Learning About Largemouth

By Mike Allen, photographs by David Stonner | June 15, 2015
From Missouri Conservationist: Jul 2015

Crankbaits, jerkbaits, downbaits, finesse rigs, spoons, electronics, GPS — all tools required to catch largemouth bass, right? Maybe if you’re a pro. While these lures and tools can help professional tournament anglers catch a winning stringer, they’re not required for the average angler to have a great day fishing for largemouth. When it comes down to it, you can catch a limit of largemouth with just a few baits, lures, and gear.

That’s because largemouth bass are actually fairly easy to catch if you have the right amount of information and proper equipment and setup. They are large-sized fish, great fighters, and they can be caught during all seasons and times of day. Knowing a little about the basic ways to fish for largemouth bass will lead to successful fishing trips for many years.

They’ll Eat Just About Anything

A largemouth bass will eat just about anything that will fit in its mouth. Its diet can consist of baitfish such as shad, minnows, smaller sunfish, and other small fishes (including other largemouth bass). Largemouth will also eat crayfish, earthworms, and other invertebrates, salamanders, frogs, small rodents and birds that mistakenly enter the water, and even snakes. Most lures are made to mimic one or more of these items, but they typically mimic largemouth’s main food sources like baitfish, crayfish, worms, and insects. Knowing the main food sources found where you fish is key to any successful largemouth bass fishing trip.

Largemouth bass are generally lie-in-wait predators. They tend to hide near structures and wait for a meal to swim past. Then they move into position and use their mouth and gills to “inhale” the food. This is known as the “strike,” and it is one of the reasons many people enjoy fishing for largemouth. This action is normally very intense and will send a quick, powerful jerk through your line and rod. Largemouth bass are also known to become very active when large schools of baitfish swim near them. Schools of largemouth bass will surround the school of baitfish, continually darting in to feed on anything in the way. This activity is normally brief, but if your timing is right, you can catch many largemouth bass in a short time. These can be some of the most exciting moments during a fishing trip.

They Prefer Standing Water

Another key to a successful fishing trip is knowing where to find largemouth bass. The old adage, “fish where the fish are,” holds true with large­mouth bass. They prefer standing water to a flow­ing stream. Lakes, ponds, backwaters of rivers, or impounded waters will typically contain more largemouth bass than rivers and streams. Most conservation areas throughout the state will have a small impoundment (pond or lake) that has been stocked with different fish. These ponds are great places to start trying to catch largemouth bass. To find them, visit Places to Fish at mdc.mo.gov/node/2478. There you can browse the fishing prospects, fishing report, Find MO Fish app, and the online Missouri Conservation Area Atlas, all of which can help you find your local conservation ponds and lakes.

Look for Structure and Cover

Knowing a body of water has largemouth does not guarantee you will be able to show up, cast your bait, and catch a bass. Every type of fish uses the available habitat in a body of water by staging and feeding in different ways. Largemouth bass are very structure-oriented and will use many types of cover to hold (gather together) and feed. Habi­tat structures such as fallen trees, rock outcrop­pings, logs, and brush piles are very good places to begin fishing. Largemouth bass will use these structures to hide from baitfish and attack when it is close enough to catch. Normally, these struc­tures can be seen extending into the water from the shoreline or sticking out of the water in deeper locations. Using a worm and bobber near these types of structures will usually be very effective at catching good numbers of bass, but be alert while fishing. Bass can easily pull a hook into the struc­ture, causing the hook to come off or hang up.

Aquatic vegetation around the shoreline can also hold bass, but these brushy, weedy areas can be harder to fish. A shoreline angler must be able to cast a lure out away from the vegetation and bring it in close enough for hiding bass to attack. Again, a bass can easily grab the hook and pull it into the vegetation to become snagged. In this case, using a stronger test line will help to pull the hooked fish through the vegetation.

Not all bodies of water will have structures or vegetation to shelter fish, but there are still habitat areas that will hold largemouth bass more often than others. One is the terrain-based habitat structure. These are changes in lake-bottom con­tours that allow fish to hide or move quickly to different areas. They can include drop-offs, creek channels, points, sunken islands, and any change in direction or material of the lake or pond bottom. You can spot most of these structural transitions by observing the shoreline. Look for changes from a flat, muddy shoreline to a steeper, rock shoreline. These transitional areas are some of the best places to find bass because these fish are consistent. If bass are holding in this kind of area one day, they are likely to hold in it another day. Travel around the water body and fish differ­ent locations, structure types, and depths. There may be places where you always find largemouth, but continue to scout other locations in order to avoid over-fishing one area. A good knowledge of the area and its fish locations will allow you to catch fish throughout your trip.

A Little Equipment is All You Need

While there are many different types of equipment and lures you can use to catch largemouth bass, you will need only a few simple items. A well-balanced setup of rod and reel is an essential starting point. Typically, a good bass-fishing rod is strong, light, and sensitive. A 6-foot-long rod with a medium action, which is noted near the handle, will be sufficient to cast many different lures and will be strong enough to handle the big ones.

Choosing a type of reel to mount on the rod is a matter of preference. Starting off with a spinning reel will make fishing a little easier for the novice angler. Two main types of spinning reels are available. Closed-faced spinning reels, which mount on the topside of the rod, require only the push and release of a button at the right time to cast. These reels can be very easy to use, but they can be bulky in small hands. Open-faced spinning reels hang from the underside of the rod and require the angler to hook the line with a finger and open the bail to cast and close the bail before reeling. These reels can be more difficult to use, but they are much lighter and have a smaller gripping surface. Most sporting goods stores will allow customers to test rod-and-reel combinations to find the best fit.

Line selection is the next step in a setup. With a 6-foot, medium-action rod, line size should be 6- to 8-pound test. This size will be strong enough to withstand many catches of good-sized largemouth bass and will be easy to cast with most baits and lures.

Live Baits vs. Lures

Using live bait for largemouth bass is a great way to begin learning about these fish. Live bait, such as night crawlers or minnows, will attract more fish than artificial lures when rigged correctly. Night crawlers are very easy to use and much easier to keep alive than other types of live bait. Slide a night crawler onto a number 4 or 6 Aberdeen-style hook. Feed the hook through the worm from one end, and then leave just a bit of worm dangling off of the end of the point. Add a split-shot sinker to the line about 6 inches from the hook and worm. Using a bobber allows an angler to identify a fish bite, but don’t just watch the bobber — feel the fishing rod. Notice what the bobber does and then how the fishing rod feels when the bobber moves. The amount of line between the sinker and the bobber will depend greatly on the area. Using minnows is also a great way to catch largemouth bass. Rig them similar to night crawlers, but hook the minnow just under the dorsal fin or hook under the jaw and through the nostril area.

While live bait can be very effective for largemouth bass, it does have a few downfalls. One of the main troubles with live bait is keeping it alive. This requires added equipment and space, can be messy, and can also limit the areas that can be fished. Live bait is also notorious for being lost on the cast or taken from the hook by a fish. It can also be tricky to target largemouth bass with live bait, such as night crawlers, because many bluegill and other species of fish will be attracted to it as well.

Artificial lures can be useful in many areas, and a majority of largemouth bass anglers prefer them. As noted before, most lures are built to imitate baitfish and other food sources, but they can also imitate injured and dying baitfish, which are much easier for bass to feed upon. Several other lures can be effective in most areas. Spinner-type baits have metal blades that spin to create vibration and flash. Crankbaits are made of plastic or wood and usually have a “bill” on the front to dive into deeper water and vibrate. Jigs have a weighted head and a skirt made of marabou, bucktail, or soft plastic, which adds movement. Grubs and worms made of soft plastic are equipped with a tail that vibrates when the lure is moved. Having a tackle box with a few of each of these lures will usually improve the chances of catching largemouth bass in many different bodies of water.

For the beginner, there is no reason to spend lots of money buying fancy equipment. A hand-me-down or used rod-and-reel combination is perfectly acceptable. Hooks, sinkers, bobbers, night crawlers, minnows, stringers, and other small accessories can be found at a number of convenience stores or grocery stores on an impromptu fishing trip. Go find some water and some worms, and you’ll be catching largemouth bass in no time.

Love Me Some Largemouth

Keep or release? The tournament pros would tell you to release any largemouth you catch. But keeping largemouth, in accordance with regulations, also aids in keeping the fishery in that body of water healthy. A water body with a good balance of sport fishes (such as largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and catfish) and baitfish will consistently produce good numbers and sizes of each. Be sure to check the regulations each time you take a fishing trip, and feel free to bring home your limit of largemouth.

Some people (maybe the same ones who release all they catch) believe largemouth are not tasty. This view, in my experience, is not the case. Largemouth bass fillets are a flaky, white meat similar to walleye, and their flavor is richer than other sunfish like crappie and bluegill. If you enjoy eating these types of fish, you will find largemouth bass appealing. Largemouth bass can be prepared in the same ways as most other lean, white-fleshed fish. My preferred method is to roll the fillets in a mixture of cornmeal, flour, and spices to taste, then deep fry in oil or shortening at 350 to 400 F. This is a great way to enjoy largemouth bass. Keeping the oil closer to 400 F is best, due to the thickness of most fillets. If the temperature drops much below 350 F, the meat will absorb more of the oil and become soggy. Next time you get a craving for fish, catch some largemouth bass and try them for dinner. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how great it is!

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This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler