Bass – like us – have the typical 5 senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. But there is a sixth as well: lateral line sensitivity. This sense allows them to perceive low-frequency vibrations through sensors located on either side of their bodies.
These six senses help the largemouth bass decipher the information and environment that surrounds them. However, the amount with which a particular bass will lean on one of these senses over the others will vary based on the special attributes of their particular environment. For example, bass living in clear water may be much more sight-oriented, while bass in murky water favor lateral line perception and hearing.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the senses of the largemouth bass.
The Sense of Sight for Largemouth Bass:
In most cases, sight is the single most important sense for the largemouth bass. Some sources over-emphasize lateral line perception and undersell vision – but the truth is that bass simply do not feed at peak performance if their vision is impaired. They can certainly live in all sorts of areas, dingy, dark water included – but to be at their optimum, they need to be able to see.
The eyes of the bass are set on the side of their head. This placement allows them to see both food and danger everywhere around them, except behind them, and directly below their bodies. Bass have 3-dimensional vision only in a small area in front of their noses – yet this is where said 3-dimensional vision needs to be – because this is where they focus on food.
Even clear water carries plankton, silt and other particles that limit their vision to short ranges. Water itself also impedes motion, so fish are most concerned with water and threats at close ranges. While bass can adjust focus to see objects as far as 30 to 40 feet away, at rest they focus on objects about a foot away.
(With that in mind, take a second to think about how and why a bass often relate tight to cover, and why it might provide some sort of a sense of security.)
Bass can also see above the water.
Let me repeat that:
Bass can also see things that are above the water.
An aggressively feeding bass may actually snatch a lure before it even hits the surface of the water. (Obviously these situations are the thing of legend, so if it happens to you make sure to brag about it!) Bass that live in deeper water have an even broader view of objects above the water. Also, the higher an object is above the water line, the easier it is for a bass to see.
If you are hunting bass in shallow water… you better keep a low profile!
Scuba divers have observed that bass do not make an effort to avoid sunlight. This contradicts the old “sunlight hurts the eyes of bass because they have no eyelids” myth. Largemouth are able to make internal adjustments to their eyes to reduce their sensitivity and reduce light intensity.
Bass will usually seek shade, but they don’t need to avoid bright lights. They lurk in the shade because they are safer from predators there – not to mention, shade conceals them from their own prey as well, making ambush strikes (which are extremely efficient in terms of energy spent versus energy gained) much more effective.
Most fish species have rods and cones in their eyes, and largemouth are no exception. Rods are black & white sensors that excel in dim light. Cones are color receptors. As light levels change, bass will adjust reliance on one or the other. When light is dim, they only see black and white. When light and visibility are adequate, they see color(s).
Bass see better in dim light than humans. Not as well as fish like sauger, though – as these fish have eyes that are expertly adapted to low light conditions. At night, bass will feed – but they use a combination of lateral line sensitivity, hearing, and by silhouetting prey against the night sky.
Overall sight plays an extremely important role in the life of a bass. Don’t overlook the visual aspect of your presentations if you want to catch more fish.
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