How to Catch a Largemouth Bass

You’re probably already familiar with largemouth bass if you’ve been fishing for any amount of time. They’re by far the most popular gamefish in the United States, more sought after than the crappy by almost twice as much by fishermen. Panfish and catfish rank about the same as the crappy, followed closely behind by trout. The country has about 30 million anglers who say they focus mostly on largemouth bass and the industry banks around $115 billion annually. Largemouth bass fishing is so popular that it’s spread to countries like Japan, where this fish is considered an invasive species. Most anglers in Japan fish from shore and tend to spend much more money on expensive bass lures and rods than their American counterparts. Largemouth bass fishing is nearly absent in the United Kingdom though, as it’s a bit too chilly for the species to survive across the pond. The most popular bass there is undoubtedly the sea bass. 

What is a Largemouth Bass?

The largemouth bass is another fish with many names: Black Bass, Green Trout, Bigmouth Bass, and Lineside Bass. But if you’re interested in the fish’s natural history, it’s best to look it up by its scientific name: Micropterus salmoides. There are many different kinds of bass, so how do you know if you’re holding a largemouth? A few distinctive features set this fish apart from its neighbors. Young ones in their first year will only get as big as six inches, but by the time they reach three years old, they can be as long as sixteen inches. They have a divided dorsal fin, with the front fin containing nine spines. The upper jaw reaches back past the eye (hence the name “large mouth”). As far as coloration goes, they are divided into a light green or offwhite lower half and a dark green upper half. Along either side of the body are rows of black splotches. This is a very muscular fish and will fight like a fish twice its size. 

As far as behavior goes, they are the top predators in their ecosystem. That’s a good thing for anglers because this aggressive fish will go after almost anything, sometimes, it seems, just for spite. They even eat other small bass species. Male largemouth bass build nests for the females to lay their eggs in and they quickly chase the female away so they can guard the eggs. About a week after they’re laid, they hatch into fry, which the male also guards. Immature largemouth will hang out in groups while the adults space themselves apart. 

As their names imply, the largemouth bass is bigger than the smallmouth bass. However, that’s not the only way to tell them apart. Smallmouth bass have a different body coloration, different habitat, and slightly different anatomy. The smallmouth usually has vertical stripes and an even brown color throughout the body. The dorsal fin, while lobed, doesn’t appear as divided as the largemouth’s. Can you find both fish in the same body of water? Yes, but their behavior is not the same. We’ll get more into that in the section below. Here’s a handy visual guide to bass identification. 

Where to find Largemouth Bass?

The native range of largemouth bass in North America is almost everywhere east of the Mississippi River. The exception to this area would be the states on the east coast north of Virginia. Due to its immense popularity, however, the largemouth bass has been introduced to practically every freshwater body in the country. So, the simple answer to the question, “where to find largemouth bass” would be “everywhere in the United States.” However, they prefer a certain temperature range and habitat that you’ll want to know about if you’re tracking this fish. Largemouth bass like cool, clear water with plenty of vegetation. They breed in areas with sandy or gravel bottoms, so you won’t find them laying their eggs in mud. These bass do migrate, but not in masses along any particular route. Twice a year they move into different depths. They spawn once a year in shallow waters and move back to deeper waters as the weather cools. Oxygen concentration, algal blooms, and the presence of baitfish will also affect the movements of largemouth bass. 

On a more local level, you can find them hanging out under cover of submerged vegetation and tree stumps. The vegetation provides not only cover, but a place where plankton and other tiny organisms congregate. This is what draws the baitfish, and consequently their predators. The bass hide under downed trees and docks to ambush their prey, a key factor in knowing how to catch them. Casting your bait or lure into the shadows near these cover areas is the best way to entice largemouth bass to strike. An actively flowing river or stream is not a good bet for these fish, as they prefer calm waters. The ideal temperature for largemouth bass is between 65℉ and 90℉ although they can survive short intervals in the low 90’s. In the colder months, they will seek deeper bodies of water where they can escape the colder surface temperatures. Dissolved oxygen is likely the most important factor largemouth bass need for their survival. If you happen to have a DO monitor, these fish thrive in 10 ppm and are stressed at around 5 ppm. Areas with a large amount of bacteria will have a lower amount of dissolved oxygen since the bacteria consume most of it.

As mentioned earlier, smallmouth and largemouth bass can often be found in the same waters. So, how do you tell at a glance which fish is which if you can’t get a good look at the coloration? In general, you will find smallmouth bass in the northern latitudes, like the Great Lakes region, because they prefer cooler water. In moderately cool areas, where the ambient temperatures fit within the aforementioned range, you can find largemouth too. They don’t exactly mingle with their smaller cousins though. Both fish can be found around cover, but they interact with it differently. Largemouth like to get deep into cover and strike out from the shadows. Smallmouth will linger on the edges of cover like rock piles. Smallmouth are also more likely to venture into open water to chase smaller fish. They’ll also spend more time in a strong current. To find out more about dissolved oxygen and why it’s important, check out this USGS article.

Best Bait for Largemouth Bass

Okay. Your fish identification game is on point, you’ve scouted out the perfect spot at your favorite lake, and you’re ready to get down to the business of catching a largemouth. What are you going to put on your hook? The good news is that this aggressive fish will strike at just about anything. Left to its own devices, an adult largemouth bass will munch on prey like frogs, crayfish, and other small fish, even other largemouth bass if they’re small enough. The juveniles go after mostly shrimp and insects, but eat small baitfish too. Any of these things work well as bait. 

By far, the best baitfish to use when seeking largemouth bass is golden shiner. Their range overlaps with the bass in most parts of the country. They’re usually available from shops, but it’s far more economical to catch them yourself. You can do this with chum and a cast net. Worms are a tried and true bait for largemouths. Put an earthworm under a bobber near the vegetation and you’ll be reeling in the bass in no time. Bluegill, shad, minnows, and crawfish are also on the menu. Basically, anything the fish can fit it into its mouth, it’ll try and eat. 

If you’re fishing with live bait, you’ll of course need to keep it alive. Earthworms are exceedingly easy to keep alive as long as you don’t leave them in the sun and they have enough moisture. With baitfish, there are a number of ways you can rig a bait bucket or tank so that you can keep them at home until you’re ready to get on the water. If you’re boat fishing, you can use a drop net that floats alongside your watercraft. Just keep an eye out for turtles trying to steal your bait! 

Largemouth bass are fighters, so you’ll want to keep this in mind when choosing your rig. You’ll want a soft-tipped rod with medium action that’s about seven foot. A spinning reel rated for 10 lb. line will do nicely with a monofilament or fluorocarbon line to match. Bobbers are great to use with live bait, even if they aren’t trendy right now. Freelining is a natural way to present bait and works well to fool these fish. Lastly, when using live bait, your hook choice will be different than with a lure or artificial bait. The best one with a largemouth rig is a circle hook. Make sure to leave the tip of the hook exposed when you’re threading it onto the hook. 

Best Lures for Largemouth Bass

Since largemouth bass can so often be found lurking under cover of vegetation, a good lure for this fish will be one that doesn’t easily snag in patches of weeds. There’s something called a Texas rig that combines a soft lure with an offset shank hook. Since the hook is buried in the lure, it moves swiftly through the weeds without catching, but once the fit has bitten, the hook will draw through the lure’s soft body. Probably the most effective, though, is a standard worm lure with a weighted line. When dragged slowly along the bottom they wiggle like the real thing.

Jigheads can be effective with soft lures, but due to the exposed hook, they’re best used at the borders of a covered area instead of inside it. Once cast out, let it drift to the bottom and then give it a few twitches. This should be enough to draw out a curious bass. A spinner bait with a Colorado blade will produce attractive vibrations, but be sure to retrieve it slowly because these lures catch a lot of water. Crankbaits and rattlebaits are another option but only if you have a lot of energy and upper arm strength. They require a long cast and work best in deep water, so you’ll be doing a lot of cranking.

Lastly, look into minnow-mimicking lures. These are best in the early spring and fished in shallow waters. Since they come in an array of colors, make sure you know which baitfish the largemouth bass in your area are eating. Then, pick up a few lures that match the coloration of those fish. They’re often called stickbaits because of their narrow shape. They are commonly a light lure, but come in sinking and suspending models too. Because they’re so light, they can be hard to cast far, so these could be a good option in smaller bodies of water. Here’s an editorial from In-Fisherman that dives deep into the different lures.

Best Ways to Cook Largemouth Bass

One thing a lot of bass fishing articles leave off is what to do with the fish once you’ve caught it. Catch and release is, of course, a good choice, but what if you want to take it home and cook it up? Opinions vary wildly when it comes to the flavor of largemouth bass. Some people don’t like to eat largemouth bass because it can be fishy. Its white flesh can have a meaty texture that’s not as flaky as other fish. But, depending on how it’s prepared and the flavors it’s paired with, largemouth bass can be very enjoyable to have on the dinner table.

You can bake, grill, and fry this fish filleted or whole; it’s really up to your personal preference. There’s a great recipe from Wine Magazine that uses a pecan herb crust and a cast iron pan. Naturally, the recipe comes with a wine pairing suggestion. For a more down home flavor, try this recipe for southern fried largemouth bass with jalapeño hush puppies. Finally, if you have a flair for flavors south of the border, check out this steamed fish with lime and chile recipe.

Good luck out there and don’t forget the first rule of fishing: have fun!

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