Like virtually all fish, the seasons have a dramatic effect on how largemouth bass behave and where they live. In addition, there are differences between bass behavior in colder northern lakes and warmer southern lakes. Water clarity also makes a big difference. It is important to remember that bass do not like to migrate very far, so as water levels rise or drop and seasons change, bass will move to the nearest available good quality cover or structure under the circumstances. It is also important to remember that when bass hide in weeds, they are more likely to be found near the edge that faces open water where baitfish schools pass by. Finally, it is important to remember that bass are unpredictable wild animals, so an angler should be familiar with a variety of equipment and techniques, and always be ready to try something different until the fish start biting.
PRE-SPAWN (Early Spring)- Many people consider the pre-spawn period the absolute best time to fish for largemouth bass. There are even people who will only fish for bass at this time of year. After a winter of holding in deep water with a slow metabolism, bass get hungry as the water warms. Their metabolisms are faster now and they need to feed heavily to prepare for spawning. Food is more plentiful and both the prey and the bass are much more active. The bass start to move toward shallow-water spawning areas. The part of the lake with the most daylight exposure (often the Northeast corner) is usually the first place for both the water and the fishing action to heat up. Bass will be easiest to find in the warmest water with good cover nearby. Good cover includes stumps, logs, brush and the few weed patches that are starting to re-grow, especially if they are near good spawning areas. Often the water is more comfortable for the bass in the shallows near the surface and when that is true, some bass will be found suspending there. The lakes that receive trout plants at this time of year will see big bass heavily feeding on the stocked trout, especially on trout that have been injured, stunned or badly disoriented during the stocking process. This is a good time to try trout-like plugs or soft baits, fished erratically. Pro angler Bill Siemental even catches bass by letting a Castaic Soft Bait Trout float motionless on the surface. Anglers who aren't fishing tout-stocked waters may want to use small lures in the spring, since most of the baitfish are freshly spawned.
SPAWN (Mid- to Late Spring)- Bass move into shallow water to make their beds. They're looking for areas that have a dirt bottom where they can fan their tails to make spawning beds. The best spawning beds are in areas that receive a lot of warming sun to incubate the eggs, but are sheltered from rough water. Many anglers focus exclusively on coves at this time of year, but they may be ignoring other geography or structure that creates a break from wind or waves. Grass pockets, flats made of gravel and clay, and coves that form deep "V's" but have lots of shallow water are some of the prime spawning areas, if they receive enough light to warm the water. The big female bass are on the beds only until they spawn. Smaller male bass build the nest and protect it before, during and after the spawn until the fry have hatched and are ready to venture out on their own. Both the males and the females are very territorial while on the nest, attacking anything that is seen as a threat to the eggs or the fry. This makes for an extremely narrow strike zone, as the bass will not wander from the nest to attack food, they will only attack to defend the nest. However, if a lure passes over the nest, bass will often chase it long distances. Some anglers do terrible damage to bass populations by dragging lures through the nest and across the eggs at this time of year. It is important to keep the bait above the bottom, by retrieving at the right speed to keep the lure off the bottom, using a suspending lure or by suspending a jig or other lure below a float or floating lure to fish the spawn, so that the nests are not disturbed. This is also the most important time of year to practice catch-and-release, making sure the bass are released at or very near their nests so they can return to protecting their eggs and/or fry from predators like bluegill and crayfish.
POST-SPAWN (Late Spring to Early Summer)- After the spawn, bass are hungry again. The spawning/bedding instinct is over and the bass return to schooling behavior for summer feeding patterns. These schools often suspend in 15 to 20 feet of water, but many bass continue relating to structure such as coves, points, drop-offs or creek mouths. For some reason, bass can be surprisingly picky when the post-spawn period is just beginning. Anglers trying to "match the hatch" should remember that most baitfish are only small to medium size at this time of year. However, power techniques using big, fast baits may get a reaction bite from bass that aren't cooperating.
SUMMER- With the water at its warmest, the largemouth bass's metabolism has reached its peak and they are often very hungry. The best fishing will be in areas where the most food is available, especially if there is good cover nearby for bass schools to ambush their prey. At this time of year on many lakes, the main bass food is shad or other minnows (now medium-sized), especially since most lakes don't receive summer trout plants. The water is often too warm for bass to hold there all day, so they often hold in cooler water (deeper water, shaded water or water near a feeder creek), then move up slopes or ledges or out into the sunlight to feed. It's a good time to focus on areas that have a lot of structure just outside bays and coves. Look for areas where bass can move out of cooler water, especially water that has shadows, into warm water to ambush baitfish schools. If the bass don't seem to be feeding on baitfish, don't forget to try other forage patterns, like crawdads or waterdogs near rocky structure, especially in or near cooler or shaded water where bass can hold.
FALL- As the days grow shorter, the water gets cooler. Even though this slows down the largemouth's metabolism, the fish still need to feed heavily to fatten up for the winter. The baitfish have reached their largest size of the year, but the summer feeding has dramatically cut down their numbers. This is a good time to use larger lures or baits. Bass are also forced out of some of their holding spots, because the weeds are beginning to die off, so they can be concentrated in or around the remaining weeds, where more food is available. As in the summer, bass often like to suspend along steep slopes where they can quickly move to shallow water to feed. Many bass focus more on crayfish, because baitfish are harder to find. These bass will be found on or near rock piles, where crayfish hide. Many western lakes begin receiving trout plants again at this time of year, which creates an ideal opportunity for big bass to bulk up for the winter.
During the fall in colder areas, such as the north, a phenomenon known as the "turnover" occurs. Colder weather cools the surface water until it is colder than the deep water. Since colder water is heavier than warmer water, this causes a mixing that eliminates the layers of colder and warmer water throughout the lake. Decaying leaves and other debris from the lake bottom gets stirred up throughout the lake, causing it to be very murky. This temporarily disorients fish and makes fishing more difficult. Many anglers make the mistake of abandoning fishing for the rest of the season when the turnover occurs. The disorientation, which only lasts a few days, only causes bass to stay put in their favorite hiding places. Bass still need to bulk up for the winter and the fishing pressure and boating activity is almost zero. An angler who is willing to work hard to figure out a pattern, usually by fishing finesse lures very slowly or heavy "power" lures (big jigs, crankbaits or spinnerbaits) very fast, may experience some of the best uninterrupted fishing of the year.
WINTER- In warmer climates, such as the southern United States, bass can become very sluggish in the winter. They still feed and may remain in fall holding patterns or hole up in deep water, but their metabolisms are slow and they don't get hungry very often. The surprise is that in colder climates, like the northern United States, both bass and baitfish seem to get used to the colder water temperatures and stay more active through most of the winter. The bass usually hold near deep structure, suspend at whatever level the water feels comfortable to them, or school up near ledges or drop-offs. Vertical structure, such as dam walls, bridge pilings, drop-offs, boulders and trees, may be more important than at any other time of year. Tree stumps and the few remaining weed line edges can also be important holding areas. When the sun, rain or warm fronts warm the shallows, baitfish will often move into shallow water and a diligent angler may find bass cruising those warm, shallow areas, feeding fairly actively. In deep western reservoirs, many anglers switch exclusively to live crayfish or crayfish imitations, fished very slowly, for the winter, except during trout plants.