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Bass Fishing: The Ultimate Guide

A Guide to Getting Started Bass Fishing: History, types, seasons, where to fish for bass, tackles & lures and competitions.

Bass are the second-most sought after fish species in North America The fishing game lures fishermen of all ages and experience levels. As one of the most popular recreational fishing sports in the United States, it’s also found popularity across the globe, in countries like Japan and South Africa.

Bass fishing is considered the number one freshwater sport in the United States and it’s become a booming industry.So what’s the appeal? For one, bass are easy to find, no matter where you live. Bass are also known for their tenacity, and many anglers love the thrill of fighting for these aggressive fish. Finally, this catch and release fishing sport is relatively easy to learn, no matter your age or experience level.

The History of Bass Fishing

Referring to bass fishing as an All-American sport isn’t too far off. This sport evolved on its own, cut off from the influence of angling techniques and developments in other countries. In the 1800s, the working class launched the sport through pole fishing using live bait, while upper class fishermen limited themselves to salmon and trout fishing with fly rods. By the mid-19th century, the first artificial lure for bass was created. While these lures were amended and changed throughout the latter half of the century, it wasn’t until nearly a hundred years later that the plastic worm revolutionized the sport. While production of the plastic worm commenced in 1949, it wasn’t until the 1960s that its use became widespread amongst fishermen.

Today,modern bass fishing has become a multibillion dollar industry in its own right. Angling for this North American gamefish is one of the most popular activities for both the avid and novice fisherman.

Types of Bass

Known colloquially as black bass, there are many specifies considered gamefish in North America. These include smallmouth and largemouth bass, Kentucky bass, spotted bass, Guadalupe bass, and many more.

Nomenclature can get confusing, however; there are many fish species referred to as bass around the globe, but these are not considered to be a part of the black bass species. Examples include the rock bass, American striped bass, Papuan black bass, speckled peacock bass, and British sea bass.

You’ll often hear of two types of bass: smallmouth and largemouth. While the techniques and baits tend to be the same, there are some distinctive differences between the two. The most obvious comes in the differences between the mouth and jaw. The largemouth bass’s jaw extends beyond its eyes, whereas a smallmouth bass’s jaw stops at the eye midpoint.

There’s also a key difference in coloring; smallmouth bass tend to have a brown back, and brown head that may exhibit light blues and greens. The smallmouth has yellow/brown sides that feature bars running from the dorsal fin the belly, and a silver or white bottom. In contrast, a largemouth bass is dark green, with light green sides that feature a black bar running from gill to tail, with a white or yellow bottom.

Bass Fishing Season

One of the reasons for bass fishing’s continuing popularity is its year-round availability. Bass are abundant, and anglers can cast for these fish in a variety of seasons and conditions. However, there are seasons that may be more conducive to a good catch depending on your location and weather.


During the spring season, bass go through three stages in their lifecycle: pre-spawn, spawning, and post-spawn.

During the pre-spawn phase, bass begin to prepare for the spawning season by feeding heavily on high-protein diets. During this time, bass are more likely to seek crawfish, so lures that mimic the appearance of this species are your best bet.

Once spawning season begins, bass become defensive around their nests, and choosing bait that mimics threatening species, including turtles, crawfish, and salamanders will entice a bit. It’s also important to remember that spawning season can vary by location. While lower parts of the United States see bass begin their spawning season in March, as you move up the country, the season gets pushed back. In the northernmost states of the country , bass don’t begin to spawn until late May.

During the post-spawn season, female bass leave for deeper waters while males stay to protect the nest. Topwater baits are best for catching male bass, while female bass can be found in the warmer portions of deeper water.

Bass spawning seasons

As the water heats during the summer, bass seek out cooler temperatures, which they usually find by way of ledges, deep grass lines and points, or within creek channels. During the summer, bass forage for shad, bluegill, and crawfish. Using lures that mimic these species can be a lucrative effort.


When fall comes, the water begins to cool and nutrient buildup causes shad to migrate towards incoming water. Set up your line near larger feeder creeks during these months and you’re sure to see experience plenty of bite as bass prepare to fatten up before the winter. Use heavier baits that fall through and around shad, and aim for slow falling movement.


The winter months may mean slim pickings for anglers, as feeding opportunities for bass get slimmer. A bass’s metabolism slows down in cold water, meaning they don’t need to feed quite as often. This makes catching them much tougher than any other time of the year, and generally the only way to be successful is with large bait and slow retrieve.

Finding Your Bass

As you set out on your fishing journey , it’s important to consider where you’ll focus your efforts. There are many areas in which anglers can snag that prize bass, and the first step is locating areas of sharp contour change. Generally, you’ll find points are a safe bet. Points refer to extended sections of shallow water that jut out into deeper water. You can generally find points at the mouths of coves, in creeks, or in the main lake. Once you find a point,it’s important to focus your efforts on areas of the space that provide coverage; largemouth bass love to hide, and smallmouth bass tend to surround these covered areas.


Many anglers cite weeds as their best coverage bet for bass. As weeds produce oxygen, they increase the life potential in water. However, weeds can make fishing a more arduous process, and present the need for specialized lures and tackle. As you scout the banks for weeds, look for those that are green and have a defined structure; the best weed options include hyacinths, lily pads, Hydrilla, green mosses, and reeds.


Rocks aren’t the best bet for cover, but bass tend to relate to the nutrients they provide. When bass fishing, keep your eye out for smaller rocks, like gravel, as it attracts baitfish and can be used as a spawning surface for certain smallmouth bass species.


Bass find that wood can be an excellent cover, and may come in the form of stumps, brush, logs, man-made wooden structures, or standing timber and fallen trees that have become submerged in the water. As wood deteriorates, the brush found in the water can attract a host of baitfish, attracting large quantities of bass. However, the presence of decay can make the bottom layer unproductive fishing for bass; in these circumstances, an angler is better prepared with topwater bait. Many anglers find the edges of docks make perfect casting locations.


You can generally find plenty of bass along channel banks. this refers to the areas in which a river or creek swings to the shore; these banks provide access to both shallow and deep water, and you can generally find bass in these areas year-round, and may find better luck here than in other locations during cold winter months.

Weather can also greatly affect the patterns of bass. On a clear day, the fish will be calm, while cloudy weather with lower pressure may see fish becoming more aggressive. The way the fish behave should influence your lure and retrieval style, so be sure to look at the weather report before heading out.

Bass behavior

Tackles and Lures

When it comes to tackle, bass anglers use both baitcasting and spinning tackle. Anglers generally used baitcasting gear for heavier lines, those that weigh 10 pounds or more. In contrast, spinning tackle is used when practicing wacky rigging or drop shot rigs, along with other finesse-based presentations. Those new to the sport of bass fishing may be easily overwhelmed by the amount of bass lures available to choose from. Today’s anglers are lucky to be able to choose from a variety of different styles that come in a dizzying array of colors and sizes. It’s important, however, to understand when and where each lure is applicable and best used.

Plastic Worms

Far and above the most revolutionizing lure in the sport of bass fishing, plastic worms continue to be a popular choice for anglers of all experience levels—often more popular than even live bait. This type of lure is arguably the most versatile, and with its inexpensive price tag and widespread availability, it’s easy to understand why even the most seasoned of anglers utilize this type of lure. Plastic worms are surprisingly lifelike, and when mouthed by a bass, feel like real food.

While it’s a relatively simple lure to master, fishing with plastic worms is all about patience, as every cast must be retrieved at a slow pace. There are four main rigs used with plastic worms:

The Texas Rig: This rig involves placing a bullet weight on the line above a worm hook. This rig begins with piercing the hook point into the nose of the worm, then poking it out the side by a 90-degree angle. The whole hook is run out the side until you reach the eyelet; as you approach the eyelet, it’s vital you rotate the hook so that the point is facing the body of the worm. So long as the plastic covers the hookpoint, the rig should be weedless and snagless. It presents the worm horizontally across the top if weightless, and horizontally long the bottom with the addition of a bullet sinker. If you’d like to fish vertically, you may use a heavier bullet sinker when flipping, pitching, and punching.

The Drop Shot Rig: This rig presents the worm horizontally but can also be used to fish vertically. The weight is placed at the bottom, and the hook is placed a few inches or even a few feet up the line. This rig uses the weight to keep the bait in place while fishing up and down. To achieve this rig, tie a standard knot to the hook while leaving a long tag end. Take the tag end and run it through the eyelet from the hook point. You can then Texas rig the worm onto the hook. At the bottom of the tag end, a dropshot weight is attached.

The Caroline Rig: With this rig, the worm is separate from the weight, meaning the worm can maintain a more natural freedom of movement horizontally. As the weight is pulled along the bottom, the worm will begin to dart, suspend, and dance behind it. In order to tie the Carolina rig, a bullet or egg sinker is attached to the line, then followed by a brass clacker or bead, finished with a barrel swivel. A hook is then attached to the end of the leader, and the plastic is threaded onto the hook. This wig is reedless, but it allows the plastic worm to fish faster through a large area, like shallow weed beds or an edge.

The Wacky Rig: This rig is used to create a natural profile for bait that sits horizontally in the water, but falls vertically at a steady rate. You can choose to fish this rig weightless, or add ring weights to make it plummet through the water quickly. Tie a hook to the line, fold the worm in half, and feed the hook through the middle of the worm.

Regardless of rig, most plastic worm bites are made as the bait sinks. Slowly lift the rod, tip up, to make the worm appear to swim towards the surface of the water, then lower the tip to let it sink again. You may also find great luck with letting the worm sit at the bottom for a few seconds at a time.


Bass fishing crankbaits come in a variety of shapes, sizes, actions, color, and depth. You must base your lure choice on the water depth you plan to fish, and do so wisely—it can significantly affect your success. Crankbaits may have lips or be lipless, and it’s important to decide which is better suited to your fishing style.

Lipless: Lipless crankbaits are often referred to as vibe cranks, rattlebaits, and traps, and they are generally filled with BBs that make a rattling sound as they’re retrieved. These lures create a nose down placement because of a line tie found on the back of the bait; this lures slender body will vibrate as water passes by. Many anglers find that lipless crankbaits are versatile in shallow and deep water, but they tend to snag more than their lipped counterparts.

Lipped: Crankbaits with lips dive as pulled through the water, and the lip often serves to prevent the hooks from snagging along stumps, weeds, or tree limps. When the lip makes contact with something, it kicks the bait out, helping it avoid the piece of cover. This makes them handy for difficult-to-fish-in covers, like wooden structures, whether natural or manmade.


If you’re looking to cover more water in a shorter amount of time, consider spinnerbaits. These versatile lures can be fished year round in virtually any condition; from the muddiest of banks to the clearest of lakes. These lures resemble the appearance of an open safety pin. Spinnerbaits include a lead head, wire framework, sharp hook, and one or more flashing spinner blades. The hook is also covered by a soft skirt, which may be composed of rubber, plastic, lumaflex, or silicone. Some also add trailer hooks to grab bass that don’t strike the main hook. Spinnerbaits generally come in three designs: short-arm, long-arm, and twinspins.

Spinnerbait lures mimic swimming baitfish, as they flow smoothly through the water, while their vibrant blades flash and vibrate—perfect for drawing the attention of that bass. The most popular spinnerbait lures come in sizes ranging from ¼ ounces and ¾ ounce. The blades on the lure are designed to keep the hook weedless, and their spinning motion and flashing can easily attract bass.

As a general rule, spinnerbait lures are reeled in straight retrieves, but using a well-timed jerk can trigger a bass to make its move.

Topwater Lures

If you’re looking to feel the rush that comes from seeing that prize bass break the surface of the water,consider topwater lures. These lures are designed to help ripple the water’s surface, mimicking the appearance of prey in distress.

It’s important when using topwater lures to avoid retrieving your lure prematurely; bass may miss them on first try when charging from the water’s depths. Most anglers have the best luck in low light conditions, which may mean twilight fishing, early morning casts, or a day spent on the water with overcast skies. It’s also important to consider the wind; it’s much easier for bass to spot a topwater lure on calm days.

Bass Jigs

The final lure to consider is a bass jig, although these are reserved for anglers with a bit more experience under their belts. These are generally used for flipping and pitching and success is based on skill. An angler must have excellent accuracy and a practiced soft entry to be effective with this type of lure.

Jig fishing is all about weight, because you want the jig to sink to the bottom and remain there while dragged along. Many anglers get a bite while the jig is sinking, but it must sink at specific rates in order to trigger a strike. Trailers can significantly enhance the action of the jig and most bass fishermen find them integral to drawing in those big bass.

Color is extremely important, as color visibility under the water can play a large role in whether you get a bite. While red lures are hardly visible in 20-foot depths, green lures are still highly visible in depths of 30 feet.

Bass color visibility

Bass Fishing Competition

Anglers of all ages can enjoy two major bass fishing competitions in the United States, called the Bassmaster Tournament Trail and the Wal-Mart FLW Tour. Both of these are highly popular and nationally televised through sports networks and news media outlets.

Bassmaster Tournament Trail

This tournament trail is organized by the Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society, or B.A.S.S. This fishing membership organization boasts more than half a million members, and its efforts are geared towards the interests of bass fisherman in the United States. In 1967, founder Ray Scott began the society, and in the same year held the first tournament. The first Bassmaster Classic, considered today to be the “Superbowl” of fishing, was staged in 1971 at Lake Mead, Nevada.

Within the Tournament Trail there are 12 events, in which the top 50 anglers in the U.S. compete. The top prize in the Bassmaster’s Classic is $500,000.

The Wal-Mart FLW Tour

This tournament—sponsored by Wal-Mart—is run by Fishing League Worldwide (FLW), the largest tournament fishing organization. Every year, the organization gives anglers the chance to compete for millions of dollars in prize money in five different tournament circuits. The Wal-Mart FLW Tour sees the world’s best bass-fishing anglers in competition for a top prize of $125,000 in each tournament. Those that snag the top prize are also qualified for the end of the season championship, called the Forrest Wood Cup. The prize for the winner of this prestigious title is $1,000,000.

Beyond these two major competitions, there are plenty of tournaments for the avid angler to enjoy across the United States. Competitive bass fishing has even made its way into high school sports. Illinois first categorized competitive bass fishing as a state-sanctioned high school sport in 2009, which includes 22 sectional tournaments across 250 high school teams. There are also collegiate bass fishing circuits in the U.S., which include Bassmaster College Series, FLW College Fishing, and Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing Series.

The popularity of bass fishing competition has spread across the globe; countries such as Australia, South Africa, Italy, Korea, and Japan all host bass fishing tournaments.

Wherever you are in your fishing career, know that there’s plenty of enjoyment and thrills to be gleaned from bass fishing. Keep these tips in mind and make your next cast count.

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