Largemouth bass have 4 Primary Feeding Strategies. We need to understand them if we aspire to become better anglers. These are versatile creatures, utilizing all 4 of the following methods to consume food.
I currently have just one feeding strategy: shovel it in!
… I’m so ashamed of myself…
* sheds a single tear and grabs another handful of beef jerky…*
Oh. * Sniff *
Sorry. Bass. Right. They feed by:
- Running Down Food
You could also refer to these strategies as Feeding Tactics.
The appropriate tactic is selected based on the size and shape of the target prey, along with the following factors.
Running down food is a common tactic for streamlined fish, especially in open water. Salmon, tuna and so on. Those of us that fish inland lakes are more familiar with pike. Line-snappers & hammer-handles. Snakes. I have a friend that guides on the Chequamegon Bay off of Lake Superior, and he often pulls up MASSIVE pike while trolling for walleye and salmon, along with other assorted bigs…
These fish often trail, then run down baits that are being trolled – however, we need to make an important distinction here. Muskies have forward-oriented fields of vision, and they generally stalk prey. This is the second feeding tactic.
Open water fish may maintain pursuit for long distances before they decide to overwhelm prey with a burst of speed. Inland fish won’t trail as long, but these strategies are indeed similar. Stalking fish will generally get close to prey, and rely on an initial burst to catch their food. They don’t always come back for a second swipe if they happen to miss.
Targeting Stalking Fish
One of my favorites to throw for stalking fish is a swim jig, and there are times you can watch streamlined fish like pike track your offering in clear water before deciding to overtake the bait. It’s awesome – and talk about vicious strikes!
(Here are my favorite swim jigs.)
Pike strikes are always fun, and chunkin’ swim jigs is a blast.
(I usually put one of these trailers on my swim jigs…)
But I digress… back to bass!
Chunky fish (and I mean no offense) use habituation. This is a sneaky tactic, involving setting up close to prey without giving off strike signals. If prey shows weakness, gets careless (too close) or looks sickly – like a lip-smackin’ easy meal – the predator will swiftly strike.
Finally, we have the ambush tactic, which is simply lying in wait for long periods of time, hoping prey moves in close. Close enough for a short strike. Ambush predators are usually highly camouflaged, bulky, and slow.
So when do largemouth bass use each method?
Anglers often make the mistake of assuming that largemouth bass are only ambush predators. We can find them hiding in the shade, under docks, tucked down below thick weeds, and in all sorts of heavy cover.
But largemouth bass are far too versatile to limit themselves.
Largemouth bass are generalists, and that means they use all 4 of the tactics listed above to feed. The tactic they select depends on their surroundings, their size, their activity level, and the prey they are keyed in on.
Inactive bass will retreat to cover and ambush-feed, if they feed at all, while more active bass will be closer to prey, using the habituation tactic. If anything comes along that looks disabled, the bass strikes.
Both ambush and habituation are passive tactics. They work, they are efficient, but they probably won’t provide all the calories that a bass will need for a full day.
Stalking is the most important feeding tactic for largemouth bass. Largemouth will often patrol near cover, alone or in groups, and look for vulnerable objects. At times they will swim more aggressively, which can startle prey, flushing them out of cover and causing them to make mistakes.
It only takes one.
The largemouth will seal the deal.
In reservoirs, it is more common to see a bass use the run-down tactic to capture shad from below. They will use the surface to pin a school of shad, hammering them again and again (remember: the surface is an edge) until they’ve had their fill.
On a recent trip to Bull Shoals, I fished with guide Del Colvin. It was November, air temps in the comfortable mid-60s. We were fishing vertical presentations over 40 to 75 feet of water, targeting large balls of bait that the smallmouth, largemouth and spots were swiping through like sharks.
It was amazing – unlike anything I’ve ever fished before. All of the sudden jigging spoons made complete sense, and although bass are not specifically built for sustained pursuit, the feeding frenzies of “schoolies” absolutely hammering the shad again and again was a sight to behold.
So for running and stalking, think active presentations.
For habituation or ambush tactics, think slow & vulnerable.
When the bass are active, fishing is great! However… if you’ve fished for more than 5 seconds, you know that we are usually working with neutral or negative fish. Precise presentations are needed to coax these fish to bite – so try different things based on what you learn as you explore.
Get out there my friend, and enjoy the grind.
Tight Lines & Godspeed, Patriots.
I’ll be leaving tomorrow, traveling to Iron River, Wisconsin for our annual BroTrip. It’s me and a handful of friends from high school that started the tradition many moons ago. Been going strong for quite a few years now, and I thank God for that. I’ll get back to writing after I return – please pray for safe travels!