Understanding Bass

Written By: Roger Lee Brown, March 12, 2012
Species: Bass

Understanding Bass

Bass fishing is a sport like many others that when it comes to knowledge and the understanding of the opponent it allows one to become more successful.

You may look at it kind of like deer hunting, the more the hunter understands the scrapes, trails, food areas, water areas, runs, and habitats of the deer the more successful the hunter will become at locating them. The same is true with bass fishing, the more you understand the bass along with the many different circumstances and conditions you run across, the more successful you will be at catching them. So let's talk about a few key factors when it comes to building a better understanding of the bass. The first one we will look at is the survival of the bass. What does a bass require to survive?

In order for a bass to survive it needs three things, food, oxygen and cover. If any one of these three elements are not present in a body of water a bass could not survive, and just by knowing why these three elements are so important for a bass's survival it will already start to make you a more successful angler.

The first element we will talk about is FOOD. Contrary to popular belief, shad are NOT the primary first choice of a bass. Although shad are a very common food for the bass as well as other natural baits, the number one food choice of a bass is a crawfish.

A study was performed several years ago where 100 crawfish and 100 shad were in a tank of water with all species of bass including smallmouths, spots, and largemouths. To the surprise of most, the crawfish were eaten 8 to 2 over the shad.

There are several reasons for this, but the most important one is that a crawfish is an easy prey for a bass to catch, and they are fairly easy for a bass to find. And once again contrary to popular belief, studies show that there are actually more crawfish found in vegetation areas than around rocky areas.

A bass will eat just about anything at any given time such as rats, mice, ducklings, frogs, snakes, salamanders, worms, lizards, grubs, baitfish, insects, leeches, etc. Is it any wonder why all the many different tackle manufacturing companies have so many different shapes and types of artificial baits on the market today?

The next element of the three is OXYGEN. Oxygen is an element that any living creature needs to survive. The main reason an angler should pay attention to oxygen is that a bass requires it to survive. By knowing water oxygen content in various areas an angler will develop a better understanding why a bass acts the way it does under the many different conditions.

When a bass has a limited supply of oxygen, it tends to get more disoriented and much slower or lethargic. The "Key" in understanding the rules of oxygenic water is that the cooler the water, the more oxygen content it provides.

On the other side of the coin, the warmer the water, the less the oxygen content. The more oxygen a bass can get usually during the warmer months, the more active it will be. Usually during the summer when the water temperature hits the 80 degree mark or higher, the oxygen in the water will start to diminish.

How does this relate to bass fishing? Well, a bass will usually do one of two things in a condition such as this. A bass will drop down usually under the thermocline mark to water that is cooler for a larger supply of oxygen, or a bass will head for vegetation areas because of the constant production of oxygen that aquatic plants provide.

This is mostly the case during spring, summer, and early fall. Rivers, creek mouths, deep water areas, vegetation, trees, stumps, logs, power plants and wind blown banks are all examples of areas that provided ample oxygen.

The third element we will talk about is COVER. Cover is an extremely important element to bass for many reasons, and I would like to cover some of the most important ones.

One of these reasons would be for protection. A bass, being known mostly as a "Ambush Fish," will use cover such as vegetation, rocks, stumps, trees, fall-downs, docks, structures, holes, etc.... to dart out after it's prey. A bass really is a lazy-by-nature type of fish and will extend the least amount of energy for the greatest amount of benefit. Bass are also known as a territorial fish and will not travel a great distance to run down prey.

Another reason a bass needs cover is because of its eyes. A bass does not have eyelids like you or I and prolonged exposure to the sun's rays, a bass will eventually go blind. This is God's way of protecting their sight. Take notice next time you see a bass fishing show on television, since you will usually see bass being caught in shaded areas, and in and around cover areas, these are some of the reasons why.

Now, understanding a bit more about cover and why a bass will usually be found around it should help you "Key-In" when it comes to "Blue Bird Skies" (high pressure periods) and "Overcast or Cloudy Days" (low pressure periods).

Now that we’ve explored the three main survival needs of bass, let’s look at a few more key factors to give you a broader knowledge of bass and their senses. Understanding bass and consistently catching them is like a jigsaw puzzle, the more pieces of the puzzle you put together, the more you will see the picture as a whole. "What's that mean?"

Putting it in simple terms, the more you understand the bass, why it does things when it does, where it goes during different seasons, how a bass reacts under certain circumstances, and areas where bass are more likely to be found on different bodies of water will definitely help you when it comes to saving precious fishing time as well as being a much more productive angler.

To start with we will cover just how important the senses of a bass really are and try to gain a better picture of why bass act certain ways by the use of their senses.

A bass has a very acute sense of vision and can see very well in just about any watercolor condition as well as being able to see at night. How well can a bass see at night? For example, think about a full moon night when it is so light you can almost read a newspaper outside, a bass can see that good on the darkest of nights. How is this possible?

The eyes of a bass have rods and cones, which naturally adjust under different, light conditions. The cones and rods will retract and extend making a natural adjustment for their vision. Another factor is that a bass doesn't have eyelids like you or I and because of a bass not having eyelids overlong exposure to the suns rays will cause a bass eventually to develop cataracts and go blind. A bass can see in most all water colors, clear, semi-stained, stained, murky, and even muddy colors, but when the vision of a bass is restricted the other senses will take over.

A bass's hearing and feeling are synonymous with each other, in other words, I guess you might say that they hear and feel at the same time. Unlike you or I where we may hold a conversation with another person understanding what is being said, a bass hears and feels the vibration from the different sounds and movements in the water.

Now, different sounds will cause different pitches that send vibrations. A bass will get familiar with certain sounds such as pitches and vibrations made from natural forage, as well being able to feel any displacement of water within a close proximity caused by even the slightest movement.

I'll give you an example: Let's take a "Carolina Rig" for instance. The Carolina Rig has several different purposes as far as pattern and technique goes but the most crucial part of this rig is the sound! The ticker that's on the rig makes noise and vibration.

When a crawfish moves in the water it will cause a clicking sound from the cartilage in its tail. This clicking sound sends a vibration through the water and alerts a bass that a natural food source is in the area. The bass moves closer to this sound, and then if the presentation of the bait is just right you can probably catch the bass.

A bass has a natural radar system built within it and can zero in on just about any movement or sound made within the water. Now, when you work a Carolina Rig in the water, the slightest movement creates noise as a result of the glass & brass beads, BB chambers, etc. This sound is designed to replicate the movement and sound of a natural live crawfish and will alert a bass that natural forage is in its area.

As far as noise baits such as Rat-L-Traps, Cordell Spots, Rattled Spinnerbaits and others go, sound travels further in the water than a displacement of water caused by a bait without any sound added to it. The reason noise baits work so well is that a bass can hear them at greater distances and travel further to investigate the sounds made by these types of baits. Once bass are close enough to the bait, the sight and taste senses take precedence over the senses of hearing or feeling.

A bass has taste buds outside its mouth as well as inside of it. Now just think a minute that means that a bass can taste an object before it even gets in its mouth. The taste and smell of a bass are once again synonymous with each other. A bass smells and tastes at the same time. Now, how acute is a bass's sense of taste and or smell?

A few years back a study was conducted of the taste and smell of a bass in a tank of 100 gallons of water. In this study the bass was found to be able to taste 1/200th of a drop of a substance in the 100 gallon water tank. What an amazing sense of taste and smell!

What does this have to do with bass? If you want to be a successful angler it means a great deal. Now let's put this in angling terms. If a bass can scent a bait that is not a pleasing or acceptable, if it does put it in its mouth, it will spit it right back out within 1 to 3 seconds, but if the bass accepts the taste or smell and puts it in it's mouth it will hold it for up to 30 seconds before spitting it out.

To sum up about taste and smell, here are a few hints to help you understand why you may be getting those quick hits and not catching any fish. For of all, always wash your hands before you go fishing. Fill up your boat with gas and oil the night before you go fishing. In terms of bait scents use natural forage formulas or a formula that has been tested and proven to work. Try to use an odor free soap or a scent neutralizer.

Just these steps can make a world of difference when it comes to catching more bass. I have had many students at my bass fishing school that use the steps above and can't believe the difference it can make.

Roger Lee Brown, The Bass Coach, operates a fishing school and guide service in New York. You can check him out on the web at basscoachfishing.com.

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