Ask pretty much any angler in America, and they’ll tell you that they love catching bass.
Easily the most popular game fish in the country, the largemouth bass has earned its huge fan base with dramatic strikes, hard fights, and heart-stopping leaps. Wide-ranging in its distribution, there’s a good chance that trophy bass live near you, and most fishermen in the lower 48 have ready access to good - even great - bass habitat.
Let’s break down what makes the largemouth unique and discuss the basics of positive identification, its behavior and habitat, and the best techniques and lures to catch them.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Largemouth 101: Bass Basics
- 2 Largemouth Bass: Habitat, Spawning, and Feeding
- 3 Close Kin of the Largemouth Bass
- 4 Largemouth Bass Range and Location
- 5 Largemouth Bass: Techniques and Lure Selection
- 6 Final Thoughts
Largemouth 101: Bass Basics
Largemouth bass are easy to identify.
The largest member of the family of black bass, scientists know this species as Micropterus salmoides. But for anglers, the largemouth derives its popular name from its massively telescoping upper and lower jaws.
What Do Largemouth Bass Eat?
A ferocious and formidable predator, the largemouth bass begins life feeding on small bait fish and a variety of aquatic invertebrates.
That giant mouth allows the bass to swallow prey items as large as 50 percent of its size, and this species isn’t known to be a picky eater! As they mature, bass will begin feeding on everything from smaller fish like bluegill and shad, to snakes, frogs, crawfish, bats, and anything else that dares enter the water.
This voracious appetite allows them to reach lengths of as much as 29 ½ inches and official weights in the neighborhood of 22 pounds! Females are typically larger than males, with both sexes living for 10 to 16 years barring injury or disease.
Learn more about bass diet: What Do Bass Eat?
How To Identify Largemouth Bass
Largemouth bass sport greenish-gray to olive scales with a distinctive black stripe along their lateral line. They tend to be dark along their back near their dorsal fins, with bellies that are starkly white in comparison.
You can positively identify a largemouth bass by looking closely at its upper jaw. When closed, it will protrude beyond the back of the eye.
You’ll also spot a clearly separated set of dorsal fins divided by a deep “v.”
The first dorsal fin will have 9 to 11 sharp spines. On the posterior dorsal fin, you’ll count 12 to 14 rays.
The largemouth bass is known for its enveloping mandibles.
Largemouth Bass: Habitat, Spawning, and Feeding
We’ve written about the largemouth bass before, and if you want more information about its senses and hunting behaviors, take a look at these articles:
Largemouth are primarily sight hunters, preferring clear water where they can identify prey at a distance. In murky, turbid water, bass will struggle to reach their full size potential. They can and do live in such environments, but they won’t typically reach trophy weights there.
They prefer still waters to fast currents and are far more likely to inhabit ponds and lakes than rivers. They like soft bottoms where sunlight allows plenty of aquatic vegetation to thrive, providing habitat for prey and cover for ambush hunting.
Bass aren’t well suited to cold water, and they overwinter in deep holes where the water is warmer due to inversion. They enter a state of cold-induced torpor, slowing considerably and ceasing active feeding.
Males guard the fertilized eggs until the fry hatch.
But spring brings the spawn, and when the water warms to 55 to 60 degrees, males will begin moving from these winter-holding areas to shallows, transitioning in preparation for mating.
The females will soon follow suit, and pre-spawn feeding will begin in earnest.
During the spawn itself, feeding will cease as the bass focus on reproduction. When the eggs are released into spawning beds, the females will move off, leaving the males to guard the next generation. And though these guardians won’t be feeding, they will attack anything that threatens their unhatched fry.
Once the fry emerge, both the males and females will return to active feeding, looking to make up for lost time!
Close Kin of the Largemouth Bass
Largemouth bass are members of a large family of black bass, including the spotted and redeye bass. In fact, marine biologists have identified 13 closely-related cousins, each of which we’ve discussed before.
Many, if not most, of these species are native to very small ranges, often just a single river system. For some species, like the Alabama bass, positive identification is very difficult, requiring accurate scale counting to distinguish it from largemouth.
But the smallmouth bass, another member of the black bass family, is common and easy to tell apart from its close kin.
Smallmouth bass are typically smaller than largemouth, reaching a maximum length of 27 inches and a hefty 12 pounds, though most smallies never get that big. While they, too, are primarily sight predators, preferring very clear water, they like rocky and hard bottoms with some current.
Rivers and streams are ideal habitats for smallmouth bass, and they tend not to compete with largemouth bass for living space as a result.
Smallmouth bass share the same general color palette as the largemouth bass, but they tend to be more evenly colored and lack the long, vertical dark stripe their larger cousins wear. And they can have speckled, vertical coloration but don’t always display this feature.
Instead, note that their upper mandible does not extend rearward of the eye, as it does in largemouth. That’ll help you tell the difference at a glance.
Largemouth Bass Range and Location
Largemouth bass may not be ideally suited to cold water, but they've managed to thrive across the lower 48. Adaptable predators who aren’t afraid to try new prey items, they’ll find something to feed on wherever they live or have been introduced.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The range of largemouth bass within North America extends from the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay (Red River), and into the Mississippi River basin. Largemouth bass are also found in Atlantic drainages from North Carolina to Florida and into northern Mexico.”
Despite that northern range, their ideal water temperatures for growth and feeding are high (81F to 86F), and thus they tend to be larger in warmer climates.
We’ve discussed the best bass lakes in America before, and if you’re looking for top-notch fishing, check out this article:
You’ll notice that our list includes lakes in Idaho, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Vermont, and New York. And though the warmer waters California, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana are richer in trophy bass, there’s no question that anglers in northern states have excellent fishing opportunities, too.
Unfortunately for aquatic ecosystems, the popularity of largemouth bass has led to their intentional introduction in non-native waters, especially in the West and North East. Canada, too, has seen the introduction of largemouth bass in New Brunswick, where these aggressive predators constitute a real threat to immature salmon and trout.
Largemouth Bass: Techniques and Lure Selection
Largemouth bass are aggressive feeders, and the range of lures that can be effective is incredible. Jerkbaits, soft plastics, spinners, crankbaits, topwater: you name it, they’ll hit it! For the best lure options you can check out our guide on the best lures for bass fishing.
Now, let’s cover some of the most popular lures and techniques.
Soft-plastic worms on Texas and Carolina rigs
My worms of choice range from the 7 ½-inch Culprit Original to the Zoom Magnum Finesse, though I have to admit that I’m partial to the long, ribbon-tail on the Culprit. It just waves so well on either the Texas or Carolina rig and really calls bass in for a close look.
Pre-spawn, when females are looking to put on weight quickly and maximize their nutrition, a soft plastic creature like the Strike King Rage Tail Craw is money. Those flapping, fluttering appendages work well with both the Texas and Carolina rig, and a few colors of these are enough to cover all your early spring bases.
For more worm options, check out Best Worms for Bass.
The Texas rig is the master of thick vegetation, and it punches lily pads and grass mats with authority. Rigged weedlessly like most bass fishermen do, it’s easy to work through weed beds, rip along the tops, and let drop in the thick of things, only to be ripped out again. And for pitching and flipping, a Texas-rigged worm is probably the most dangerous option in your tackle box.
The Carolina rig, by contrast, is at its best when the vegetation is sparse and the bottom is fairly open. And since it can be loaded with a heavy weight without deadening your soft plastic trailer, it’s a great tool for working deep water quickly.
If you’d like to know more about these techniques and rigs, check out these articles:
Drop shot rigs with wacky-rigged Senkos
Unlike the Texas and Carolina rigs, the drop shot rig is a finesse technique that’s best fished with spinning tackle.
We’ve discussed the ins and outs of this technique before, so if you’d like a refresher, check out these articles:
A combination of attributes make the drop shot rig tremendously effective. First, it allows you to fish a precise distance from the bottom, letting you work cover and structure with inch-perfect presentations. And second, it frees your soft plastic to move like you’ve never seen it dance before.
Ideal for high-pressured lakes and ponds, a drop shot rig will find bass that other anglers have missed.
And if there’s one drop shot option that beats the rest, it’s a wacky-rigged Senko. Five inches of perfection, Gary Yamamoto’s Senkos flutter enticingly as you work a drop shot rig across the bottom, and the lightest of wrist movements will have it vibrating just perfectly to attract bass.
I don’t hit the water for bass without about a dozen square-billed crankbaits in my tackle bag.
Designed to mimic the shape of bait fish, they come in a wide range of colors and styles, though they all share a large, square lip on the front end.
That square catches water as you rip or crank it, driving it head down and eliciting a wobbling wiggle from the body.
The technique for working these crankbaits may seem a little strange, especially given the two sharp treble hooks it has in tow. You want to run this little devil into every branch, rock, stump, blow down, and weed you can find.
Its head-down presentation will shield the hooks from snags (most of the time), and the impacts with cover create erratic darting changes in direction that trigger strikes from the wariest bass.
I’ll typically “match the hatch,” choosing a color and style that mimics active prey items, and these guys always deliver the fish!
Spinner baits can be magic, and there’s an entire science to what makes them tick.
If you’d like to know more, check out these articles:
Spinner baits are complex lures featuring one or more blades that may take on different shapes. They also sport a jig head and skirt, allowing for plenty of color combinations, lots of movement, tons of flash, and a thumping retrieve that rings the dinner bell.
I choose my size and blade choice to match the depth I want to run, adjusting my retrieve to hit it just right.
The idea behind a spinner is much like a square-billed crankbait: run this lure into everything in sight, creating erratic, darting impacts that bass just can’t resist.
Largemouth bass have attained legendary status among American fishermen, and the first time you hook a big female, watch her bend your rod and leap clear of the water, shaking her head like mad, you’ll know why!
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Related: Best Bait For Largemouth Bass