We all know finding bass is not as simple as one might think. So much water, must be millions of fish out there, uh? Not so. It is generally accepted that in any given body of water the fish will be found in only around 20% of the water area. That means 80% of what you see is "sterile" as far as holding bass. Now that will get your attention, I hope!
Finding bass is dependent on determining where that 20% is and that depends in large part on the type of water body, the seasons and the weather patterns within the seasons. These forces influence the when, where and why of bass location.
Natural Lakes, rivers and streams, ponds and man made reservoirs are where bass are found.
Natural Lakes, both deep and shallow, offer habitat for largemouth, be they Canadian "shield" lakes or swamp-like deep south lakes. Anywhere there is found warm, shallow lakes or areas of deep lakes with shallow areas of good weed growth and rich cover, you can often find largemouth bass.
Smallmouth bass, however, are more often associated with the deeper, colder natural northern lakes than are largemouth. When found in such lakes the largemouth are going to be localized in the shallow areas.
Smallmouth bass are genetically configured such that they can exist in all but the very old or very young natural lakes. To understand the types of natural lakes and the habitats they offer is to improve your success as a bass angler.
Young lakes, those known as oligotrophic, are "infertile" with deep with rock strewn bottoms, clear water, rich in oxygen and without significant weed growth. These tend to be more supportive of the "open water" or "semi-open Water" fish such as lake trout and sometimes smallmouth bass. The likelihood of finding bass, largemouth bass, in such waters is slim.
Mesotrophic lakes are what might be considered as middle aged and the most numerous type found in the most northern strip of states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. These lakes, with their fertility, their gradual shoreline slopes, small rocks and gravel bottoms provide very good walleye habitat. They are most often the dominant species in these lakes and usually occupy deeper areas of the lakes.
They are "fertile" lakes which receive nutrients from shoreline sources. The fertility of these lakes creates a varied group of aquatic vegetation in the shallows and makes for a good largemouth and smallmouth friendly habitat. In fact, this type natural lake supports the largest variety of fish, making finding bass a bit easier than in other water bodies.
The third type natural lake is the eutrophic lake, which is mostly found in the area of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains including mid-America and the South. Such lakes are very fertile and provide habitats filled with good food and cover best suited for largemouth bass. In these lakes the "semi-open water" fish like smallmouth bass and walleye fall off number wise, if not completely, in favor of the largemouth.
Reservoirs are man-made lakes created by damming rivers. Before they were created, beginning in the 1920's, largemouth bass fishing had taken place in shallow weedy natural lakes in the eastern part of the U.S. After construction of reservoirs began the amount of fishable water more than doubled and "structure fishing" came into being with the new, greatly diverse habitat that the reservoirs offered.
With the flooding of land behind the dams there were suddenly partially and totally submerged trees, submerged stumps where clear cutting had occurred and man made cover like rip-rap and submerged buildings available for bass to utilize. Additionally, structure in the form of bluffs, creek arms, drop offs, main lake and secondary points and flats became the focus of bass fishermen. After reservoirs came about there existed a greatly expanded amount of water bodies in which both largemouth and smallmouth bass could thrive and the bass fishing boom began. Finding bass, or at least finding bodies of water where bass lived, became much easier.
Reservoirs are indeed the most varied of bass fishing opportunities available. They are classified as either "Lowland", "Flatland", "Hill-Land", "Highland", "Canyon" or "Plateau". They offer a the greatest variation in bottom structure, shoreline cover, both deep and open water and shallow areas that invite populations of largemouth, smallmouth, crappie, walleye, bluegill and even muskie to take up residence.
Rivers, streams and creeks are known more as smallmouth habitat than largemouth but if there areas of slack water in rivers and streams with slow moving pools then largemouth can be there. Smallmouth are very current oriented and as such thrive in most warm water bodies with "moderately" fast current. They will not be found in high gradient streams with very rapidly moving water or those with very slow moving water. Of course, water quality also plays a huge part in whether smallmouth will be present.
Ponds and pits are the result of mining, livestock irrigation, plant irrigation or private fishing ponds or small lakes. Many are stocked with largemouth bass and bluegill, sometimes catfish. They are not smallmouth friendly habitat. It is estimated there are over three million such waters in the United States, most being farm ponds. They are great waters for finding bass and often offer very good fishing.
Seasonal Location Patterns
Seasonal Patterns and the constantly changing weather within the seasons affects bass behavior more than anything else and therefore affect our successfully finding bass. The first important influence is the change in water temperature the seasons bring. This impacts finding bass as it impacts feeding activity, time for digestion of meals, growth rates, depth in the water column, and general activity level, i.e. active or inactive. Fall bass fishing is quite different from summer bass fishing for example.
Within the gradual seasonal influences there can be hourly, daily and weekly weather changes resulting in cold or warm fronts, wind, currents, drops in barometric pressure, rising water from heavy rain and the resulting muddy water. This is especially true in spring bass fishing. If anything is certain in fishing it's that weather conditions will be constantly changing and thus result in the bass changing location! We anglers must learn to change our techniques and tactics for finding bass accordingly.
Bass like consistency of weather, whatever it may be, rain, cold, sunny, windy or calm. It's interesting to note that's why bass fishing is usually best after about three consecutive days of the same weather.
Weather Influences Location
The biggest impact on our daily fishing efforts is the weather. Falling rain. adds oxygen to the water energizing the bass making them more active. Overcast sky, makes them less weary and draws them out of cover and deeper water. Cold fronts can absolutely shut down bass activity though just before its arrival there is an upsurge in feeding activity. Hot weather may drive bass deep. Clear blue sky can also drive bass out of the shallows into deeper water. Heavy rains cause runoff from inlets of streams and drainage ditches resulting in muddy water where bass may congregate to feed. If the rain is so heavy as to muddy the entire body of water there may be a complete shutdown of activity.
Knowledgeable fishermen will adjust their strategies accordingly.