Bass is one of the more popular fish to cast for, not only because they are typically large and therefore make the perfect prize photo, but because they also taste delicious. Bass can be found in lakes and rivers, making them ideal prey for fishers who are using kayaks.
Catching bass isn’t too dissimilar to fishing for any other species, but they have their unique temperament, tastes, and quirks which can make it more difficult than fishing for animals like carp or trout which can be easier. Bass tend to be quite nervous animals, keeping to the bottom of the body of water where they can avoid any potential predators and also hide from the animals that they hunt.
To maximize your chances of success, it’s important to know how to catch bass, what types of bait or lures to use and where and when you should be fishing for them. If you head out with maggots at noon and fish the surface, you’re probably never going to get a nibble, and you’ll go home disappointed, vowing never to fish for bass again. Hopefully, by reading this guide, you can ensure that never happens to you!
Although a basic setup is perfectly adequate for catching bass, there are a few tweaks that you can make to improve your chances of success, especially if you’re looking for heavier animals. Bass can be surprisingly large, and therefore it’s important that you have a strong enough line and enough weight to carry your bait down to where the fish rest.
You could use flies to fish for bass. I'm not much of a fly fisher, in fact I'm a danger to myself and others, but Andy McKinley of Duranglers.com says of catching bass:
“Wade deep, cast far. Use a Meat Whistle”.
Sounds dirty, right? Fishermen, for you.
Anyway, a meat whistle is a type of streamer fly. Here's a bit more about using a streamer:
Although many bass fishers swear by a variety of live baits, lures can also be incredibly effective because bass can be aggressive when they hunt, especially if they see a rapid movement that they recognize. There are three common types of lures that you’ll want to use for bass, crank baits, spinner baits and plastic worms. These can all be used successfully regardless of your location or the time of year.
The color that you pick for your lures is also important. Ideally, you’ll have both a natural and a bright colored version of each lure, giving you the ability to easily switch it up to test what works best in your location.
Crankbaits are the most common bass lure. They look like small live fish and they can get two three-pronged hooks on each lure, typically with one hook under the belly of the fish and another at the rear. Common crankbaits for bass include the Jackall Boil Trigger and the Rapala Ultra Light Crank.
Spinners aren’t as common for bass, but because of their aggressive nature when hunting bass can often be attracted to bright moving objects. Spinners have curved metal blades on them which cause the spinning motion and make a noise underwater which the bass can sense, drawing them closer to the lure.
Plastic worms, on the other hand, are convenient because you don’t need to take live bait out with you which some people prefer. These lures are designed to replicate large earthworms which is one of the more common types of live bait which is used successfully by bass fishers across the globe.
Using live bait for bass is another option, with most top bass fishers believing that live baits can be superior to lures to hook bass. Of all of the live baits which are used, perhaps the most common is the humble ragworm which seems to attract bass incredibly well. Fished on a long flowing pulley rig, or by using the flowing trace method, ragworm can be very effective.
If you can’t easily get your hands on ragworm, other worms including earthworms and lugworms are also fine alternatives. But worms aren’t the only live bait that attracts bass, some fishers swear by baits like peeler crab and butterfish which are often eaten by bass, especially close to shore and in shallower waters.
Typically starting with worms is the best situation because they are easy to handle, cheap to acquire and can be transported in huge numbers, whereas minnows, crawfish, and butterfish need to be kept in buckets.
You’ve got the right bait or lure; now you need to ensure that your rod and reel is up to the task of catching a hefty bass. There are two main types of reels which are used for the purpose of bass fishing, an open-faced spinning reel or a spin cast reel, otherwise known as a closed face reel. Beyond the obvious differences, the spinning reel requires more skill to master, while a closed faced reel is incredibly easy and therefore ideal for newcomers.
The spinning reel is a fixed spool with a line sticking out, which is probably what you would associate with a fishing rod. These reels are normally designed to be used with 4 to 12lb test line, and with some skill, these reels can give you greater control over your cast and are therefore preferable.
As well as the reel, you’ll also want a rod that is strong enough to handle the fish that you are catching. For smaller bass, you can get by with a light power rod, but for bigger fish, you’ll need a medium power rod that can handle standard to larger sized fish.
This is something that has come up more and more recently - horizontal lip grip. Almost every typical photo of someone holding their prize bass, or indeed any fish, depicts the fisher holding the fish awkwardly by the lip or jaw. Observe:
Absolutely everyone does this, it seems, and so it seems to be the right and normal way to display and handle a fish. It sure looks impressive. The problem is that this is injurous to the fish and can, in fact does, lead to post-release death especially to larger specimens.
"But everyone does it!", you say. Yes indeed, and TV fishing shows and Instagram accounts should be held accountable for promulgating this dangerous handling method. There are plenty of photos of dead bass at the lakeside post-tournament, victims largely of poor handling:
Cause of the PROBLEM: It’s a muscle thing. Bass (all sunfish) eat by sucking prey into their buccal cavity (mouth). Open Jaw > Suck in water and prey > close Jaw > expel water out gills > swallow prey (food). It is that simple. However, the force generated to perform the ‘suck’, is considerable and requires a great deal of muscle strength. The muscles needed to do this are all jointly connected to the operculum fulcrum point (OFP). This is the same point where, in an improperly held fish, all the pressure of the fishes body weight – suspended without support – is focused. When those muscles are strained or injured; let alone torn; the ability to generate the suction necessary to capture prey is greatly reduced or, eliminated.
So how to hold a bass correctly? A two-handed hold is best, supporting the fish horizontally. For smaller fish, less than about three pounds, a vertical hold may be safe (hold your hand vertically in line with the fish) although supporting it horizontally by the belly is better.
As always, keep the fish out of water for as short a duration as possible, and use wet hands or gloves as much as possible - remember, if it's a trophy fish and you kill it, it won't breed. If you and your friends do that a couple of times a season then your favourite lake will fall out of favour pretty quickly.
To read more about the problems with fish handling, have a read of this.
Although the equipment that you use and the bait or lure that you opt for are important factors, if you’re fishing in the wrong spot at the wrong time, it doesn’t matter what you’re using. The best fishers are often those using the oldest and lowest quality gear. What separates them from the rest is their knowledge of the animals, the area that they are fishing and their experience when they finally get a nibble at their lure or bait.
If you’re fishing from a kayak, you’ll have much greater flexibility about where you fish, but it’s not incredibly important for bass fishing because most of them tend to be caught closer to the shore. However, a kayak can allow you to paddle over to other shores which perhaps are inaccessible by land or don’t offer a comfortable area to stand or sit. Here the bass is underfished and therefore can be far easier to catch.
Dave Provance of Trolling Motors Online has the following tip:
If you live in the south, then you know that mid- to late-summer means that the water temperature in a lot lakes can get really warm (I’m from southern Missouri and the water temperature in Bull Shoals Lake, near Branson, reached 89 degrees over the week of the Fourth of July). At that temperature the bass tend to go deep both to cool off and because oxygen levels in the upper part of the lake go down.
At times like these you’ve got to get creative if you want to come home with more than a sunburn. If your like me, you’ve probably noticed that most people fish with their boats positioned over the deeper (and cooler) water, while they keep tossing their baits into the shallows. That may not be a bad strategy during the cooler part of the year, but when the water’s warm, the fish stay deep and your bait needs to be down there with them.
Here’s a nice trick for fishing a rocky ledge or point when the water’s warm. Position your boat in closer to the bank and cast a jig or worm out into deeper water and work it back in towards your boat. Make sure you give your bait time to sink to the bottom, so you get down to where the fish are, and fish your baits a little slower so it stays in contact with the bottom more of the time. Due to the shallow draft, it's really easy for kayak fishermen to use this technique. Just remember, it's not as important for your boat to be close to shore as it is to get your bait into the cooler water. If you need to move your kayak out a ways from the bank, that's fine. It's also fine if people think your crazy for fishing away from the bank. It will be your little secret. Also remember you need to match your lure up with bait that lives in deeper water so maybe go with a little darker color during the hot season.
The majority of all bass will be caught in the pre-spawn which occurs in Springtime in most countries. During this time the water increases in temperature very slightly, and the relatively dormant bass start to become incredibly angry and aggressive, making them far more likely to go for your bait and lures.
Although it’s certainly possible to catch bass all year round, it’s significantly easier during Spring and shortly after because they are preparing to spawn and are therefore more competitive. In this period bass tends to be found closer to the surface than usual, while most of the year they are found on the river or lake bed.
Many fishers swear by looking for bass before the storm. The theory is that the front wave of the storm causes a change in air pressure which causes the bass to become more active, almost as if they are in pre-spawn, whereas after the storm they become extremely dormant.
As a result, if you know there is a large stormy weather front coming in, it’s wise to head out a couple of days before it gets there and fish for bass close to the shore and closer to the surface of the water.
Bass are known to hide from the sunlight as much as possible, both to avoid predators and for personal comfort. As a result, the bass is typically most active in the early morning and at last light in the evening. However, many experienced fishers would argue that early morning fishing for bass is superior and can allow you to get some action in before other fishers converge on the area.
If you’re unable to choose to fish either early in the morning or later at night, you might also consider looking for days when it is overcast, and the sun is blocked out by the clouds, muddy water or a storm. Many fishers have found that this can increase their activity and allows the bass to come closer to the surface where you might be successful with live bait or fish lures.
Alternatively, you can paddle your kayak around the river or lake in search of a shaded area by the shore. Where there are large amounts of overhanging tree cover, you’ll often find large densities of bass because it gives them protection from the sun, plenty of prey for them to snack on and rock cover where they will often bed themselves.
Again, because these covered areas are often hard to access by foot, you have a large advantage as a paddle fisher because areas which are less fished can be much easier to catch fish in.
Whether you are using live bait or lures, it’s important to create the ideal type of movement for what you have on the end of your line so that you don’t spook the fish and can convince them to take a bite. With the proper technique, you can drastically boost your success rate because one of the more common mistakes that bass fishers make is to cast and sit, similar to what you might do for some other species. But for bass, you’ll often need to keep the bait or lure moving to replicate the prey that they will hunt while it’s still alive.
Crankbait is successful because it imitates a live fish which the bass would typically be on the lookout for. But more importantly, crankbait doesn’t look healthy. The lure fish appears to be injured, and therefore this increases the chance of the bass striking at it when compared to using live bait.
When casting out with crankbait, you’ll want to cast out into the lake or river and let the lure sink to the bottom. Once it settles down, you can start pulling slightly and reeling in the line. When you’re reeling in the line, the lure will dip under the water and start the drag, at which point you should stop reeling and allow the lure to rise, repeating this over and over to simulate movement.
Eventually, your lure will reach the surface at which point you can reel it back in and start the process over again. With calmer waters like lakes, you’ll want to pull evenly and reel slowly, while in rough waters you can alternate between slow and fast reeling for a more realistic pattern of movement.
Les and Kimball Beery of AnglerPocketGuides.com have this to say about using a lure:
We kayak for bass in Southwest Florida without a fish finder. The small shallow creeks and rivers down this way are easily fished without one. Bass in our area, being light shy during daylight, hang out under emergent vegetation mats that line most waterways. Our favorite lure most of the year is a plastic frog imitation made by “Zoom™” and marketed as “Horny Toad™”. Rigged with a 5/0 wide gap hook, with the hook coming up between the legs and barely hooked into the back it is usually productive. We simply cast it up onto this vegetation or even on a clear spot on the bank, then retrieve it either on top or under the surface for strikes. Often a frog “tickled” across the vegetation will result in a blow-up through the mat. Most bass though will wait until the “frog” gets to the end of the vegetation and swims away before their attack. We also use an 8 wt. flyrod when conditions permit.
We have our best results using green popping bugs in the pockets and on vegetation points. Overhanging trees are more forgiving when spinning gear is used here. We use 10 lb. braid with 2 ‘ of 20 lb. fluorocarbon tippet on our spinners.
Their guides, by the way, are really useful and waterproof. Perfect for carrying with you on the water, with loads of advice from maps, to species identification, to tying your rigs.
Spinner bait is different because your purpose isn't to simulate a fish or another animal, it’s simply to attract the bass with a bright and loud object which they will strike at. With spinner bait you should pull the pole up and then slowly let it down, repeating it to cause the lure to move and emit noise from the blades. You hope that the bass will strike at the bright and annoying object, but they’ll often strike the blades which are why some fishers believe spinners are less effective.
As the most popular type of bait for catching bass, it’s important that you know how to use live bait effectively to improve your chances of success. Although the bait you use is dead or almost dead, the bass doesn’t tend to scavenge and are therefore mostly going to strike at animals which they believe are alive.
Therefore, it’s ideal to try to mimic the natural movements of the bait that you’re using. Depending on the bait this might include slowly reeling it in or moving your pole up and down to make it move around in the water.
Whichever method you try, good luck and tight lines!