Bass are opportunistic and non-discriminatory eaters. If a potential prey item swims or scurries past, and the bass is hungry, they will usually try to gulp it down as a meal. As a bass angler, it’s your job to mimic the natural food that bass eat in order to get more bites on your line.
Most anglers don’t fully understand how the diet of bass can change depending on the location, time of year, and size of bass. It’s not uncommon for monster-sized bass to eat non-typical prey items such as frogs, lizards, mice, small snakes, and even small birds in addition to their normal intake of small fish species.
What Do Bass Eat?
Typical prey items that bass eat can include:
- Yellow Perch
Non-typical and occasional prey items that bass eat can include:
- Baby Ducks
- Baby Turtles
- Smaller Bass
Does bass diet vary by location?
Not all prey items will be the same in different locations. Bass in the north may be more used to feeding on shad, shiners and other small fish species, while southern bass eat mostly frogs and crayfish. If you’re switching up your fishing locations often, be sure you know what prey items are common in that body of water. While bass are not picky about what goes in their mouth, they will still be more prone to strike a familiar-looking food item than something completely foreign to them.
The Bass Diet: Key Information
The typical diet for bass is not the same across every season, and in fact can vary greatly from month to month depending on the temperature, weather patterns, and other factors.
During the spawning months in the spring, bass are usually not actively hunting down prey but will gulp down a meal if it comes near their face. When spawning, bass are more aggressive and focused on defending their nests and spawning grounds. Anglers can use this aggression to their advantage and some of the best trophy sized bass fights have been done during spawn.
In the spring, some anglers will swear by using creature baits or lizard baits. It’s not uncommon for salamanders to feed on the eggs of bass fish, so during the spawning months both male and female bass will be extremely aggressive if they see a salamander-like shape in their spawn area.
What do largemouth bass eat in summer? As the spawning months pass and summer moves in, bass will start aggressive feeding behaviors and will strike at almost anything that moves. During this time you can have excellent success when fishing with flukes, frogs, or worms in a variety of colors and sizes. Some of the most popular colors during this time are yellows, browns, two-tone frogs, and solid blacks.
Moving into the cooler months of fall and early winter, bass will be eagerly eating anything they can find in preparation for winter. In the late months of the year, frogs will not be part of a bass’ diet as the amphibians will be hibernating during this time. Instead, successful anglers will use fish imitating lures.
Bluegill and yellow perch will make up the bulk of this most popular game fish diet during the fall and winter months, though minnows, shad, and shiners are also common. As the water temperatures get colder, bass will still be eating though won’t be expending much energy to give chase. Instead, try to get your bait directly in front of the bass in order to get them to strike.
Bass are a popular game fish that will not turn down a meal just because it’s a non-typical prey item. Being very opportunistic feeders, small baby turtles have been eaten by bass, as have ducklings, small aquatic birds, or songbirds that have fallen into the water. Small rodents, lizards, and snakes that don’t typically end up in the water can become a quick meal if a bass is nearby when one falls off of a branch or slides into the water while getting a drink.
Bass Diet According to Habitat
Almost every deep or shallow water source will have small baitfish such as minnows, shiners, and shad. These are a very common prey item for bass of all sizes, and can be a vital food source throughout the year.
Largemouth bass will eat in all areas of the water column as well. You can scoot a crayfish across the bottom, skip a frog on the top, or work a worm around pylons and rock piles and still get plenty of strikes on your line.
Smallmouth bass may be a bit more discerning when it comes to their feeding areas. It’s more common to see smallmouth bass feeding in fast moving water such as a river or small stream as opposed to a slow moving or stagnant pond. Additionally, smallmouth bass are normally feeding more towards the bottom than they will be at the surface, though you can get many smallmouth bites around docks and other submerged areas.
Does Diet Differ Between Bass Species?
In general, most bass including black bass, white bass, Choctaw bass, striped bass, Largemouth bass and Smallmouth bass share some of the same bass behavior and prey items, such as minnows, shiners, shad, and other small baitfish.
However, differences in the diet of different bass species will come down to their location. Striped bass will have different feeding opportunities than freshwater bass, and adult largemouth bass in mountain lakes will have different feeding opportunities than baby bass in southern swamps would.
The Largemouth Bass Diet
Largemouth bass feed on just about everything, and due to their oversized mouths, they can take some rather large lures and baits as well. Almost any fish-imitating lure will work for these larger fish such as those that imitate minnows, shiners, shad, bluegill, perch, smaller bass, and more.
It’s also not uncommon for largemouth bass and young bass of all species to go crazy for crayfish (get one here) and creature baits, especially those that look like small lizards or salamanders. Additionally, chunk baits do well if they are scented or salt infused as bass will bite down harder when they smell or taste something they consider delicious.
Standard worms are also very popular for catching bass of all species. Paddle tails, tube worms, leeches, and other worm-like baits can be a very suitable quick meal for a hungry bass in the area. Worm baits (buy one here) are most popular during the post-spawn time when bass are extremely aggressive and active with their feeding. Larger bass will strike a worm with speed and aggression during this time which makes it a great option for any angler, young or old, that is looking for a nice fight on the other end of their line.
The Smallmouth Bass Diet
Compared to their largemouth relatives, smallmouth bass tend to be somewhat more limited in the size and shape of food they will accept. In general, smallmouth bass will eat and eagerly strike at crayfish, minnows, bluegill, and insect imitating lures and bait. Some of the best smallmouth bass have been caught by bass anglers in fast moving water around large boulders and rock piles with a craw lure.
Selecting Lures Based on Feeding Habits
Most bass fishing anglers know that selecting a lure based on the seasonal or location feeding habits of largemouth bass can get the best results on a fishing day. If you toss a lure into the water that is completely foreign and new to that group of largemouth bass, they may spend more time trying to figure out what it is instead of biting at it.
For the best results to catch bass, always try to match your lure to what bass in that area are actively feeding on for that season. If you see bass eat or chasing small baitfish in the shallows, use a lure that imitates a baitfish to mimic those bass feeding habits. If, on the other hand, you see bass diving deep and grabbing crayfish in the mud, use a craw lure instead to get those adult bass and young bass to strike.
Knowing the prey items of bass in your area can give you an advantage when it comes to selecting the best artificial lures for your line to catch bass. Whether you are a professional fisherman or a casual weekend angler, matching your lure and bait type to the natural prey items in that body of water can be exactly what you need to get more bites on your line and fish in your boat.
If bass simply aren’t responding to a lure that mimics their normal prey items, don’t be afraid to switch it up and try something new. If your soft plastic fluke isn’t getting results, switch over to insect lures and see if that gives the results you want. In the end, bass are eager to eat and very opportunistic, so chances are if a hungry bass is near, it will probably sample whatever you are offering it whether it’s aquatic insects, insect larvae, or one of the topwater baits.