Catching Bigger Bass
By John Hope
All bass have one thing in common, the simple format of their daily lives. In general the place you located fish on your last trip to the lake may not hold fish that day, at that time, but certainly whatever is there that makes them return will continue to do so even over a period of years.
My personal belief for years has been that bass live basically in three layers. There are fish that live in shallow water practically year round, bass that live in what I call a mid-layer, and bass that live in deep water almost year round. This is not to say that these fish never cross paths, only that their preferred habitat is defined by those basics (shallow, middle, deep). Much like some people prefer to live in the country and some prefer town, these fish seek areas where their specific needs are met.
This is why some anglers find catching big bass difficult. It's very likely that you simply are not fishing where big bass are moving or holding. Locating their "trail" is the key to eventually catching one. But how to do this is not necessarily by fishing the regular way you fish, in the regular holes you fish each time you return to the lake. If you have not caught a large bass, chances are you are not fishing in the right area at the right time - which is what it takes to catch a giant largemouth.
In general smaller fish are far more affected by water and weather changes than large ones because they reside in areas where water temperatures change first and most dramatically - shallow water. Larger fish, living in deeper zones, will not be affected by water temperature and weather changes until such time as the change reaches their area. This can be longer than what it takes to do so in shallower water.
Larger bass will move into shallows at times to feed, and this is of course can be a good time to catch them. They will also move into shallower areas sometimes for spawns, but there are fish that spawn in deeper water as well. Finding the best trail is how you can catch a trophy. But that's only the beginning as you also must use the proper lure and be there at the right time. In other words everything must come together for the end result to be success.
In our years of tracking bass we caught fish at different times, but rarely at depths or in areas that they normally did not frequent. In other words a mid-layer fish would be in depths that ranged from eight to 12 feet. It might be a 200-yard long stretch that the fish moved in daily, but the general water depth remained fairly constant. The particular path might be a creek or a tree line, but there would always be something either structural or some type of cover that allowed the fish to move and feel protected.
This is why I have always preached fishing parallel to the structure and cover. The basic premise you must understand is that the fish won't just swim off into any direction away from such things. They will follow the paths they are accustomed to, that give them security, and that they know lead to food or resting areas. It's really just that simple. Find the path, and you will find the bass. In every lake report and feature article in not only this magazine but others you read about fishing creek channels, drops etc. The reason of course is that fish use these structures for their daily movements. If you point your boat parallel to the shore and cast straight to the bank, you have narrowed your catching field. But if you position your boat over a creek channel and cast the length of it parallel, you have widened your chances immensely. At some point during the day, fish will move parallel to the structure upon which you are fishing.
While some weather conditions will affect this scenario, most won't cause a severe change in the habits of the bass in an area. However the feeding periods may change slightly or feeding may slow down until the weather once again becomes stable. This can be related to as, fish may bite at 7:00 a.m on your favorite hole one day, but the next week it's 9:00 before you get a strike. Something affected the time at which the fish were feeding. That could be a cold front or high pressure. But when feeding patterns change, it does not last long until it changes back. The fish will revert always to their particular patterns of feeding. Feeding times generally are stable because if a bass eats at a certain time it will be hungry again at a certain time simply the same as us. You eat breakfast, and then you're going to be hungry again by lunch.
Using your electronics and maps to locate potential big-bass areas is not that hard. Look for structure lines that are possible trails and fish them. The next time you go to the lake, don't just hug the shore all day and fish straight to the bank. Line your casts parallel to the underwater structure and your chances for success increase. Try fishing water that's a little deeper than you normally fish. Certainly this doesn't mean you can't catch a 12-pound bass in a foot of water, but most of the larger bass I've caught over the years have come from mid- to deeper water.