Complete beginner's guide to bass fishing header image

Summer is in full swing and so the most natural thing to do now is go fishing! Bass fishing is an exciting time. Bass are capable of putting up one heck of a fight and therein lies the fun. Fishing for bass is easier than most people think. When you look at bass fishing as a whole it can seem overwhelming, but if you break it down into a few key aspects, it’s actually pretty simple.

Why Fish For Bass?

Bass fishing is an insanely popular sport in America and there are a number of reasons to fish for these incredible animals. One of the best reasons is Bass are found in just about any body of water in the country. Lakes, streams, rivers, reservoirs, and creeks. Bass are actually a type of sunfish and just like the regular sunfish we all know and love, if there is a body of water, bass will likely be in it. Another great reason is that these fish are powerful and can put up quite a fight. Bass often range in size from 1lb all the way up to 20lbs. Hooking into a large bass is an unforgettable experience. There are other reasons to fish for bass but these are the most commonly cited reasons, all of which I agree with wholeheartedly.

Bass Species:

There are a number of bass species in the world. The most commonly fished for bass are all a member of the Black Bass family. These species include the Spotted Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and of course the one everyone knows the Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

Example of a Largemouth bass

Description

The Largemouth Bass is an olive-green fish with an underside ranging from a very light green to almost white. A few key characteristics of the Largemouth include its lateral jagged black stripe on each of its sides and of course its large mouth.

The upper jaw of the fish extends beyond the rear margin of the eye.

Habitat

The ideal habitat of the Largemouth is one that provides protective cover such as logs, rock ledges, vegetation, and man-made structures. Bass seek these types of cover when they are young to hide from would-be predators.

As they get older they seek these kinds of places from which to ambush prey. Largemouth Bass can be found in any lake, streams, or rivers that offer these protections.

Distribution

Originally Largemouth were found through what now is most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. However, because of the popularity of the sport, they have been distributed worldwide. Including all of Mexico and most of South America.

Bass prefer to live in water that averages anywhere from 65 degrees to the low 90’s. They can survive in near freezing water for short duration's. Because of this you often will not find many bass in the northern parts of the world such as Canada.


Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass example

Description

The Smallmouth Bass ranges in color from dark green to brown. It has dark vertical bands on its sides distinguishing it from the Largemouth Bass that has horizontal bands. The upper jaw of the Smallmouth Bass does not extend past the eye.

Habitat

The Smallmouth is often found in clearer water than it’s cousin the Largemouth. Smallmouth Bass prefer cooler water and may be found in still or moving water. These fish are often found in clear lakes, streams, and rivers. One interesting fact about the Smallmouth is that much like trout, this fish is very intolerant of pollution and can be a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem.

Distribution

Smallmouth pretty much exist in every state in the United States with the exception of Florida and Louisiana for unknown reasons. They can also be found up north in parts of Quebec.


Spotted Bass

Spotted Bass example

Description

Many people who catch Spotted Bass will often mistake them for either a Largemouth or a Smallmouth since they appear very similar to each at different stages of the fishes life. On top of that, Spotted Bass have been known to hybridize with Smallmouth making identification difficult.

A few key characteristic differences between a Spotted Bass and a Largemouth are, on a Spotted Bass, the upper jaw does not extend past the eye. The Spotted Bass also has scales on the base portion of the second dorsal fin whereas the Largemouth does not.

One of the main key traits of the spotted bass that separate it from its cousins is the presence of black spots below the lateral line. Neither the largemouth or the smallmouth have these spots.

Habitat

Spotted Bass tend to inhabit areas completely different from its cousins. The Spotted Bass tends to favor faster water than the Largemouth, but warmer water than where Smallmouth are typically found. Spotted Bass love vegetation, submerged logs, and rock walls.

Distribution

Spotted Bass are found throughout the Ohio River basin and the Mississippi River basin. They can be found in the Gulf Coast states ranging from Texas to Florida and are natives to the eastern part of Texas.


Bass Tackle:

Your typical bass angler can own enough tackle to fill a small tackle shop. You really don’t need that much stuff to successfully fish for bass. However, the fishing industry is counting on you not knowing that.
They know that many fishermen can be like a kid in a candy store when it comes to tackle. To get started you only really need a few things. A rod, reel, hooks, line, and bait.

Rod and Reel

Typically bass anglers use both spinning and baitcasting reels. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Spinning rods are typically easier for beginners and also tend to be more affordable than casting rods.

Spinning Rods

Spinning rods are easier to cast and are often more versatile when casting various bass baits. Spinning rods, in general, are a great beginner rod for a variety of fish species such as Bass, trout, and crappie. Start with a 6’ - 6’6” spinning rod. You can go with a shorter spinning rod if you plan to be fishing under a lot of cover or in tight spaces.

The action should be medium to heavy if you plan to fish primarily for bass, as these rods will hold up better and be able to cast heavier tackle as opposed to light or ultralight action rods that are often considered to be trout rods.

Baitcasters

Baitcasting rods tend to be more difficult to learn and require time to practice. Newbies to baitcasting rods can often end up with a mess of line called a bird's nest or backlash when they incorrectly cast the rod.

Once you learn to cast a baitcaster properly they are a fantastic rod and reel combo to fish with. Baitcasters allow for great precision, allowing you to cast exactly where you want.

These rods are also capable of casting heavier lure and line that most bass anglers tend to use. If you are already experienced with a spinning rod, a baitcasting rod may be a great beginning rod for catching Bass.


Hooks

Walk into any sporting goods store and you’ll be hit with so many hook options it’s insane. Choosing a hook size and style can seem overwhelming, but with a few basic guidelines, you can find the perfect hook to fit your needs.

As a beginning bass angler, I have found sticking to Offset Wide Bend and Offset Extra Wide Gap (EWG) give the best hook sets. EWG hooks have more space between the shank and the point of the hook than your standard hooks. These style of hooks are great for rigging soft plastics for Texas rig or any other weedless rig you choose to use.

Bass hook sizes typically range from 1/0 - 6/0. I have the 4/0 hook size to be a good middle ground and will allow you catch most bass. However, I consider it good practice to include a few of the smaller size hooks as well.

Remember you can catch a large fish on a smaller hook, but you won’t always be able to catch smaller fish on larger hooks. This really comes down to the area you will be fishing and the size fish you are targeting.


Line

When it comes to picking line, the answers can be both simple and complicated at the same time. Basically, it depends on a lot of factors including whether you will be using a spinning reel or a baitcaster; where you will be fishing; and the size of fish you plan to target.

Size

For picking a line size there are some general rules you can follow. If you plan to use a spinning rod, you should pick a monofilament or fluorocarbon line size in the 6 - 12lb test range. Any heavier than this and it can affect the performance of the reel.

Spinning rods are designed to throw lighter tackle, so heavier line tends to be overkill. However, with braid line, you can go in a range between 10 and 30-pound test.

If you plan to use a baitcasting reel, you can cast heavier line since baitcasting reels are designed with casting heavier baits in mind. For monofilament and fluorocarbon pick a line size in the 10 - 25-pound test range, and for braid 30 - 80-pound test will work just fine.

Braid

Braided line has become more popular in the last decade or so. As the name implies, its multiple filament strands braided and then fused together. Unlike monofilament, it has virtually no stretch and is incredibly strong. However, though, braided line is easier for fish to see.

One tactic experienced bass anglers deploy is to use braid line for their main line and tie a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader on. Making it harder the fish to see the line. One distinct advantage to using braided line is the ability to use much heavier line than your rod would normally allow. This makes fishing in dense vegetation and

This makes fishing in dense vegetation and cover possible because you are more likely to avoid line breaks when you get a snag.

Monofilament

Monofilament (mono) line is stretchy and tends to float. However, because of the stretch, you are more likely to break off a lure. This is due to it being more prone to abrasions from rocks and logs.

Because mono floats it is a good choice for top water lures and baits such as poppers and frogs. Monofilament also tends to be a good line choice for beginners as there is no learning curve with it and it's the cheapest of all the line types.

Fluorocarbon

Fluorocarbon is very popular line type today. It’s nearly invisible making a great line choice for targeting fish that rely on eyesight. It doesn’t stretch as much as mono but does stretch more than braid.

Also, fluorocarbon line tends to sink. Making it ideal for reaction baits or soft plastics but not good for top water lures as it will ruin the action.


Bass Fishing Baits:

The first thing you need to know about picking baits for Bass is they are a predatory fish. Most bass are ambush predators and will strike quickly. Bass tend to take cover in aquatic vegetation, under logs and manmade structures, waiting for the opportunity to ambush unsuspecting prey.

Bass are also opportunistic feeders and will pretty much eat whatever they can fit into their mouths. This includes other fish, crayfish, any number of insects, small snakes, frogs, and even mice.

Natural Bass Baits

Naturally occurring baits work for many fish, including bass. These baits tend to be more trusted than artificial ones. However as stated above bass are opportunistic feeders and will generally strike most baits. Bass tend to be more trusting than trout when it comes to food. But if artificial baits aren’t working for you, try digging up some natural baits and giving those a shot.

Minnows

Everyone knows that in the aquatic world, minnows are at the bottom of the food chain. They are pretty much consumed by every other fish including pike, trout, crappie, bluegill, and of course bass. Minnows can be picked up from any bait store. However, if you want to save yourself some money you can easily catch large numbers in a regular fishing net or by seining.

Minnows are typically found in shallow water close to shore. Be sure to have some kind of container filled with water to place your bait into to keep them alive. Remember there is no substitute for live bait.

Fishing Minnows is quite simple. Hook the fish through both lips starting with the bottom lip and attach a bobber roughly 18” up the line. This technique works best in spring when a lot of fish are in the shallows. Minnows should be used on a cast and retrieve method as it gives the most natural appearance.

Shad

If minnows are the best bait fish to catch from the shore than shad are one of the best baits to catch in open water. Shad are better for catching larger fish that tend to roam open water.

The best way to get fresh shad is to throw out a casting net. However be sure to check your state's fishing regulations first.

To fish shad, drift fish them. Hook the shad or a 2/0 - 4/0 hook with an 18” leader attached to a barrel swivel and place a 1/2oz - 1oz egg sinker on your main line. Fish this rig just above the bottom.

Another method to fish shad is to cut them up. Fish like Bass and Catfish love shad chunks. Let the bait drag the bottom to really allow the scent to spread.

Crayfish

Very few gamefish will resist the lure of a crayfish. This crustacean is basically freshwater lobster. The scent and action in the crayfishes scurry will attract several game fish. Crayfish pretty much can be found in any stream, creek, or river. Simply lift rocks along the shore until you find them. You can use a container or your hand if you’re cautious to trap them.

Crayfish traps can also be purchased and baited with bread or meat. Chicken necks tend to work well for these traps. If possible leave the traps overnight and you should arrive back the next morning to find a great source of bait in your trap.

To fish, crayfish piece them through the tail and cast them to cover such as rock piles, docks, eddies, and drop offs.

Hellgramites

Hellgrammites are the larval form of the Dobsonfly and a fish dietary staple. They are typically found in rocky rivers and streams. Seining is by far the best method for catching these guys, but they can be bought from bait shops, although they are pretty expensive. It is best to catch your own if you’re looking to not spend a lot of money on live bait. You can use the smaller ones you catch for trout and panfish.

Keep larger hellgrammites for largemouth and smallmouth bait. To fish Hellgrammites effectively thread a small hook through the collar of the insects back and out. Then let the insect drift naturally. If you are in shallow water feel free to use a bobber.

Pan Fish

As mentioned previously bass will eat smaller fish, not just minnows or shad. Bass will eat all manner of fish including crappie, perch, and bluegill. A lot of Bass anglers choose to forgo using these fish as live bait but you certainly can and many people have done so successfully.

To fish panfish as live bait, simply hook them through the back and cast them. Wait for a few moments and more than likely a bass will take your bait.


Bass Lures

While I tend to stand by the motto that nothing works better than natural bait, there are plenty of professional bass anglers that have caught plenty of bass on various artificial baits. Artificial baits tend to be more related to bass fishing than any other fish. There are a great number of lures you can try. However, to keep it simple I am only going to go over a few select styles. As I said you don’t need a lot to fish for bass.

Crankbaits

Crankbait Types - Get Cranking
Source: Fix.com Blog

Crankbaits can be fished from the shore or from a boat. Any fish that routinely eats other fish can be targeted with a crankbait. Cast a crankbait out into a body of water and more than likely you’ll end up with a fish on your line. Crankbaits are a cast and retrieve style of lure and are very reactionary. Bass tend to strike these lures because it is enticing and it will drive them crazy.

 

In general, there are four categories of crankbaits, Square bills, shallow divers, medium dives, and deep divers. Square bills and shallow divers should be fished in shallow water and are best fished around sunken logs, docks, and rocky areas. To start out pick up a square bill or shallow diving crankbait and a deep diving crankbait.

Try to pick natural colors that resemble baitfish, but don’t put too much worry on it as bass do not particularly care about color. Ideally, you should have at least 2 colors for each style of crankbait. But one each will get you started. Crankbaits should be fished without regard to getting it hooked into an object. Because crankbaits are retrieved at decent speeds when they bump an object the body usually takes the hit and deflects off the object.

When retrieving your crankbait do not just reel straight in. Try to vary your retrieve by bouncing the lure off various objects. When you hit an object with a crankbait it is best to stop retrieving and wait a few seconds to allow the lure to float. This will draw bass to that area, believing your crankbait is easy prey. If bass are already in the area when the lure deflects off an object, bass will often strike the moment the lure changes direction.

SpinnerBaits

Spinnerbaits tend to be harder to use than crankbaits, but they are a great year-round lure that can produce some awesome results. However, it takes experience to know when a fish has actually bit into your hook and not one of the spinners blades.

Spinnerbaits are another lure that is designed to be cast and retrieved. Typically retrieve speed ranges from a slow speed to a medium speed. Depending on the speed of the retrieve the spinnerbait will travel through various depths of the water column.

The best place to fish a spinnerbait is just below the surface. This creates a wake in the water than imitates baitfish actively feeding. When you feel a bass strike your lure, you need to set the hook hard because they will spit out the lure the minute they realize it is not a baitfish.

Soft Plastics

It is quite possible that more bass have been caught on soft plastics more than any other style of lure. Soft plastics come in a variety of shapes and sizes. From straight tail worms to creature baits there is no shortage of options. Most soft plastics do an excellent job of imitating natural food.

Soft plastics are great for beginners because they can be easily fished using a Texas rig. The Texas rig is virtually weedless. This means that the lure will not get stuck when fishing sunken logs or other types of structure.

TopWater

Topwater baits will not always catch the most fish but they sure are exciting. If you have ever done any fly fishing you know how exciting it can be to watch a fish strike your bait. Topwater baits are designed to target hungry, active fish. These baits will pop and make erratic movements throughout the water.

Poppers and frogs are two type of topwater baits. Poppers are made to be “popped” so to speak on top of the water. They are meant to be retrieved while popping them every few seconds. This imitates an injured or dying fish. An easy meal for a hungry bass. Frogs, on the other hand, can be fished in even the densest of cover or in open water.


Finding Bass:

Catching Summer Bass: Fishing in Reservoirs
Source: Fix.com Blog

Fishing for Bass in the Summer is a lot of fun. During the Summer months, fish become more active and they feed more. Bass also tend to become more complacent and thus more predictable. Bass, like most animals, need a few key elements to survive. They need food, shelter, and oxygen. Knowing their needs can help narrow down sections of a body of water to where the fish are.

 

If you are a beginner the best place to start looking for bass is small ponds. Large lakes and rivers can be quite difficult to learn at first so it is best to stick with small ponds. While the fish you catch in a pond won’t be as large as some you could catch in a lake, the pond will allow you to really grasp the basics. Experience is the best teacher.

Summer is a wonderful time to be a Bass. During the summer, various baitfish will be spawning. Shad tend to spawn a few weeks after Bass finish spawning. During the middle of summer, bream and bluegill will begin spawning. During this time Bass will gorge themselves on these various baitfish.


Find Bass In The Water Column

To find Bass in the water column you only need know the time of day and the time of year. Most of the summer Bass will be in the middle of the water column in favor of cooler more oxygenated water. During the early morning hours, around dusk, or on cloudy days in summer, Bass will rise to the top of the water column to feed.

If you are fishing on a lake, either natural or man-made, look for areas of vegetation. This is most often where Bass will hang out. Bass favor vegetation because it provides more oxygen, shade from the heat of the day, and cover to ambush prey. Bass tend to hang out along clear cut lines of vegetation and will use this as a feeding channel.


Bass Fishing Rigs:

        There are a number of bass fishing rigs you can use to catch bass in any condition and in any water. If you are a beginner there are only a few rigs you really need to know to get started catching fish right away.

Texas Rig

        The Texas rig is one of the most basic rigs you can use when fishing for Bass. It is also one of the most useful since you can fish it weedless for fishing in thick cover without getting snags.

        To begin setting up the Texas rig slide either a lead or tungsten bullet weight onto the end of your line. I tend to prefer tungsten for its low profile. Then tie on a 3/0 offset worm hook. The bullet weight will create a sliding motion that fish will go crazy for.

        Next, you will need to bait your hook with any soft plastic of your choice. Worms tend to work best, but you can feel free to use your preference. To Texas rig, a soft plastic, take the tip of the hook and insert into the middle of the tip of the soft plastic.

Work the hook through the soft plastic coming out about a ¼” from the tip of the bait. Then safely pull the hook through the plastic until just the eye is resting inside the tip. Turn the hook 180 degrees so that the point is facing the plastic and decide where the hook should go back in.

Compress the bait and insert the hook at the predetermined location. This ensures that rig is weedless and will not snag when fishing thick or heavy cover.

How to Texas rig a plastic
Source: Fix.com Blog

Carolina Rig

        The Carolina rig is similar to the Texas rig in that it is also designed to be a weedless soft plastic rig. The Carolina rig works with egg sinkers, but you can use bullet sinkers. The choice is yours. Egg sinkers allow the rig to pass through cover much easier.

        The Carolina rig is composed of 4 parts. The sinker, a bead, a swivel, and weedless hook setup attached to a leader.

        To begin setting up the Carolina rig, slide your sinker onto your main line. After your sinker is on, slide on a bead. Beads are designed to protect your knots from sliding sinkers. After you have your sinker and bead attached to your main line, attach the swivel. This 3 piece setup is what makes this rig the Carolina Rig. After that, you simply need to tie on a leader and rig up your soft plastic in a weedless fashion.

        Creature baits such as Crayfish work great with this rig as it is designed to hold your bait near the bottom. This rig works best in open water but can be fished in cover as well. The great thing about this rig is that it’s fairly simple and allows you to cover a lot of water very quickly. If there are hungry bass on the bottom, this rig will find them.

Conclusion:

Bass fishing can seem very intimidating at first, especially with all of the information and various opinions on the subject. The hardest part of fishing for any species is figuring out what works for you and what doesn't. Some people are excellent at fishing crankbaits and some have better luck using natural baits. The key in all of this is to get out on the water and have fun.

If you found this guide helpful please consider sharing it on with all of your friends and get them fishing too! Got a tip or piece of advice I missed? Drop it down in the comments and let's get this conversation going.

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