Bass jumping in water

The Simple Framework of Finding Bass

There’s an age-old concept in bass fishing that states “you have to find’em before you can catch’em.” Well that is kinda of like “duh.” Yes, it points out the glaringly obvious, but the truth behind it can never be ignored. And abiding by this ideology of strategy will result in more bass, more often, on more occasions!

So let’s dig into this a bit. We have three integrated methods by which to systematically find bass. The first one involves our own understanding of bass behavior.  This is the intellectual part of the puzzle of understanding the seasonal and daily movements of bass as they relate to their environment. By educating ourselves on bass biology and behavior, vast portions of a fishery can be eliminated from consideration. For example, in the spring of the year, we know bass spawn in shallow water that tends to warm up sooner. Therefore wide open deep basins can be ignored, while instead, dead-end coves, canals, and bays are places to target because that is where many bass will eventually spawn (especially in northern, natural lakes).

Another method of “finding them” is done with the aid of marine electronics (I use Lowrance). The developments in this field have really made it much easier to find bass. Using the electronics is a two-step process at its most basic level. First use the mapping, then use the sonar imaging. Let’s begin with the incredibly detailed mapping available. Just about every popular lake in the United States has detailed mapping by Lowrance’s C-Map or other brands.  The electronics display these maps and show us exactly where our boat is positioned on these maps. I don’t even carry paper maps anymore, which was a hard habit to break! For example, if our understanding of smallmouth bass biology suggests we need to be finding rock humps topping out between 20-25 feet, we can easily scroll around the map and quickly identify suitable structure, and then drive our boat directly to it. And oftentimes the detail of the contours will show us the little wiggles and points where bass often seem to prefer on structure.  Now the second stage of electronic’s abilities come into play. This is where we use downscanning and sidescanning functions to seek out the oddities of the structure such as bigger boulders, or perhaps a man-made brushpile. Of course, the electronics also are used to actually identify baitfish schools and the bass as well at times.

I suppose a third tier for electronics and their aid to finding bass would be the recent introduction of forward-facing sonar (Lowrance Active Target among others). This technology comes into play once we actually stop the boat to fish. Transducers for these units are typically mounted on a bow-mounted trolling motor (I like the Minnkota Ultrex), which allow an angler to “sweep” and scan the waters ahead of the boat. Anglers can become very talented at spotting individual or schools of bass and casting baits directly to them.

The third method of finding bass is done with the very fishing techniques that are utilized. Electronics have limitations (for example, they can’t reveal bass buried up in heavy weed growth). So when electronics can’t confirm the presence of bass, it must be done with rod and reel.  Finding a school of bass buried up in a vast weedbed can seem overwhelming. In this scenario, there are many nuances to picking apart massive weed areas that would require pages of writing, so I can’t cover all of that. But there is one principle that I feel is important to highlight. Be sure to lean on those fishing techniques that cover water more quickly. I’m talking about lures such as spinnerbaits, bladed-jigs, crankbaits, and topwaters.  In other words, chose moving baits that are cast and reeled. Once a spot has been identified as to holding bass, then slower methods, like a wacky-rigged worm, can be applied if necessary. Sometimes you can just keep catching them using the moving baits.  One final bait to mention as a search bait would be a heavy jig (3/4 oz All-Terrain Tackle AT Jig) or a Texas-rigged creature of some kind (BillyRubBaits Snatcher).  Sometimes I feel like I have to drop something in their face.  I like to start with heavy weights first until I’m comfortable knowing I have nailed down the locations of the bass.  These presentations won’t cover as much territory as the horizontally moving baits, but sometimes the bass are lethargic and don’t want to leave their secure position deep down in the weed growth.  Switching to a lighter weight may or may not yield more bites once bass locations are known.  For example, I was on a natural lake in Minnesota this fall and felt strongly that the bass were schooled up in the weeds. So I started with the ¾ oz All-Terrain Tackle AT Jig and moved along the weed edge dropping this jig as fast as it allowed every twenty feet. I came to a change in the weed growth and had like four bass before I couldn’t get anymore.  Without moving the boat, I picked up a slow falling wacky-rig and proceeded to catch another 36 bass!  Indeed, the search bait/slow bait has long been an effective strategy.

What I’ve discussed here is a very basic framework of finding fish. And really, it doesn’t have to be much more complicated or sophisticated than this.  One, use your knowledge of bass behavior and biology to steer you towards likely areas to check; Two, use your electronics to search the likely area; And/Or Three, use your rod and reel if the bass are hidden where electronics can’t see them. This is an approach that has been around forever.  The only change is an increasing emphasis on using electronics today, due to their incredible advancements.

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