How To Develop A Pattern
By Carlton "Doc" Holliday
How many times have you heard or read a newspaper on a bass tournament winner using such-and-such pattern for winning the tournament? What are they talking about? What is a pattern? A pattern is the method, how, what, sometimes when, and where in a given lake you are catching bass consistently. There can be a pattern within a pattern, and there can also be more than one pattern used during the day. Typically patterns are easier to develop for reservoirs.
Now let us discuss the general tendencies of bass during particular seasons of the year. Once you understand these general tendencies, patterning bass becomes a little easier. We will start with the first season of the year.
Winter: During this period the bass are most lethargic. They tend to stay in one place and do not move far or fast to eat. One good characteristic of this time period is the fact that the bass will tend to school, and if you can find a school you should be able to catch multiple fish. Water temperatures are generally in the 30's in reservoirs, depending on your location.
As the water begins to warm, the bass, based on the life cycle of a bass, move into the Prespawn Stage. All mature bass go through this stage. In the life cycle of a bass, much of their behavior is based on the life cycle and the weather. Prespawn is the stage prior to the spawn. During this period, bass are foraging for food prior to the spawn. They need to feed as much as possible to carry them through the spawning period. Prespawn usually is in the early part of the year and lasts 4 - 6 weeks based on the weather. Here in central Arkansas, the prespawn usually starts the first week of February and lasts until the last week in March, or about a week before the March full moon. Depending on where you live, the prespawn could occur anytime between January and June! During this period bass are reasonably active and feeding thus making a fisherman's life pretty nice.
TIP: Keep your eyes open for the food source whether minnow, shad, or crawfish. If you can find the food, the bass will be close by. Strikes are usually hard and quick because the bass is concentrating on food and is easily fooled.
Spring: In early spring, the bass begin the spawning process. When the water temperature moves into the low 60's, male bass begin looking for bedding areas in order to build a nest. During this period, bass are concentrated in one spot - the beds. They only move to protect the bed or their eggs. They do not eat during this period but will strike baits that appear to be a threat to the nest or eggs. Bass beds are generally close together, so if you catch one look around and you will find more. The spawn on Lake Ouachita, here in Central Arkansas, generally lasts from the full moon in March to the full moon in May. The fish here spawn in waves during March, April and May depending on lake conditions, temperature and moon phase.
TIP: Be sure to wear your polaroid sunglasses and you will be able to see the bass on the beds.
TIP: Watch your temperature gauge and when it reaches 60 - 65 degrees, the bass will begin moving to bedding areas and starting to build beds.
I personally am not in favor of fishing for bedding fish. That is my preference because the spawn is so important to the continuation of the species in our lakes. If you should catch a spawning big-bellied female, please release her after you have taken pictures.
As the spawn is completed and the eggs begin hatching, you will see thousands of little fry swimming around the vicinity of the beds. The male and female bass are now protecting the fry. The majority of the time the fry will be in a tight bundle and close to the surface. The adult bass will be close by protecting them. Postspawn ends when the protecting bass pass through the fry bundle eating some as they leave. This is a signal to the fry that they are now on their own and begins the postspawn period. Now these adult bass have not eaten for several weeks and are looking for a quick, easy meal. Bass are going to be thin and lethargic. The key to fishing these bass will be to fish slowly.
As postspawn ends, the adult bass begin fanning out over the lake.
Summer: The warm weather or summer period begins when the post spawn ends. Bass will gain some weight and become more aggressive. They will begin to school and chase bait. As the summer continues, the techniques and patterns will change. You will have to figure out where the bass are and play with the various techniques until you figure out what patterns will work. When these changes occur is all dependent on the weather conditions. You will have to figure it out for each lake you fish.
Fall: Fall and summer run together most of the time. For bass, fall is the time of a frenzied activity. The fall is usually a time of frequently changing weather conditions. The weather will have a big influence on what bass do. Keep your eye on your temperature gauge. When water temperature gets down in the mid 70's, fall tactics start being employed.
Winter: During this period the bass are most lethargic. They tend to stay in one place and do not move far or fast to eat. One good characteristic of this time period is the fact that the bass will tend to school and if you can find a school you should be able to catch multiple fish. Key to fishing this time of the year is to fish slowly.
Now you have enough information to begin developing patterns for specific times of the year based on the general tendencies of bass during specific periods of the year. Now let's fine tune the pattern down to specifics.
By viewing pattern fishing from the seasonal tendencies of bass, you simplify finding and catching bass on any given day. You start with a simple pattern that may or may not have to be fine tuned for local conditions.
Winter: Water is cold, even in central Arkansas. Water temperature is usually in the mid to upper 30's. Here comes that one day where air temps are in the 50's, you have been cooped up for a while and you want to go fishing. Where do I start and what lures do I use? Remember the general tendencies: During this period the bass are most lethargic. They tend to stay in one place and do not move far or fast to eat. The best bet is a large tributary or the main lake with areas having a fast descent into deep water. Vertical rock bluffs or steep banks with gravel or chunk rock on them. Try to pinpoint areas that have fallen trees or stumps along the slopes.
Fish slowly. Try slow rolling a 1 ounce spinnerbait, a pig and jig, a grub on a jig head, or a jigging spoon.
Prespawn: Water temperature is in the mid to upper 50's. Bass are beginning to stage for spawning and males are starting to frequent bedding areas in order to find and build nests. Bass are foraging for food prior to the spawn. Starting spots will be humps, points at the mouth of a spawning cove and areas between the deep water and the spawning area.
During this period bass are reasonably active and feeding. Try chunking and winding a spinnerbait, burning a Rat-L-Trap, a Texas-rigged plastic worm or lizard, a jig and pig, a jerk baits or a Carolina-rigged lizard.
Spawn: Largemouth bass generally begin the spawn when water temperature reaches the high 60's or low 70's. The month or months vary widely depending on which region of the country you are in. The full moon has a drastic impact on this cycle also. Rule of thumb is that the spawn occurs 3 days before the full moon and last till 3 days following the full moon. The spawn may take place over a couple of months.
You are going to be sight fishing for visible bass on beds in reasonably shallow water. The best baits are a Texas-rigged worm or lizard, Senko, slow rolling a spinnerbait, a gitzit, a tube or a jig and pig.
Postspawn: The temperature is probably in the mid 70's. Bass will leave the spawning areas and hold on the first available area with deepwater access. This might be a ledge, a rip rap or a creek channel. Top water baits, deep-diving crank baits, waking a ¾ - 1 ounce spinnerbait, Texas-rigged worms, jerk baits and the Senko will work great.
Summer: Water temperature has risen to the 80's. Many bass move offshore during summer and fan out over the body of water. These are widely known as "dog days." Bass will gain some weight and become more aggressive. They will begin to school and chase bait. As the summer continues, the techniques and patterns will change. You will have to figure out where the bass are and play with the various techniques until you figure out what patterns will work. When these changes occur is all dependent on the weather conditions.
Bass are going to be in 15 to 30+ feet of water. Fishing for suspended fish likely becomes the name of the game. One pattern that works in this type of circumstance is to slow roll a Chatterbait in the suspended fish. The pattern Scott Suggs used to win the Forrest Wood Cup tournament on Lake Ouachita this last August was to slow roll a spinnerbait over the submerged trees, occasionally bumping the tree tops, in 30+ feet of water.
Topwater baits will work on schooling fish and Texas-rigged plastic worms will work on humps and ridges in 15+ feet of water. Your best bet is to fish very early, daylight to 9 or 10:00 o'clock and late in the evening 7:00 o'clock until and after dark.
Fall: Water temperatures are dropping from the mid 70's. When the days begin to cool and water temperature is 75 degrees or below, bass become active and move to flats near the main river channel. These are often loaded with logs, brush or grass. Concentrate on small pockets near these flats. Bass will be very aggressive during this period and will feed heavily prior to moving to a deeper, slower winter pattern.
Use faster baits in these conditions such as top water baits like the Pop-R and Zara Spook and Rat-L-Traps, buzzbaits, and mid to shallow running crank baits.
These are some of the ways to combine water temperature, time or seasons of the year and the general tendencies of the largemouth bass to develop a pattern for catching bass. These are very broad patterns and specific lakes, weather conditions and habitat will require you to refine these to a specific pattern. For instance, if you ever fish Grand Lake in Oklahoma, look for willow trees in the water, especially during postspawn and spring. You find willow trees in 4-5 feet of water you will catch bass regardless of what bait you use. If you fish the Ouachita River Basin in Louisiana, look for Cyprus tree or stumps with live vegetation growing out of the stump. Nine out 10 times when throw a worm or craw worm next to the stump, you will get bit.
I hope this article has answered some of your questions about patterning bass and has given you enough information to begin developing your own patterns for the lakes you fish. Keep a tight line and remember catch and release.
Carlton "Doc" Holliday and his wife, Darlene "Dee" Holliday only tournament fished together for 5 years. In early 1992, Carlton and his wife were practicing for a tournament the following weekend when the wife got a call from home. She promptly went home and when she got back that evening, informed Carlton that we had inherited a grandson. Later that year, Carlton had a heart attack thus the early retirement ended along with the professional fishing career.
All told, both individually and as a team, Doc and Dee won over 30 bass tournaments and placed in the top 5 in over 70 bass tournaments. The last 3 years of their career as a professional bass fishermen were spent winning the Arkansas Guys and Gals Championship in 1991, Doc finishing seventh overall in the Arkie Division of the Redman Circuit in 1991 and becoming eligible to fish the Redman Regional Tournament in Columbus Mississippi where he finished 20th. Also in 1990, Doc fished in the Mr. Bass of Arkansas Championship on Lake Ouachita and finished third. Career winnings estimated over $85,000.00, but remember, bass tournaments did not pay the big bucks back then that they pay now.
Carlton "Doc" Holliday and his wife, Darlene "Dee" Holliday are both retired and live at Joplin, Arkansas two minutes from Lake Ouachita near Hot Springs, Arkansas. Visit us at http://www.bassfishinglakeouachita.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org