By Marc Rogers
When asking for the advice of others, many times an angler is informed that bass are being caught on a certain pattern. The pattern may have a name but the name may not really mean anything to the angler receiving the advice. Sometimes the term “pattern fishing” is confusing to a beginning angler so good advice is misunderstood and not helpful.
Developing a pattern is really not very difficult and with a little practice can be done even by a novice angler. The key is to pay close attention to what is happening when fish are hooked. Notice things like wind direction, water temperatures, depth at which the fish was caught and cover and structure. Cover is something in the water like trees and weeds while structure is sharp drop offs in depth, bluff walls and submerged creek and river channels.
Seasonal fluctuations are key to developing a pattern as well. In the winter – water temperatures in the low 40’s and colder – bass are lethargic and do not require much food due to them being a cold-blooded creature. Therefore, lure presentations must be slow and deliberate to catch them. When developing a pattern for winter fishing an angler must use lures that may be presented slowly to the bass. Slow moving lures like the jig will out produce any other lure during this time of year. Size and weight of jigs make a huge difference in the catch rate, as big profile jigs are easy to see and keep in contact with the bottom while small finesse jigs are lighter and must be worked slower to maintain bottom contact.
During the winter season I always start with a jig and vary the presentation until I find something to produce. In addition, I pay close attention to what was happening when a fish strikes. Winter fishing can be greatly improved by simply fishing the northern banks where the sun shines on the water surface. Bass prefer water warmer that 40-degrees and the surface will warm a few degrees from the sunshine. This will trigger the bass to become more active in these areas.Also, if the wind is blowing out of the south the warmer surface water will continue to be mixed up on the bank and have a more warming effect below the surface.
During the spring season as water temperatures reach the low 50’s bass will start the migration into shallow water to spawn. They will become more active and tend to chase lures more often. During this time, a jig can still be very effective but you should also try jerk-baits. The bass are in need of more food, as their metabolism increases. Baitfish become a more important part of their diet. Spinnerbaits are also a great baitfish imitator and should be offered to the bass with a slow presentation.
As the water temperatures reach the upper 50’s the smaller male bass can be found searching for spawning areas. Search for males swimming in the shallows near pea-gravel banks and once they are located the larger females can be found in approximately eight feet of water very lose by. Crankbaits, worked slowly and making contact with the bottom are very effective for catching the larger females. Many times the lure deflecting off the cover will trigger a strike.
During the spawn the males are much easier to catch than the females. The females will move to the beds and lay eggs then move off quickly. The males stay behind and guard the beds from predators so they can be caught while defending the nests. If they are caught it is important to release them so they can continue to guard the nest. Once the females move back to deeper water after the spawn they are much harder to catch as they recover from the stress of spawning.
Post-spawn to later summer the bass are generally more predictable. They will find water temperatures that are more comfortable in the lower 70’s and congregate near the Thermocline and/or a good food source. The food source is important as the bass’ metabolism is in high gear and they are in need of larger quantities of food during this time. Crawfish become an important food source along with baitfish. Bottom bouncing lures like plastic worms and jigs are very effective once the fish are located. When searching for information on fishing reports you should pay more attention to the depths of fish being caught that any other information. Once depth is established the summer patterns rarely change. Bass are looking for comfortable temperatures and good dissolved oxygen levels and these don’t change significantly during the summer.
As fall sets in and the surface temperatures begin to cool shad will be abundant in large schools. The bass sense the colder months approaching and will follow these schools of shad. They will stay close to a food source during the fall and this can be some of the best top-water bass fishing of the year. The smaller bass tend to break the surface feeding on the shad and are seen by the anglers easily. However, many times the larger bass will be swimming below the schools waiting on the injured to fall. This is a good time for a slow rolled spinnerbait or lipless crankbait presented under the shad schools. Once the lake begins to turnover in the fall the location of bass again becomes more difficult to determine.
Use these basic for developing a pattern when starting out. However, the most important aspect of developing a pattern of your own is to pay close attention of the weather conditions and where the fish were when caught. Always know the details of the water temperature and cover/structure in the area you are fishing. If you find the fish quit biting in one area it is much easier to duplicate your pattern in another area of the lake of river.