitin: “Catching lots of dinks in waters normally holding decent fish is one of the first signals that you should abandon springtime techniques and adopt summer ploys.”
The water in the shallows will be too hot for most bass, so they’ll retreat to deeper water. Points, depressions, channels, deep weed beds, and drop-offs are all good bets. Finding schools of baitfish can be the key to finding bass, and the right fish finder really earns its keep this time of year.
Check out our Summer Bass Fishing Tips!
Once the heat starts to drop, especially if the move is sudden, bass will head shallow again. As experienced anglers can tell you, flats, gradual inclines, and points are all money as the leaves start to turn.
This is partly driven by declining water temperatures, but it's also a response to the movement of baitfish toward creek and river mouths. Shad and minnows are in the last legs of their lives, and they’re feeding in earnest, drawing the largemouth in tow.
As Ken Cook, a former fisheries biologist turned professional bass angler, explains, “In the spring and fall, the ‘grocery store’ is usually close to the shoreline and around cover like aquatic grass, rocks and docks. Small fish, crawfish, frogs and other creatures are most abundant and most active in shallow water, so that's where the bass will be.”
I also keep the Strike King Red Eye Shad ready, as well as some Rebel Pop-Rs.
Looking for more options? Check out our top picks for the best spinnerbaits for bass!
But in my mind, nothing outshines a chatterbait for working fall weeds. My two favorite combos are the ⅜ Ounce Z-Man Original ChatterBait with a Lake Fork Trophy Lures Live Magic Shad trailer and the ⅜ Ounce Z-MAN Chatterbait Elite and a Zoom Bait Swimmin Super Fluke trailer.
I like the subdued hues for clear water and the bright ones for murky, muddy, or stained lakes. Both are simply magical when worked across the tops of weed beds.
Check out the rest of our Fall Bass Fishing Tips!
No doubt, winter makes for tough largemouth fishing.
As the mercury drops, all but the largest of the bait fish die off, and feeding opportunities decline with the temperatures. Worse still, the bass enter a state of torpor to conserve energy, and they don’t feed aggressively or actively.
Largemouth will move deep, hugging the bottoms of channels and deep depressions and clustering in large schools.
The key is to work a large area and use a slow-moving lure.
Spoons like Strike King’s Sexy Spoon imitate a dying shad sinking deep, and these work well in a variety of situations.
I also like ¼ ounce jig heads tipped with something big and slow like a softbait, recycling my post-spawn options with color choices targeted to deeper water. I’m looking dark--often black--and I want a fluttering tail to attract attention. My favorite: the Zoom Super Fluke.
It’s not uncommon to struggle with largemouth outside of your preferred season, but with the right know-how, you can consistently catch bass year-round.
The secret is understanding how water temperature triggers changes in movement and feeding behavior, and adapting to these transitions as they happen.
I hope that this article has been helpful, and if it has, I’d love to hear from you!
Please leave a comment below.