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jwo1124

Bass Depth-Activity Level-Lure Choice

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I was watching Mr. Dance the other day on VS and suprisingly enough, it was an episode I haven't seen before.(Cant wait for BDO 2009 this Winter) Anyway, it was more of an informational episode rather than an informercial which tends to happen when BooYah or YUM are trying to push a new product. Bill taught me a lesson that I have never really came across. With a well illustrated diagram he explained that where bass are found in relation to the water column or depth you are fishing is a very strong indication of activity level.

If the bass are in the first quarter of the column or the surface, activity level is at it's highest. I have seen this persoanlly at nightfall and in the Autumn when bass will be over 10-15' of water busting bait fish at the surface.

If bass are in the section below the surface or the second quarter of the first half of the water column, they are still active, but much less than bass that will be found at the surface taking topwater baits.

If bass are lower in the column, suspended but not located on the bottom, these bass are the most in active bass.

Bass located on or close to the bottom will be slightly inactive, not as inactive as suspended fish though.

I have never given much thought to bass location in the water column and activity level since I maily cast from spots along the shoreline and mostly present my lure within 5' of water.

With a better understanding of bass location and their activity levels, choosing baits and fishing spots will be able to be made easier and with more inteeligence rather than tying on a favortie lure and hitting favorite fishing spots.

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I am going to say this is wrong and one of the largest myths in bass fishing. It could be true at times but it is not true all the time. I haven't seen the show so I can't judge what was on the show but I disagree with what you just said the way I understood it. Bass are most active where the most activity is taking place whether that is on the bottom, at the surface, or in between. I have heard things like this before from very experienced fishermen and many of the ones on TV. It still surprises me how many fishermen think this way.

This theory usually comes from the myth that bass move up or shallower in the water to feed and then move back down deeper and become inactive. The fact that bass have a swim bladder which limits the depths they can hold and feed at and the fact that big changes in depth take days not minutes or hours make this impossible for the bass. On some lakes bass make may quick upward bursts as much as fifteen feet to take bait near the surface but they must return back to the holding depth when finished feeding. Spots and smallmouth have a greater verticle range than largemouths.

Now bait fish like shad have no swimbladder and can make big moves up and down in the water but must constantly swim to stay up in the water. Just for an example here is how shad could influence the activity level of bass. Early and late shad are often shallow and scatter out more since they school by sight. This is when they are easy targets and the shallow bass near the surface and in the shallows feed heavily on them. As the sun gets up the shad begin to school tighter and move down in the water. As the shad move down bass that are holding a little deeper may become active and feed on them but the shallow fish can't follow the shad down since they would have to swim against the floatation of the swim bladder. So now the shallow bass may be more inactive in the shallows or move out to deeper water to suspend near the surface until they move shallow again. At midday or in the early afternoon the shad may be right on the bottom in deep water. This could cause the fish just off the bottom to become active and be the most active fish. The middepth fish can't follow the shad down so now they may be suspended inactive over deeper water but still unable to go to the bottom to feed on the shad located at the bottom. This is just an example but a common one that happens on many lakes.

It would be much more accurate to say that where the bait is located  is a strong indicator of the activity level of bass at that depth. But it's much more complicated than that since conditions, forage, etc.  vary from lake to lake and I could write a book on it and may still miss something different that happens on another lake.  

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Awesome post JWO, and excellent info Randall. I am definitely in agreement with Randall on this one, even though I don't have nearly the experience that he does. It does seem that wherever the bait is, there will be active fish. A largemouth's airbladder is extremely sensitive and can take days to adjust like Randall said.

A perfect example of knowing this knowledge and applying it on the water was a BFL I fished on Lake Oconee in April where I placed 4th. I started the morning catching them right against the bank with a Aruka Shad and Dawg 100. Then the sun got bright and we moved way off the bank, but while my boater was tossing a jig in deep water, I noticed the bait was still high in the water column, so I chucked a spinnerbait over 30ft of water and whipped the pants off him. The fish that were right against the bank feeding just moved out and suspended up high when the sun got up. They hit that spinnerbait so hard because the bait was still there and keeping them active.

If Catt and others throw in there information, this thread has the potential to really change how people fish and help alot of anglers put fish in the boat throughout the day.

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How much sustained vertical movement can a basses bladder handle before they need to adjust to the depth change? 2'? 5'? 10'?

I assume (dangerous) they have a couple feet either way. Example, fish sitting at 6' can comfortably move up to 4' or down to 8' before having to adjust bladders. Is this comfort zone larger?

This is a very intriguing topic. My brain is working now.

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From my own observation in clear water and from what I have read and at times discussed with biologists who have studied this more than I have two to three feet is not a big problem and is the common shallow water limit. The gas bladder though does cause the fish to suspend at rest at one depth where a balance is reached. If the fish moves up three feet and no adjustment to the bladder is made then the fish will slowly settle back to where it was. If the fish is active and moving around two to three feet depth change is not a big deal and the fish can feed there.

Also deeper fish seem to be able to make a larger move up or down than shallow fish and the deeper the fish is the larger a move they can make. Ryan Coleman, won a major pro tournament on Lanier a couple years ago, got deep suspended bass he could see on his graph during the tournament to follow his dropshot down in depth around ten feet, from what I remember, in something like 40 feet of water to the bottom before they would strike it.

Also larger older bass are more sensitive to depth change. The bladder of an older bass has expanded and contracted so many times over its life that it becomes stretched out much like the bladder in older humans. This was one of my theorys as to why big bass are more sensitive to depth pressure changes then I read something Ralph Manns wrote which kind of confirmed for me there is something to it. This could make it more sensitive to changes in pressure and one reason why larger bass don't make the larger moves up and down that smaller bass will make.

Also smallmouth and spots will make a larger move up or down than a largemouth will and from what I have read they have thicker air bladder and body cavity walls.

Something else that I have found interesting is that bass have a way to completely deflate the bladder and move all the way to the bottom. Many divers have documented bass sitting sideways on the bottom after severe cold fronts. A bass can susposedly swim down until the pressure causes the bladder to deflate and it then goes all the way to the bottom no longer being limited by its inflated bladder but stuck on the bottom at rest.

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Does this mean that at any given time of the day that you could  find feeding bass at any given depth, that it's just a matter of what depth the bass has acclimated itself to.  Most of the lakes I fish are relatively small and have maximum depths of 20'.  With this minimal depth, is suspension still a large factor?

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Well senko77 you will be a little disappointed since there is little that can be added to what Randall has already stated. But I can add to what you said about catching suspended bass at the same depth as the shoreline related bass. In my years of experience suspended bass can tougher to catch than bottom related or shoreline related bass so when I come across bass suspended at say 15' I simple move to structure located at 15'; now the bass are on the bottom and are usually move active. Kind of the reverse of what you found on the day!

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How much sustained vertical movement can a basses bladder handle before they need to adjust to the depth change? 2'? 5'? 10'?

I assume (dangerous) they have a couple feet either way. Example, fish sitting at 6' can comfortably move up to 4' or down to 8' before having to adjust bladders. Is this comfort zone larger?

This is a very intriguing topic. My brain is working now.

The swim bladder is not just a membranous "thing" filled with gas sorta balloon like object, it 's a very complex organ that controls the bouyancy of the fish, the adjustments in the gas in-gas out ammount are controlled by the nervous system which control blood vessels, specialized tissue and the pneumatic channel that regulate the ammount of gas the bladder needs to maintain a desired depth ( desired or needed by the animal ). The adjustments in pressure are done extremely fast.

Some may say, if the changes are deone extemely fast why is it that some fish exhibit air bladder problems when reeled in from the depths, well, the explanation is simple, when you reel in a fish from the depths at a faster rate of ascent the gas contained in the air bladder expands faster than what the regulating mechanisms can deal with it 's when the fish exhibits air bladder problems.

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I believe that bass can move up and down fairly far, very fast of their own accord.  I am almost positive that I have had fish come from about 30ft down to eat a wakebait. One of these fish I saw on the graph, below a school of kokanee, motored past, turned around, casted out, reeled for about 10 seconds and got an 8-11. It was one really big arch, all alone, under the salmon. I really do not think that they are limited to as small a vertical range as some have suggested. MHO.

As far the activity level being in direct relationship to the fishes postition in the water column, I declare shenanigans. Like Randall said, if the highest concentrations of bait are deep, that is where the active fish will be too. Hungry fish will be where the food is.  Suspended fish can be dang tough, but they can be ridiculously easy too. When they are relating to large prey that is in open water, they can be downright violent.

The lake where I was fishing when I caught that fish out from under that school, I almost always fish over 75+ feet of water during the warm months. Usually with a topwater but sometimes just swimming a bait mid column in 15-40 ft. I feel that my chances of getting bit, and it being a really big fish are much higher doing this than fishing the bottom in 40ft or topwater over 10ft.

Sidenote:

Raul, can the fish produce its own gas to fill its bladder? Or are they required  to go to the surface should their needs exceed their stock?

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Raul, can the fish produce its own gas to fill its bladder?

They get the gas from their blood Fourbizz, gases like oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen can dissolve in the blood ( gas solubility ), fish have specialized cells that can draw the dissolved blood gases from the blood and transfer them into the the air bladder. The gas found in the "air" bladder is mainly nitrogen gas.

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Just to be sure I wasn't misleading anybody, I asked Ralph Manns how fast a bass could adjust to depth change since he has studied this subject way more than I have. Here is his reply to me.

 Quote: Unless there has been some recent scientific study with which I am not familiar, (I'm now pretty much out of the loop for current science reports) we only have data on a few other species. Black bass capabilities are likely similar, but not necesarily the same.

As I recall, yellow perch are able to compensate for about a foot of pressure change per hour. Within an hour for ever foot of base-depth change they will be adjusted to the new depth. I don't consider this fast enough to significantly allow rapid changes in acclimation depth. Likely, the other site author was merely noting that bass can quickly go up as much as 20 feet to the surface. but, such moves are almost always accompanied by an almost immediate return to a depth with significantly higher pressure.

LTBama has images of bass coming up from 25 feet following fish hooked while vertical spooning. The followers turn back at 10-7 feet from the surface. while the percentage change in pressure per foot lessens as you go deeper, 20 feet appears to be about the maximum range of normal vertical movement for the black basses.

More realistic info is that during the one year I dove and observed bass, they seldom changed base-depth by more than a foot or two, staying in the same depth range for months at a time. this was in lake Travis, and we saw fish at all depths from just under the surface to 40 feet down. Individual fish tended to stay at their own depths, but all depths seemed to hold some bass. End Quote.

Raul, does this sound like the kind of depth change you would consider extremely fast? I don't consider a foot per hour fast but you might since it all relative to what we consider fast.

Fourbizz I have seen at the most 15 feet moves up where I fish for LM and 20-25 feet for spots and hybrids but Ryan Coleman who fishes much clearer water than I do most of the time told me he had a 10lb LM come up and chase his jig to the surface in 30 feet of water and he saw it all on his depthfinder. But those fish return back down quickly as Ralph stated.

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Randall, that makes  plenty of sense to me. I guess I thought that you/Mann were saying that they couldnt make those changes at all. I see that the point you were making was how far the could move vertically without affecting neutral bouyancy. I am sure that these fish that come way up are so positively bouyant that they must fight fairly hard to return to depth.

It seems to me that given the motivation, a fish could move up as far as it wants, as long as the bladder would not expand so much as to prevent them from going back down. That depth to me, seems to be around the 40-50 ft mark. That seems to be the depth that I get fish that need to be sent back down with a weight. I do not fizz my fish.

I didnt mention in my original post that you can clearly make out the bottom in 20+ ft of water at that lake.

Good thread. :)

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Randall that Perch reference made me think of something I hadnt thought of in years.

When I was a in Colorado growing up, we did a TON of ice fishing for perch. I am reminded that every perch caught past about 25ft would have a distended air bladder in their mouth and you could not release them. It my experience bass seem to not suffer from this until about double the depth.

Walleye/Perch guys, do they seem incapable of as dramatic a change as bass?

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I have had big bass at the 25-30 foot mark that had to be weighted to get back down while I have heard stories of guys getting them in forty to fifty feet and they were fine. I am not sure why but most big fish I catch on the small lakes I fish have swollen bladders from around thirty feet but sometimes at twenty five. This is sometimes also the max depth in the lake if that has anything to do with it.

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So is pre-spawn staging partly a depth acclimation thing?

It would seem that the deep fish would need to take time to get up shallower to bedding depth.

Just thinking out loud.

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So is pre-spawn staging partly a depth acclimation thing?

It would seem that the deep fish would need to take time to get up shallower to bedding depth.

Just thinking out loud.

Pre-spawn staging is a combination of conditions

Weather patterns

Water temperatures

Water clarity

Time frame (gestation period)

Moon's phases

Metabolism

This is but a few  ;)

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What is important is where the bass is positioned on cover or structure can indicate the activity level of the bass not depth. if a bass is sitting on top of a stump I would consider it being active. If the bass is sitting on the bottom or away from the stump the fish is inactive. If the bass is in the school of shad or just below it I would consider the fish to be active. If the bass is well below the school I would consider the fish to be inactive. If I was fishing a lay down and the fish was sitting on the deep side edge I would consider the fish to be active. If the fish was hugging the bottom or deep in the thick part of the tree I would consider the fish to be inactive. In most places that bass hang out there is a place where the bass goes to feed and a place where it hangs out and a place for the fish to escape or change depth if conditions change. The fish has identified areas that they go to feed and hunt for prey. Deep or shallow it doesn't matter they still find a  

natural flow of bait and use it as a hunting ground. Deep fish tend to use edges or breaks. So if the fish is nose to the break off the edge in deeper water I would consider the fish active. Also if the fish is on the shallow side of the break they are active. but if the fish is suspended out away from the break and you don't see bait the fish is inactive. Hope this helps :)

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There is also a grey area to this because you can use a lure to force feed a fish to strike if it is around cover or structure reguardless of the activity level it is called reaction strike. You can do it with a crankbait, spinnerbait, jig, rattletrap.  :)

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So is pre-spawn staging partly a depth acclimation thing?

Interesting thought. If this was the case, and if bass are coming from deep water, it likely does enter in, it would seem that all the other factors mentioned would be moot, until depth accommodation was realized.

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Notes from July 11 and August 6. : Both days were warm, and in a stable weather pattern. 4pm the bass were hammering a *, stuck onto a pear shaped jig head (1/4 0uce) on the the bottom of a Coon Tail weed bed ( 16 ft of water) and a submerged grass bed ( 12 ft of water)

Later that night between 8pm and 1 am, over those same weed beds, during some kind of fly hatch, we noticed a lot of bait fish eating what ever was hatching. We set up over those same 2 areas using 5/8 ounce Jitter bugs and 1/2 ounce Single Colorado Spinner-baits, also in black

Both nights were the finest top water fishing of the summer. I guess those beds held actively feeding bass most of that day!  Question to the more experienced fellas

  What is the likely hood they were the same bass, just deeper in the day than at night? Could they be the same bass we were hookimg up to earluer that day?

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Muddy - Either the fish were still deep, but were rushing upwards to take your topwater bait, then diving back down to the deeper water or there were fish that were suspended above the grass during the day that became active that night.

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Randall that Perch reference made me think of something I hadn't thought of in years.

When I was a in Colorado growing up, we did a TON of ice fishing for perch. I am reminded that every perch caught past about 25ft would have a distended air bladder in their mouth and you could not release them. It my experience bass seem to not suffer from this until about double the depth.

Walleye/Perch guys, do they seem incapable of as dramatic a change as bass?

Although I don't do it much, I do occasionally fish for perch and walleye on Lake Erie. In the summer months, it's not uncommon to catch perch from depths of 50+ feet. When you reel them up you can visibly see their swim bladder protruding from their throat.

PA actually changed the minimum size limit because of this. There used to be a minimum size you could keep (7" if I recall correctly) but alot of dead fish were being found on the surface with distended swim bladders. Now during the summer months there is no minimum size limit which encourages anglers to keep all the perch they catch from the depths.

They just weren't making it back down because of the swim bladder issues.

As far as Lake Erie smallmouth, they too exhibit the same signs but not as drastic. A smallie caught out of say 25 fow will swim back down if immediately released. One placed into a livewell for weighing will swim on it's side or upside down. Some never make it to weigh in alive, others do live but cannot swim or dive when released after weigh in.

I've personally been fizzing smallies through the throat w/ the use of a hypodermic needle. You can see an immediate change in the fish. Once fizzed it will swim upright and look fine. I've tried to find studies about the lingering effects of fizzing but they are hard to come by.

Sorry to go off topic here, just answering fourbizz's question.

Agree, good topic.....

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Hey Muddy how ya doing :) My guess is that you where catching suspending fish during the day and the same group of fish at night. 1/4 oz jig in coontail as thick as coontail gets I would doubt your jig hit the bottom. I think you found a heck of a spot and the fish just moved up and down the coontail.

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