Bass are America’s most popular freshwater sport fish and a national institution when it comes to fishing. There are bass fishing tournaments, bass fishing shops and websites devoted to bass fishing – so we thought we’d get fishing guide and resident expert Shawn Chapin to explain its appeal and provide some bass fishing tips for beginners.
How to catch bass: the basics
Largemouth Bass are not a difficult fish to catch in most conditions. They are aggressive and opportunistic feeders and they are found in a large variety of waterways throughout the US. They tolerate a big range of conditions and are renowned fights when an angler gets them on the line.
Lures and artificial baits for Largemouth Bass
Lure fishing is by far the most popular way to fish for largemouth bass (although fly fishers are starting to get in on the act too and targeting bass on a fly rod).
We’ve written a whole article on the best lure types for bass and we recommend that anglers – particularly those who are used to fishing for bass with lures – read it.
But for beginners, we’ve broken down below the types of lures that are effective for catching largemouth bass.
Soft plastic baits for bass
We recommend using soft plastic lures to target bass for beginners for a few reasons. First of all, they are cheap compared to crankbaits, jerkbaits and topwater lures. If you lose a soft plastic lure, you just tie on another jig head and pull another worm or crawdad out and thread it on. Whereas with other types of lures, you are up for at least $10 to replace them. Jig heads are very cheap and if you really want to save money you can make your own soft plastics with some of the kits on offer.
Of the soft baits used to fish for largemouth bass, Senko style worms and finesse worms are the most popular. Rigging these worms (and other varieties of soft baits to achieve the best results) is a science in itself!
For info and simple instructions on rigging worms and other soft baits for bass, check out these articles:
Jigs for largemouth bass
More bass have been caught on jigs than any other lure type. They are deadly, fun to fish, cheap and produce trophy bass. Check out this article if you are keen to try jigs for catching bass and want to learn which jigs are most effective for largemouth bass.
Crankbaits, jerkbaits and swimbaits
These realistic, shimmying hard and soft bodies lures are great imitations of shad and other prey types for bass. Each of these types of lure has its purpose in bass fishing and feel free to read our specific guides on each type:
Topwater lures for largemouth bass
Topwater lures such as frogs, poppers and other floating lures are our favorite way to fish for bass, simply because this form of fishing really gets the adrenalin flowing. Nothing can match the thrill of a surface take when a largemouth bass zeroes in a frog you’ve been pulling over a lily pad and smashes it.
In this article we break down the best choice of surface lures for largemouth bass.
Spinnerbaits for largemouth bass
How to catch largemouth bass: FAQs and Tips
1. Why is bass fishing so popular?
There are many reasons! Bass are found in abundance in every single state in the continental United States. They are found in almost every body of water that fish can survive in with very few exceptions and they can tolerate a wide variety in the water temperature.
When you put together the abundance of fish with the fact that catching bass is relatively easy (but they do put up a good fight for their size), it is easy to see why bass fishing is popular. Bass – either largemouth, smallmouth or spotted – give anglers from beginner to elite level a fun and exciting time on the water.
2. Why is bass fishing so fun?
Bass fishing for beginners is fun they are an exciting fish to catch and you can fish for them using a variety of tactics and a range of bass fishing lures from soft plastics (especially combined with scents), jigs, crankbaits and topwater lures too.
Another reason bass fishing is so fun and popular is because of the ease of entry-level fishing. Compared to other species like walleye, or especially musky, bass are reasonable easy to tempt. And with the abundance of them in most bodies of water, you could be able to consistently catch bass all day.
3. What types of bass are there? And where are they found?
The most common bass found in the United States is the largemouth bass, but there are also spotted and smallmouth bass as well.
Largemouth bass are found in every state in the continental United States. Largemouth bass can also be found naturally in northern Mexico and the southern half of Canada. They have also been stocked in other parts of the world such as Japan, where they are now a popular sport fish for Japanese anglers. (For a fascinating look at bass fishing in Japan check out this article).
Spotted bass inhabit a smaller portion of the United States, and can be found from the gulf coast of Texas across the southern states to Florida, and up to the Ohio River and Mississippi River basins.
Smallmouth bass are naturally occurring in the northern areas of the United States and Canada, but over the years they have been stocked in lakes all over the United States west and south of their native ranges.
Check out our fishing locations page for more detail on the best bass fishing spots in the US.
4. What type of habitat do bass like?
The preferred habitat of bass varies not only by bodies of water you’re fishing for them in, but also by species.
Largemouth bass are commonly found around vegetation, timber or drop offs – good areas to catch bass can be found using a fish finder.
Smallmouth can be found in all the same areas but also like structure such as deep rock piles and rubble, or shoreline rip rap. Smallmouth bass are also found in a lot of clear lakes and reservoirs and tend to live deeper in those bodies of water.
Spotted bass can be found in all the same places as largemouth bass, but also like to inhabit areas that are warm, turbid and slow moving that largemouth bass would avoid. Spotted bass can also be found in areas of faster current – again, that’s a spot that largemouth bass would normally avoid. For learning to pick out bass on a fish finder, check out our guide to reading fish finder images.
5. What is the best gear to use for bass fishing?
Sorting out a good rod and reel is a top priority for bass fishing for beginners. The common rods and reels used to catch bass are baitcaster rods and reels (check our summary of the best baitcasting reels if you are looking to buy one). Spinning rods (our best spinning rods for bass are listed here) and spinning reels are also popular too. Spinning reels are easier to use and should be the first choice for beginners.
Similarly when it comes to choice of fishing line, a good monofilament line if probably best for beginners as you don’t have the issues you can have with braided line tangling and it is cheaper than fluoro line. [For help with the 7 basic fishing knots beginners should know, check out this post which has full tying instructions and illustrations and covers the top knots for each type of fishing line.]
Normally a bass angler has a variety of types and sizes of outfit to cover multiple different tactics and situations. These can include a jigging rod or a fiberglass rod for fishing for bass with crankbaits. When you are starting out, it’s a good idea to choose one of the best bass attractants to put on your bass fishing lures to help your catch rate. Check our our guide to the best lure kits for bass fishing for some cheap ways to assemble a decent arsenal of bass fishing lures for your tackle box.
An overall rod and reel combination for all around fishing once you get a bit more experience would be something like a seven foot heavy baitcasting rod with a fast action paired with a baitcasting reel in the 6.4.1 gear ratio and spooled with some 16-pound fluorocarbon fishing line.
6. What are the best seasons to fish for bass?
One of the best bass fishing beginner tips is to pick the best time of year to fish. Bass fishing is primarily the best in spring and summer as the water temperature warms up. Big bass move up into the shallows to spawn in the spring making beds to lay eggs.
This can make them easy to target for beginners, but catch-and-release fishing during this time is strongly recommended, as smaller fish will eat the eggs in an unprotected bed.
Summer bass are found widely in a variety of locations from the same shallow areas where they spawned through to deeper weeds and drop-offs.
7. What are the best times of day to fish for bass?
Like most fish, bass feed more actively in the morning hours and in the evening and these are top times for targeting big bass. But bass are known for still feeding pretty consistently throughout the day. They can be tempted with lures throughout the day, especially if you are fishing something like jigs or plastic worms in cover.
8. What is the best weather to catch bass in?
For bass, like most species, weather details such as wind and water temperatures have a major impact on their feeding habits and their location in a given body of water.
Approaching storms or changes in atmospheric pressure can cause a spike in fish feeding activity.
High wind days can make it difficult to use some of the more popular tactics for catching bass, like fishing jigs or soft plastic worms, as the wind creates a big bow in the fishing line and makes it difficult to sense strikes. Remember to choose a heavier jig head to punch through the wind if you are fishing soft plastic worms or other soft baits on these days.
But wind can also be a fisherman’s friend. Bass will use wind direction to their advantage when feeding and hone in on structure and weedlines where the wind is pushing waves onto the pieces of structure or blowing into the weedlines. This wave action jostles the water around and makes it hard for bait fish to swim and evade predators. And it pushes them near the ambush positions of a predatory fish such as bass. Finding these sort of spots is one of the best bass fishing tips for beginners.
Before a storm comes in can be an excellent time to be on the water and these periods offer excellent opportunities for beginners to catch bass. Generally any time the barometric pressure increases or decreases can be good. After a storm has passed and high pressure and clear skies return, can indicate that fishing for the next day or two might be pretty tough. Your best tactic in these situations is to fish slop or heavy cover with jigs and get reaction strikes, as most fish will be laying low for the next one or two days.
‘Before a storm comes in can be an excellent time to be on the water, and generally any time the barometric pressure increases or decreases’
9. Do you need a boat to fish for bass?
Absolutely not. And let’s face it, most beginners are not going to rush out and buy a boat before trying bass fishing from the shore. While having an awesome bass boat or kayak to fish from gives you more options in the form of mobility on the water and the ability to fish midlake structure, people who want to catch bass from shore have a ton of options! Since bass have a tendency to stay fairly shallow for most of the year, fishing from shore can be pretty productive. Bass love hanging out under docks, pontoons, lilypads and wood along a shoreline. Targeting structure is one of the best bass fishing tips for beginners. Tie on a skirted jig, or a Texas rigged soft plastic, or for an even more exciting time, slap on a topwater lure and have a blast!
10. What about hooking, fighting, and handling bass?
There are a few bass fishing tips and tricks for beginners to pay attention to when it comes to hooking and fighting bass:
When fishing jigs, keep your rod tip at no more than roughly a 45 degree angle point up and keep tension on your line so you can feel a bite. When a bass bites, don’t immediately set the hook – bass have a tendency to hold on to it, so give it a few seconds before you set that hook. But the obvious and general rule of thumb when fishing other types of lure is when a bass eats your lure, set that hook.
There are a few helpful tips and tricks for fighting bass as well.
In most situations, if you hook a bass it’s going to want to jump. A good tactic to use on a jumping fish is to keep your rod tip low and keep reeling so you don’t don’t allow any slack in your line. This applies for most situations.
The general rule of thumb for crankbait fishing is set the hook in a longer sweeping motion and not as violent of a hookset, while keeping the rod tip low to avoid jumps. This is mostly due to the small treble hooks, and the potential to come out during a hookset or from the fish getting airborne.
Handling a bass is fairly simple: there’s really only two concerns when handling your catch, and that is watch out for the dorsal spines on the top of the fish, and watch out for hooks from your lure! A wiggling bass in your hand can put hooks and other pointy things where you don’t want them to be. When it comes to handling a bass, simply cradle the fish under the belly or grab it by its lower lip with your thumb (or a Boga grip) , bass don’t have big sharp teeth. Their teeth and lips are actually like sandpaper to help them grip and hang onto prey.
11. Is catch and release important?
Catch and release is a very important practice in angling to help sustain a stable fisheries population. Government agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service and state bodies set regulations on fish size and quantities an angler is allowed to harvest. But over the years, with more and more fishing pressure, most sporting anglers fishing for fish such as bass, walleye, and muskie have transformed their perception of what angling is all about. The good news is that catch and release for sport fish is becoming the new normal. There is nothing wrong with taking home a fish dinner! But the key is to only take what you need. We need more fish in lakes and less filling up basement freezers.
Get our verdict on the best baitcasting rods for bass – Daiwa, St Croix, Fenwick and other top brands reviewed by our in-house professionals