On the Water Adjustments to Catch Bass

We’ve all spent hours dreaming at work, sleepless nights pondering the weekend’s bass fishing trip, and hours of planning the perfect location and presentation for the first cast. We know where the bass should be hiding, what they are feeding on, and how we are going to catch them. Then it happens, an hour into our long sought-after weekend and we haven’t had a bite. The sinking feeling of another bass-less day is slowly building. It’s time for some on the water adjustments to catch bass.

On the Water Adjustments to Catch Bass

On the Water Adjustments to Catch Bass – Look to Seasonal Pattern Changes

When a well thought out and researched plan fails to come together, my first adjustment is to look either side of the expected seasonal pattern. Example – If I expected a post-spawn pattern and appropriate techniques fail, maybe bass have already moved to summer haunts. Or summer bass have found an early fall school of shad to follow to the shallow flats. While it’s typical for a seasonal pattern to advance without us realizing, I recently experienced a seasonal pattern moving backward.

Fishing Toledo Bend Reservoir in early June, I expected bass to be in a full summer pattern. After a full day of graphing large schools of fish in 15-20 of water and not a bass for my efforts, I sat in the middle of the lake and pondered what I would do tomorrow. Should I continue to chase these deeper fish, which at this point I’m not convinced are bass or change the plan. If I modify the plan, how am I going to change it?

We had a full moon and bass were feeding well at night; proven by massive night tournament stringers. When this happens, I expect early morning bass activity and another mid-day feeding period. So tomorrow I can capitalize on two possible patterns. Try something first thing and something different around noon; this allows me to test two patterns.

The next day I moved my efforts shallower. My thought process was, it’s early summer, there are always resident bass shallow, and maybe migratory bass haven’t moved out yet. If I can find these stagnant migration bass mixed with resident bass, we can have a productive day. Not ready to commit too shallow, I fished various baits in five to ten feet of water. Again, a bass-less morning.

Now for some true out of the box thinking. The shad spawn on Toledo Bend was on the May full moon, nearly 28 days ago. Anglers had a blast catching bass chasing spawning shad in the flooded grass. I’ve been fishing points and flats looking for a school of bass in what I expect to be a productive zone. The areas those spawning shad would have migrated to after the ritual. Laurie is with me and can’t quite reach the flooded vegetation and asks me to move closer so she can reach it.

It only took two casts with a Stanley Ribbit to draw a vicious strike from a three pounder. I give a profound, “Hmmm” and then say, “Do it again!” Sure enough, just a couple casts later she catches another quality bass. It’s 11 AM, there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and these bass are in two feet of water with three feet of visibility. Totally against the norm, or what I thought to be normal for a deep-water lake in the heat of the summer. What was happening – While most the shad had spawned last month, the June full moon triggered a “left-over” shad spawn and bass were up in the grass, where these scattered shad were spawning, feeding on them.

On the Water Adjustments to Catch Bass – What’s for Dinner

My next adjustment when a plan fails is to look at the food source. Insect hatches, crawfish molts, and frog explosions can all change the feeding habits of bass. I have been on a stable spinnerbait pattern, and it failed overnight. However, it was easy to tell bass had switched to frogs. There were hundreds of frogs moving across the vegetation. I don’t know amphibian habits as well as I should. However, we had about 3 inches of rain the night before, and it may have had something to do with the frog migration out into the lake. At first, I was dumbfounded as to why bass had quit eating my spinnerbait. The water color hadn’t changed, the level might have been up an inch or two but not easily detected. I couldn’t detect any significant current shifts in the water.

After noticing the frogs, I switched to a Terminator hollow body frog and proceeded to have a great day. This change in feeding habits was easy to identify. Most are not, however keeping an open mind and paying close attention to surroundings can help determine what bass are feeding on. Always use electronics to track the bait fish, shad or herring, their activity level can change dramatically from day to day. Catching bass on shad colored crankbaits on cover in five feet of water may prove futile if the bait has moved to fifteen feet. Jigs mimicking crawdads on trees can fail if the water cooled overnight and caused them to bury up in the mud. The most stable food source, in my opinion, is summer shad. Summer shad typically stay just above the thermocline on most lakes as it’s the most comfortable water. Bass will feed on these thermocline shad until the fall turnover when the thermocline disappears and the shad head to nutrient rich waters of the tributaries.

On the Water Adjustments to Catch Bass – Watch the Pace

Another tournament saving adjustment has been presentation speed. There are a hundred variables from day to day, even hour to hour, causing mood changes in a bass. The aggressiveness of a bass is altered by any combination of weather fronts, fishing pressure, or presence/lack of food. Once I determine my presentation is failing, I look for clues as to what to do next. Are bass chasing my bait but not committing? Do they appear to be running from it? Are they striking, but behind my bait? Or maybe they run up on it but change their minds at the last second? These all indicate a change is needed. If my presentation was recently productive, I vary my retrieve before making bait or color changes. For bass failing to commit I like to speed up. A faster retrieve gives bass less time to analyze my offering and force the “Eat it or go hungry” reflex strike. In cooler waters, it can be the complete opposite. Bass eating a fast falling, half ounce jig yesterday, may want a slower falling quarter ounce jig today. I see this most often after a weather front and attribute it to the energy versus gain theory. Especially in cooler water, bass analyze how much energy is spent to catch a meal versus the nutrient gain it would provide. If a bass must exert a lot of energy at a time when it is trying to conserve energy, it’s likely to pass on faster presentation.

On the Water Adjustments to Catch Bass – Home Is Wherever

For various reasons, bass will change their preferred cover. I recently experienced a different species of fish destroying my bass catching pattern. I had several small groups of lily pads on a flat filled with bass feeding on bream, frogs, passing shad, and shore minnows. Basically, bass had taken refuge in the lily pads and would eat anything swimming by. Come tournament morning I pulled up on the first set of pads and immediately see a large fish thrashing in the middle of them. It appeared a large bass was chasing a bluegill, exactly what I experienced the week prior. As the sky got bright enough to see what was going on, it was carp spawning in the pads. These carp were two to three feet long and utterly destroying the small isolated pad fields I was fishing. There wasn’t a bass to be found in five miles.

I’ve also seen striped bass destroy a productive pattern. Fishing spoons vertically in 35 feet of water catching bass after bass. Then I hook a monster. The lake is known for striped bass, so it didn’t take long to realize what I had hooked. On bass gear, it took a few minutes to land. Once back on target, all the largemouth were gone. The striped bass had swept in and split up the shad the largemouth were feeding on and everything scattered. In a situation like this, the faster an angler can realize what happened and move on; less time is spent wasting casts.

On the Water Adjustments to Catch Bass – The Gut Knows

Lastly, sometimes I just follow my gut. There are times on the water when an idea will pop into my head. Sometimes they make sense; sometimes they are off the wall for the conditions. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve thrown fishing magazines in my favorite lakes so bass will read up on what they are supposed to do. However, I don’t think they are reading them. There are times when I just have to fish a particular grass line, or I have a nagging need to pick up a crankbait, or maybe I cast to a good-looking cypress tree even though I know it only has 8 inches of water on it. The bottom line, when my gut tells me to try something I listen. It’s wrong more often than not, but occasionally it’s right. My team tournament partner says these ideas pop into our heads because our subconscious is taking in all the cues happening around us.

On the Water Adjustments to Catch Bass – Bait Presentation

Sometimes we as anglers know, either through gut feeling, research or electronics, we’re in the right location. It may be the bait presentation keeping us from catching bass. I watched Pam Martin-Wells during her prefishing for the Bassmaster Classic on the Red River. In the first 15 minutes of her first practice location, she tried nine different baits. When I asked her about it, she said, “I knew there were bass in this spot, I just had to make them bite. I tried horizontal reaction first, vertical reaction next, then slow horizontal and finally slow vertical.” I mention this because I found it very interesting how she referenced the baits. She didn’t say a slow rolling spinnerbait; she said a slow horizontal. She didn’t say a heavy jig; she said a reaction vertical.

All these adjustments boil down to paying attention to what is happening around the boat at all times. Conditions change minute to minute and as anglers we must stay in tune to these changes to maximize our catching. The next time a well thought out pattern fails, think about conditions, and figure out what’s changed. Then use the tools available to discover the next winning pattern.

Get the Net It’s a Hawg

Mike Cork

Check out Mike’s Blog called “Get the Net” for more bass catching tips!

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