Bass Fishing New Lakes Seasonal Patterns is part two of a continuing series about bass fishing a new lakes. We hear it all the time, “use seasonal patterns to help find bass quickly.” There is so much truth to this; it can put traveling anglers’ miles ahead of the local bass fisherman. Many local anglers get stuck in a rut fishing what worked last week or last month, and don’t realize the season has changed the location of the bass. Bass do specific things based on the season and weather. A local angler may have been catching big bass on a point, and their confidence keeps them fishing the point; when in fact, bass have migrated into the back of the cove next to it.
A bass is a bass. A bass in Texas reacts to the environment just like a bass in New York. Take the spawn for example, bass in both states will spawn at about the same water temperatures, look for the same structure to spawn on, and feed up before the magic moment. Throughout the country the rules stay the same; the only difference is timing. Obviously water temperatures will warm earlier in Texas than it will in New York, so the timing of the spawn will be different. Seasonal patterns are true of all four seasons.
There are some rules for the four seasons applicable to any and all bodies of water being fished. These rules are very general in nature and are only a starting point.
Bass Fishing New Lakes Seasonal Patterns – Winter
During winter months’ bass will be in deeper water; however, deep is relative to the specific lake. Six feet of water might be considered deep in a natural lake with an average depth of ten feet. On the other hand, bass in a reservoir can live extremely deep. I have caught bass in the winter as deep as 72 feet. Although, even on the deepest lakes, 25 feet is usually deep enough for a bass to winter. Anglers should also think vertical or steep. No matter what lake being fished, winter bass like to be on vertical structure or cover. Vertical can be structure or cover, a creek running against the bank in a reservoir or a hydrilla edge extending into deeper water on a natural lake. Even dock pilings are vertical edges bass can use in the winter. When performing map study for a winter trip, look for very tight contour lines. These tight lines indicate a quick drop. These drops or steep banks will typically be found on the main creek channels of the reservoir. In the dead of winter, a flat dropping sharply into deep water can be extremely productive. Bass and baitfish will travel back and forth on the drop, also known as a ledge.
Water stability and food are the two reasons bass like deeper water in the winter. Deeper water provides a bass stability from cold fronts; water temperatures fluctuate slowly, and winter rains won’t muddy up deeper water as quickly. Baitfish look to deeper water for the same reasons making it handy for bass. The first thing I do when I launch a boat in the winter is idle away from the ramp with my electronics on. My goal is to determine how deep the baitfish are residing. Baitfish are very sensitive to their environment; life and death for baitfish is dependent on finding the most stable water. Bass will be at the same depth or just below it so they can feed on the bait fish.
Once baitfish depth is determined, use electronics’ mapping software to search the depth for structure changes. Points with sharp drops at the given depth, ledges, humps and island tops, anything different at the precise depth will hold bass. Once at a location, scan for bait fish. If baitfish are found, start casting.
Bass Fishing New Lakes Seasonal Patterns – Spring
Bass have one thing on their mind during the spring–reproduction. As much as anglers want the spawn to happen, it’s not going to until all the conditions are right. Water temperatures, the length of daylight, weather, and a multitude of conditions have to be perfect before bass move to beds and spawn. Instead of stalking spawning bass and living in frustration, look for the pre-spawn bass. The pre-spawn bass will be more aggressive and easier to catch. Bass group up in staging areas before they spawn, then when conditions are right they spread out on the flats. It’s easier to catch bass in a staging area while grouped up versus a ‘hunt and peck’ while scanning a flat. Once a staging area in found, this is an area pre-spawn bass will use for several weeks throughout the spawning period. As migrations of bass move through they will use the same staging area; when bass finish spawning they will also use this area as a post-spawn staging area.
There are more bass and more reasons for them to be staging than there are bass up on the flats. The odds of finding bass and staying with them for several days increase when fishing staging areas. To aid in the search for the best staging areas, start looking for spawning grounds on North or West facing banks. North and West banks are prime spawning grounds because the sun will shine on these banks from mid-morning through dark; this is when the sun’s heat is the warmest. North and West facing banks are protected from the cold north winds associated with a spring cold front. As the spring progresses, the last remaining spawning bass will be found on South or East banks. Discovering how far along the spawn is will help determine which part of the lake to start searching.
Once a staging area is found, investigate the area for travel routes (i.e. ditches, creeks, ledges) connecting shallow and deep water. These items will show up on a topographical map as tightly grouped lines. Look for these tight lines in the middle of large areas of spread out contour lines. The tight lines mean a steep drop, as the banks of an old creek meandering through the woods before a lake flooded. Staging areas will be along these travel routes somewhere. What an actual staging area will be can be mind boggling at times. Anything different along the travel route can be a staging area, a single stump on the edge of creek dissecting a flat or a spot of green vegetation on the bend of a creek can be a staging area.
Bass Fishing New Lakes Seasonal Patterns – Summer
Deep water is a safe bet in the summer. This time of year a bass’s metabolism is at its highest and they will travel quite a bit. Some bass will spend their summer following shad around the lake. Others, resident bass, will move shallow to feed and then back out to resting grounds to find comfort from the heat. With the exception of early and late in the day, most efforts should be focused in deeper water. Channel swings, ridges, ledges, and humps are great locations on reservoirs for summer bass. On a natural lake, bass can be found in the deepest and thickest vegetation. The vegetative cover provides shade from the mid-day heat. My favorite summertime deep water structure is a hump. Represented by contour lines forming a circle while getting shallower and shallower. Once the depth of baitfish is determined, scan maps for humps at the proper depth.
Some bass remain shallow all year long in any lake type. We call these bass “resident” fish. In the summer, these bass are usually very aggressive because of the warm water. However, to catch these bass an angler has to cover a lot of water. An angler also has to present baits to each piece of bass holding cover. It’s a very time-consuming process but can pay off well in a single day tournament. These “resident” bass locations do not replenish very quickly, so for multiple day tournaments, an angler needs a lot of water to be successful.
Bass Fishing New Lakes Seasonal Patterns – Fall
Fall is a crazy time of year; bass are feeding up for the winter and baitfish are migrating in huge schools to the backs of creeks. Basically in the fall, it’s a matter of finding the baitfish, and the bass will be there. I enjoy the fall fishing because the options are wide open; I can catch bass on topwater, spinnerbaits, crank baits, and swim baits all in the same day. The best bet during this season are creeks with current flow. Use topographical maps to find the most predominate creeks, then use Google Earth to find actual feeder creeks with water in them. Water current washes massive amounts of nutrients into the lake creating huge algae and plankton blooms. These blooms are what the shad are searching for to feed on. Shad migrate up these creeks feeding on the plankton, and the bass are on their heels feeding on them. Here are a couple articles of interest discussing shad movements and activity.
The curve ball in the seasonal pattern bass finding equation is lake composition. Each type of lake has a set of distinct patterns. Fishing in a shallow natural lake will differ from a lowland reservoir or a highland reservoir and vice versa. Combining seasonal patterns with lake composition and angler experience will be very useful no matter which part of the country is being fished. Effective patterns on a natural lake in Texas will also be useful on a natural lake in South Carolina. This goes for any lake composition. By matching lake composition with the season anglers will be off to a great start.
Bass Fishing New Lakes Seasonal Patterns – Lake Composition
By breaking lakes into three basic forms – natural lakes, lowland reservoirs, and highland reservoirs, we can further dial in seasonal patterns.
Shallow natural lakes have a large variety of vegetation to hold bass most of the year. Vegetation like hydrilla, cattails, and lily pads provide unique angling opportunities and bait choices are significantly different than a reservoir. Winter and summer patterns will revolve around vegetation. Spring patterns can be complicated because the bowl-shaped lake bottom makes it difficult to find travel routes and staging areas. However, finding the slightest depth change can produce a stockpile of bass. Contour changes of a foot or two will be as significant as a major drop off in a reservoir. Successful fall fishing in a natural lake is usually dependent on the wind or current. Since migration routes for baitfish are not readily available, and vegetation keeps the lake fertile, baitfish do not have to migrate to find food. The wind or current will position the plankton, thus the baitfish, and the bass will follow suit.
Structure and cover in lowland reservoirs can vary widely from shallow barren shores to creek channels and humps. Typically, these reservoirs will have submergant vegetation, rock and standing timber. Of the three lake compositions, the lowland reservoir can be the most difficult to unlock simply because there are so many options. Patterns and bait choices are wide open and it’s best to fish one’s favorite structure or cover with a pattern they have experience with. Build some confidence quickly and adjust to the conditions as the pattern is advanced.
Highland reservoirs are typically void of natural cover and vegetation making boat docks and rock structure the primary targets. Travel routes and water currents (wind or generator) are a huge factor in determining bass locations when dealing with highland reservoirs. Typically, hard baits like topwater, crankbaits, and spoons are great choices. Because this type of lake is cover free, these types of baits cover a lot of water and help find schools of bass quickly. Points, ledges, and humps all provide excellent ambush points for bass as they wait for lake currents to bring baitfish to them.
Hydrilla, an evasive vegetation species, is taking hold in some highland reservoirs. Hydrilla provides a unique cover in these highland lakes usually void of anything other than depth to block the sun. Especially in highland reservoirs, if a good hydrilla bed can be found, bass will be using it for cover. A visiting angler is wise to exploit a hydrilla bed in a highland reservoir.
Bass Fishing New Lakes Seasonal Patterns – Seasonal Patterns and Lake Composition
By applying seasonal patterns to lake composition, an angler can significantly reduce the time taken to locate bass on a new body of water. It may take several locations to find a group of quality bass or an effective pattern; however, stay confident, versatile, and on target with the search. If one point does not produce, this does not mean it’s not an effective pattern. Try several points before ruling them out. This goes for any structure or cover; it might take several locations to find quality bass. Another thing to keep in mind when fishing a new body of water is a quote from the angler who hooked me on bass fishing, my father, “one bass a pattern does not make”. Don’t get stuck because a bass was caught on a specific bait or location. Stay versatile; keep changing up until strikes can be repeated with success.
Using the acquired maps, applying seasonal patterns will eliminate most of the lake. In the spring or fall search the back of creek arms in the lake, during summer or winter search for main lake structure. Something I like to do is keep spring in mind no matter what time of year I’m fishing. When I first open a map of a lake; I quickly look for large spawning grounds and then work from there. The sole purpose of a bass is to eat and reproduce. A spawning ground is a necessary element in a bass’s life cycle. I’m not suggesting bass are like salmon and will return to the same breeding grounds, but it’s a starting point. With an excellent spawning flat picked out, I start looking for travel routes to and from deep water. Travel routes could be a well-defined creek channel, a line of timber, or even a ledge. I’m looking for something bass can use to travel along during migration periods (example migrations: spawn or fall feed). Now I plug in where the bass should be based on the season. If it is summer or winter, I’m looking for drop offs, channel bends, all the basic deep water hangouts with vertical structure nearby. If it’s fall, the same spawning flats can be great places for schooling bass to push shad onto.
As I said in the beginning, there is a lot of truth to seasonal patterns, but it’s not the only key. Apply seasonal patterns and lake composition to map study to unlock patterns across a body of water. Putting these tools together will find bass in any given lake throughout the country. Stay tuned, the next article in this series talks about baitfish habits, yet another key to quickly catching bass on a new body of water.
Be sure to read all the article in this series