“Dad Dad Dad Dad Daddy Daddy Daddy DaddyDaddyDaddyDaddyDADDYYYYY!”
“Good gravy – WHAT?!?!”
“Look what I can do!”
* blank stare *
* tribal dancing continues *
“… Did Gammy & Gompa give you a bunch of sugar???”
“No! Nope! NahNahNahNononononononoooooooooo nope!”
The kids are going hard in the paint. Rain-Dancing. Bouncing off the walls. Ninja-kicking each other. Waving arms like helicopters. Propelled by sugar and the energy of youth, it’s like watching violent hummingbirds on amphetamines!
But like all things… this party will eventually come to an end…
It is finished.
No creature – man or beast – can afford the energy demanded from being constantly alert and active.
Largemouth Bass are the Same
We know from our time on the water that largemouth bass exhibit varying activity levels (active, neutral and inactive or negative). Being active & alert drains a lot of energy. In contrast, being inactive – holding in cover – conserves energy.
As generalists, largemouth bass use 4 different feeding strategies: running down food, stalking, habituation & ambushing prey.
The bad news is that largemouth bass will use passive feeding strategies like ambushing prey, and habituation to get the most out of the food that they eat. This is the opposite of an “active feeding mode”.
The good news? Largemouth bass typically can’t consume all the calories they need in a day sitting around waiting for food to come to them. They usually have to actively find a meal or two at some point.
If your lure is in the water during this period, you have a much better chance of catching them.
Bass Usually Become Most Active When Their Chances for Successful Feeding are Highest
If bass are actively feeding, they are aggressive, mobile and highly aware. These bass are very catchable, while inactive bass may be unresponsive.
To be successful, your presentation needs to match the activity level of the fish. This activity level heavily influences to strike zone – or “strike window“. The distance that a bass will move to take food. Your lure must be in the strike zone to draw a strike.
Easy? Not really.
What is your favorite way to catch active bass? How about inactive bass?
Imagine a largemouth bass, holding a balloon in her mouth. This balloon represents the strike zone. If the fish is active, she'll blow that balloon up quite a bit - and the balloon will expand in every direction. If she is negative, the balloon gets deflated. It's tiny. Small, dangling out of her mouth, right in front of her. Not completely out of air, but drastically reduced.
You have to be within the area of this balloon with the right color, size, scent and action at the right time to generate a strike.
What Causes Largemouth Bass to Become Inactive?
Inactivity is usually the result of shifts in the weather or water temperature. Environmental factors. However, bass may also become inactive if they are digesting food. These bass will typically hold tight to cover and ignore nearby prey.
Their strike window is microscopic.
The only hope you have of generating a strike under these circumstances is presenting a lure slow, right on their nose. You'll usually you'll want to use a natural color (black, brown, clear, maybe green-ish) and fish it through the cover. If they're in there, heavy cover can impede their vision, making things even more difficult. So work slowly, thoroughly, and when you reach the edge of the cover - reel your bait in fast and make another cast! Don't waste time dragging your bait through open, unproductive water.
A few favorites for fishing in cover include straight stickbaits without all sorts of appendages that will get tangled up. Try out a few Z-Man Bang Sticks paired with an Eagle Claw Trokar Magworm Hook - it contains a B.A.R.B. pin keeper that will prevent your bait from slipping down as you work through heavy cover.
The Bang StickZ will float - so make sure to add the right amount of weight. I always try to add the smallest amount for this kind of fishing. Remember, we're targeting negative fish. You might want to add a fluorocarbon leader - but only do this if the fish could be line-shy. In thick cover, straight braid is the way to go.
Flip & pitch to actively drop your lure where the fish ought to be. Look for likely spots, and expect light strikes. Be patient as you attempt to move your bait into the small strike zone.
What is the Normal Activity Level of Largemouth Bass?
This is good news.
The strike zone of a neutral fish is larger than that of a negative fish, and obviously smaller than that of an active fish. I'll take neutral fish over negative fish any day of the week! Neutral fish are not hunting, but they will strike a lure. They will swipe at vulnerable looking prey. They may even move a short distance to investigate a potential snack. Neutral bass will often swim off with a bait - causing visible line movement above water.
Watch for these signals, and present lures that look disabled or weak.
Natural patterns and colors usually work best in clear water, and bright flashy colors can work well in dirty water.
If you want to fish an active presentation like a spinnerbait or a crankbait, add erratic pauses and twitches. One of my absolute favorite cranks for shallow bass is a Mann's Baby 1-Minus.
They're inexpensive and they rattle. I like to bang mine off of rocks and rip rap shorelines. The only problem? If the bass aren't sitting in shallow water, they're not going to come up and strike this lure near the surface.
Be ready to drop some lures that will sit on the bottom. Lift & drop. Dead-stick. Retrieve after long pauses to try to entice neutral bass to bite.
Hopefully at some point, they'll "turn on". If this happens, you can speed up.
Bass feed actively for short periods of time.
They cruise in small groups outside of cover, almost like a school but not quite.
If you find one, you can often find more of a similar size. A splash usually won't spook them, and they may actually swim over to investigate noise. They'll often compete with one another. If you've ever caught two bass on the same lure, you know what this looks like.
They have the largest strike windows. Dashing as far as 12 feet to overtake a lure, making quick bursts for short-range attacks, or stalking a meal and moving in close. Dusk and dawn are usually prime fishing windows because largemouth know these low-light conditions improve their chances of feeding successfully. Fish in deeper water often have even longer active periods as well.
This is fun fishing.
If you find yourself in this situation, use active presentations and show your lure to as many fish as possible... until the activity levels change.
Speaking of activity level... I gotta go pick my kid up and put him in bed. He's still on the floor, covered in blue drool.
No creature, man or beast, can remain active forever.
Tight Lines & Godspeed, Patriots.
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