Knowing where to bass fish takes time and experience. It takes understanding what a bass is going to do based on seasonal factors. But it also takes knowing the types of places bass like to get and why they get there.
To know where to bass fish, you need to understand there are essentially six pivotal things to the locations bass frequent on a given body of water that include the following:
- types of fisheries - lakes, rivers, ponds, streams and tidal waters.
- seasons- the time of year and water temp. can help you predict where bass will be
- structure- the terrain of the fishery’s bottom is often more important than what’s on it
- cover- Can a bass ambush his prey and does his prey have a reason to be there
- forage - no bait often means no bass
- environmental influences - wind, rising water, receding water, tidal influences, etc.
Types of fisheries
Bass relate to their environment and adapt. If their environment is constantly got current, they become very efficient at feeding in current and will use objects in their environment to ambush food. If they are living in a large ecosystem, they will become very adept at intersecting their food supply in optimal feeding locations.
River fishing is very different than lake and pond fishing. The bass are completely current oriented, and they orientate themselves along current breaks and faces that disorient their prey. So playing the current has to be part of your strategy when searching for bass.
Lake fishing is more about figuring out the areas that are related to the season. In the winter, bass will congregate on main lake features like bluffs, flats, river channels, humps and other large areas in deep water. As you move into the spring, bass will move into shallow protected areas away from current and boat traffic to spawn and protect their fry when they hatch. Then they will group up away from the banks feeding on forage until they baitfish move back shallow again in the fall. The bass will wander up the creeks in the fall looking for bait to fatten up for what could be a long winter and slower metabolism.
Pond fishing to us is about finding the cover or presentation that the fish react to the best. In most ponds, there are limited options although ponds can vary in size from 1/4 acre up to 100 acres. After that we consider them more like small natural lakes. But you can really hone your skills with your lures in a pond. You have a captive audience to which to practice on. So work on identifying the irregularities in the terrain, forms of isolated cover like grass patches, brush piles, laydown logs or big rocks. Just a change in bottom composition can attract bass.
Stream fishing takes me back to my roots. I tell people it’s how I learned to bass fish at a young age. I loved wading the ozark streams like Piney, Kings, Illinois Bayou, Crooked Creek and others as a high school and college angler. Small streams can offer the best of all worlds. You can learn how bass relate to current, fish the deeper pools like small ponds and lakes and stay cool on a hot summer day. I would downsize my baits to match the local forage and day in and day out a tube on a jighead was hard to beat for smallmouth, spotted and largemouth bass alike.
Tidal fisheries are part lake and part river but the bigger factor is that their water levels fluctuate several feet every day. There is current generated by the tides coming and going and there are periods of no current. There are periods of low water and periods of high water. Most anglers will tell you the best fishing is on the incoming or outgoing tide because the current makes for opportune feeding conditions for the bass. Targetting funnel areas, or areas where the current is funneled through a small opening can be prime targets for bass. But other similar areas to those found on lakes and rivers work too under the right water levels, which often requires a lot of trial and error.
Seasons affect bass fishing
Where to fish is probably most affected by the time of year. If the water is warm the bass are more active and apt to chase baits. If the water is cold, they will be sluggish, suspending and not really in a mood to run their food down. You can time some good fishing by playing off those transitions between seasons.
Great places to look for bass on structure
(click to learn how to catch bass in these places)
In the winter I spend time look for bass on deep main lake flats and channel swing banks that offer deep water and place for a bass to slide up easily and feed and then slide back off. I also like steep faces on river channel ledges. Same thing. I fish up on top slowly and then fish out off the break with suspending baits like jerkbaits, swimbaits, umbrella rigs, etc.
That’s not the only place bass get, but it’s a good place to look.
One place I try to avoid in really cold winter is muddy, current-ripping areas. Cold, moving, muddy water might be the most miserable conditions to try to catch a bass. So I avoid them if at all possible.
As the water just starts warming in the spring, I start looking at those channel swing areas. I will fish them with football jigs and casting jigs as well as jerkbaits and crankbaits. As the water warms up, I will start looking for bass on points, both secondary and main lake points heading into potential spawning bays.
As it gets into the spawn. I’m looking for those northern and western banks that are getting sun and warm southern winds early and often. I’m looking for protected pockets with lots of sun with gravel and sandy areas where a bass could make a bed. When we get into the spawn. I’m targeting bass in those areas whether I can see them or not with soft plastics mostly. Shaky heads, soft stickbaits, jigs and Texas rigged plastics.
As the spawn ends and the bass go into post spawn, I first target bass shallow early with topwaters and spinnerbaits and swimbaits preying on not only their instinct to protect shallow fry but also the shad spawn that is usually going on this time of year.
Then as it gets past that period of post spawn, I start looking for bass grouping up offshore on river ledges, points, humps and other places where bass congregate. I love to find them with a deep diving crankbait this time of they year if I can but will settle for a football jig, big spoon or big plastic worm on a Texas rig.
Bass will be deeper than in the spring but deep is relative. Current can bring the bass shallower. Forage can bring the bass shallower. But for the most part we’re looking for schools of bass out deep. Some lakes the bass will suspend, some lakes they will find sweet spots on river channel ledges. Some lakes they will be offshore on humps. And other lakes they will bury up in the grass.
When there is little current flow on a river system or the water gets up above 80 degrees, bass will seek out cooler water out deep or more oxygenated water shallow. Shaded areas may be 4-10 degrees cooler and be great places for bass to ambush prey. Shallow water will have more oxygen content but higher water temperatures. So you often will seek bass out adjacent to deeper areas when fishing shallow in the summer. Available cover and forage will put the bass shallow all summer on some fisheries.
Baitfish will move out of their deep water summer locations and run up into creek arms and shallow bays to feed and the bass will follow them into these areas. On many lakes you will see schools of bass “busting” shad on the surface, a tell-tale sign of active bass in an area. Look for big flats, with isolated cover, grass covered flats leading into larger bays, points and backs of pockets and creek arms this time of year. Often a topwater, spinnerbait, and crankbait are great choices to find active bass fast.
(click to learn more about each type of cover)
Structure and Cover
Folks often call structure cover and cover structure when talking bass fishing. But they are not the same thing. Structure is the terrain of the fishery. A point of land running under the water, an island or hump of land under the surface, or a big shallow flat in a pocket off the main lake. Those are all terrain changes under the surface and refer to the structure of the lake or river.
Cover on the other hand refers to what essentially is “covering” that structure that the bass can hide in. Maybe it’s riprap rock on a point. Maybe it’s grass on a big flat. Maybe it’s standing timber on a point or brush piles on a hump. All of those things are the cover on the structure that forage relates to and hides in and that bass can use as ambush spots to feed.
Some days there are patterns in the cover, especially with cover like grass. Some days the bass are in the old dead grass. Some days are where two or more different types of grass are mixed. Some days they are on the edges of the grass and some days the bass are buried up underneath the grass.
In dissecting cover, professional anglers will tell you that structure is often more important than the cover. Greg Hackney is a master when it comes to fishing grass and he constantly reminds us that it is the ditches, the composition of the bottom, and the changes of the terrain under and around the grass that put the bass in small key areas, rather than the grass itself.
Using electronics, you can see how the terrain runs under the surface and also identify cover on the terrain that bass will hold on. So it pays to learn your electronics and get good with them if you’re fortunate to have good units and a boat to fish out of. You can see where a creek or river channel turns and swings in next to a bank and then away again.
If not, you can often understand the terrain and cover by using bass fishing lures that transmit what is under the surface back to the angler. A perfect example is a carolina rigged plastic. That big weight drags on the bottom and you can learn to tell if it is in grass, if it is in a real rocky bottom or a small gravel bottom and how the depth changes as you retrieve your lure back to the boat.
Then finally a great way to learn the terrain and also find cover on a lake is by looking at a good map. Map study can be an important tool in bass fishing.
Knowing how to attack various forms of cover can make you a better bass angler. Here are several pieces on various forms of cover that give you more detail on where to catch bass in those places:
Forage means bass
If the food is there, likely so will some bass. If there is no food there, you also won’t expect many bass to be there either. Bass don’t really like to hang out for fun in places where they can’t easily find their next meal unless it’s maybe the dead of winter. Even then they will move to areas that make feeding easier.
So when I’m fishing an area I try to find signs of bait. Maybe it’s the sound of bluegills popping the underside of matted grass, or maybe it’s bait flicking the surface, or birds diving in the area. Maybe I see clouds of bait on my electronics, or feel baitfish ticking the blades of my spinnerbait.
If bait is showing itself in an area, I will usually stay longer and fish there a while. If I fish and see no sign of anything to eat, I lose my confidence quickly in the area being a good fish holding area.
Environmental changes can position bass
Weather impacts bass fishing. No doubt about it. But it’s not always bad. In fact sometimes, weather related events are what I look forward to all year. Warming trends after a long cold winter. A big flood in the spring that puts lots of shallow cover in the water to give me good targets for big bass. Lots of spring rains bring current in the summer that makes my crankbait seem like a birthday cake to a bass.
The key is to understand how weather affects bass and use it to your advantage. One of the elements that is probably the most overlooked as an ally is wind. Yes fishing in the wind has it’s frustrations, namely backlashes, wind knots, errant casts, more snags, lack of boat control, mounted frustration, stirred up water, backing up current, etc.
Wind, however, has many advantages too. The primary ones for knowing where to bass fish are bait position and break up of the bass’s vision. Wind blown banks and points in the spring and fall can be exceptionally productive. This may largely be due to the other advantage of wind in that the profile of your lure is broken up in the wind. In other words, the bass doesn’t get “as good a look” at your lure to be able to tell it’s fake. Afterall we’re trying to pass off metal and plastic as something alive in the water. So anything that disrupts that silhouette to the bass is an advantage.
So I don’t run away from wind blown banks. When I fished Beaver and Table Rock Lakes, highland, clearwater, Ozark impoundments, I would long for overcast windy days where I could put down a drop shot and a shaky head and pick up a spinnerbait and crankbait and just run a lot of water looking for bass actively feeding in those windy zones.