Let's see what
your thermometer can tell you about where to find small mouth
bass in your favorite lake.
Since they are less a warm water
fish than largemouth, we'll start our temperature study at
That's as low as we can go because
water freezes at 32° F. At 33° Small mouth bass are
practically hibernating. They stay quiet, in the deepest,
least cold water they can find, hardly moving at all. In fact,
the body functions—digestion, for instance—almost
stop at this temperature.
I do not mean the bass dies—he
just slows down to a standstill. He might eat and digest one
minnow in two weeks at this temperature.
You can easily see how unlikely you
are to get a bass to rise to a fly, or go dashing after a plug in
33° water. Your only chance would be still-fishing—down
deep. And you'd have to get a minnow or worm right down close to
the bass to tempt him to take the bait at all. Even then, the bass
would only feed about once in a couple of weeks.
From 33° up to 38° water temperature,
I've never been able to get a bass to take an artificial lure or
fly, nor have I heard of any other fisherman doing it. I've caught
some bass— but not many—on live bait by still-fishing
through the ice.
I've never caught a bass myself on
an artificial lure under 40° F.; but I have authentic reports
of several small mouth bass he caught November 14, 1943, in the
Susquehanna River, with the water at 39° F. He was bait casting
with Heddon River Runts— fished slow—about four feet
below the surface of the water.
40° to 50° water
In water between 40° and 48°
F., small mouth bass gradually get more active, range wider, come
into shallower water, and—at 48°—begin to feed a
little on the surface. This means that if you find the water temperature
is below 48°, you'd better do your fishing with live bait, in
water 4 to 8 feet deep in streams or about 15 to 30 feet deep in
lakes. Slow drifting, with a minnow or worms fished close to the
bottom, is the most successful method at this water temperature.
The middle of the day is the best time to fish—from 10:30
in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon.
If you are expert at it—or just
determined to take your bass on artificial lures—you can try
bait casting with deep-running lures like a Heddon River Runt, or
other similar lures, fished slow.
A spinner-and-minnow, or spinner-and-worm,
bait cast with a long, light rod is a good rig for this work. A
6 ft., 3/8 oz. tournament bait casting rod is perfect. Use a 1 ft.
to 3 ft. nylon leader, a light casting sinker, a small spinner and
a single hook. Hook the minnow through the lips.
You have to use an easy, rather delicate,
under-hand cast with this outfit so as not to throw off your minnow
or tangle up your spinner and casting weight. If you do it right,
you'll find this a very enjoyable, fish-getting method, not only
at these low water temperatures but at higher ones. It is about
half way between bait casting and fly casting.
From 48° to 50°, the bass
begin to liven up. They start to feed on the surface occasionally—at
the warmest times. This is especially true if the minnows are getting
active in the shallows or there is a hatch of water insects on.
Live bait, drifted or still-fished, will get more bass, but you
can take fish with a spinner-fly, or a bucktail fished deep and
slow by the action method. Streamer flies or nymphs fished with
the hand twist retrieve, slow and close to the bottom, will work.
Small mouth bass in 50°- 60°
Going upward in our water temperature
scale, we now come to the first regular small mouth bass fishing
temperature bracket—50°-60° F. In this range, they
really come to life.
Small mouth bass will pick the gravel
or sand bottomed areas. They like to hide near under-water logs
or brush-cover along the shore lines, on gravel bars, along the
edge of rushes, on rock ledges and under low overhanging foliage.
can take bass in this temperature bracket with wet flies,
streamer flies or bucktails, or with spinner-and-fly.
Fish them by the action method
with the jerk-and-rest routine.
Bait casting works well for
small mouth bass when the water is between 50° and 60°.
As in the colder water, drifting a minnow or worms or crawfish—or
still-fishing with live bait— is a successful method;
so is medium-depth trolling with a spoon or spinner.
of these is as much sport because the angler misses the action and
enjoyment of fly casting or bait casting, but a good fisherman should
be flexible enough to use whatever is the best method for a given
time and condition. Very often you have to be ready, and able, to
use live bait or go without fish.
Small mouth in 60°- 65° water
Between 60° and 62° water
temperature, Small mouth bass go into shallow water along the rocky
shore lines, and on the shallow sand, gravel and rock bars. You
will find them in water from 1 ft. to 6 ft. deep in the evening
and from 2 ft. to 8 ft. deep in the daytime. This is for normal
weather. If you strike stormy weather or a falling barometer, you'll
find the bass going to deeper water at the same temperature.
In this depth, if the water is clear,
as it probably is in a small mouth lake, the bass can see you a
long way off. This means that casts of thirty-five feet or more
usually must be made to take bass in still, shallow water. Even
if the fish do not move away when they see you or the boat, they
will not as a rule take your fly.
Wading for lake small mouth
Because a fish cannot see you so well
when you are close to the surface of the water, you can completely
change a "no fly fishing" day into an exceptionally successful
one by wading instead of fishing from a boat. This applies to fly
fishing in any water temperature. Of course it only works where
the bottom is solid enough to wade and where the depth is such that
you can wade far enough from the shore to get a chance to cast.
It is not necessary to be able to
wade a full cast's length out from the bank and cast straight in
to the shore line. You can cast along the shore line or at an angle
in and along it.
Fishing a shad fly hatch
When you find bass feeding on shad
flies, they will probably pay little attention to any other food.
This may happen in 60°-65° water, or in a higher temperature
range. You will see circles on the water all around that show where
bass are quietly sucking in the shads, much as trout do with an
adult aquatic insect hatch in streams. Once in a while a bass will
jump up in the air to seize a fly rising from the surface.
For this shad fly hatch fishing, put
a length of 1X or 2X nylon on the end of your leader—making
it at least 9 ft., and in some conditions 12 ft. or 15 ft., long.
Tie a dry fly on it. Use a size that matches the naturals as well
as you can. This may mean a No. 6, No. 8 or No. 10. Bass bugs of
a size similar to the natural flies will do well here, too. If bass
are rising fast, then cast only to the rises, just as in fishing
the rise for trout. If you are lucky enough to be at a bass lake
during a shad fly hatch, you'll enjoy some unforgettable fishing.
Small mouth in 65°- 70° water
Now, suppose you're fishing in a lake
and you find the water temperature is between 65° and 70°
F. This is an ideal condition for bass. In my experience, small
mouth like 67° water the best of any. If they can find this
kind of water, small mouth will go there—and stay in it—as
much as possible. In a small mouth bass lake, you will nearly always
find bass if you can find 67° water.
In normal weather, in the evening,
early morning or at night, in water temperatures between 65°
and 70°, small mouth will be in water 2 ft. to 8 ft. deep along
rocky shorelines with gravel or sand bottoms—or on a rock
or gravel bar, especially if close to deep water. Rock ledges or
shoreline boulders are good spots, too.
There are two fine and extra-sporting
methods of fishing in this temperature bracket and conditions—fly
casting with bass bugs and bait casting with surface lures. In bait
casting you may want a pork chunk fished fast by the dry line method,
just the way a tournament caster handles a 5/8 oz. plug. You can
cast the pork chunk into weeds or most anywhere else and have it
come right through without fouling. You can cast a small pork chunk
on a fly rod too—and get plenty of fish with it. Use the cast
I told you about for handling live bait on a fly rod. Cast into
the pads and weed beds and retrieve on the surface, varying the
speed of the retrieve.
If there are surface rises—and
sometimes when there aren't —fly fishing with bass bugs will
get you a lot of bass and the acme of enjoyment from your fishing.
Especially in the evening and at night, bass bugs will often bring
more strikes and more fish than any other method. Small and dark
bass bugs are preferred for these conditions.
In water temperatures from 65°
to 70° in the daytime or in stormy weather or falling barometric
conditions, you'll find small mouth bass in water 3 ft. to 10 ft.
deep—on similar bottom and in like cover, but slightly deeper
Because small mouth bass are comfortable
in 65°- 70° water, they range widely under these conditions.
Temperature being almost eliminated as a selective governing condition
here, the bass go where the food is most plentiful; or if they have
gorged themselves, they retreat to rock ledges, or under sunken
logs, or in the protection of rocks and boulders, to rest and hide
from their enemies.
Rock ledge small mouth
On the other hand, small mouth near
rocks and ledges are not always resting by any means. They are often
feeding. Aquatic insect larvae and crustaceans live on the rocks
and boulders, on rock ledges and on rock and gravel bars. Crawfish
are a favorite food of small mouth; you find these fish where the
crawfish are plentiful. When feeding on larvae or crawfish, bass
are bottom feeding. In these cases, flat-bodied nymphs or fly rod
lures imitating crawfish are sensible.
The hair crawfish are very life-like
and respond to action handling on the retrieve very well. If the
bass are in shallow water-not over 7 ft. and preferably 5 ft. or
under—these hair crawfish handled by the rest-and-twitch retrieve
are very killing lures. Tied with a weighted body they also do a
nice job for bottom fishing.
Taking bass in a glassy calm
Many anglers feel that the morning
or evening hours, and when there is a slight breeze on the water,
are about the only times when fishing is good. It is true that the
largest catches are usually made at these times, but a skillful
fisherman can take a lot of bass in the middle of the day and in
glassy-calm water if he knows what things he has to do and what
things he must not do.
In the first place, this is a fine
chance for fly fishing because aquatic insects are liable to be
plentiful in these conditions and in the 65° to 70° water
temperature we are talking about. But, because
the water is calm and probably clear and the light good, the bass
can see you pretty far off. You have to use long casts in most cases.
Also you need a long leader, 9 ft. to 15 ft., tapered to .010 or
.009 (1X). If the lake is wadeable, you may need to fish from the
water instead of a boat.
Bass bugs in brush cover
Brush lined shores with boulders and
logs, on sand or gravel bottom, will hold plenty of small mouth
bass. In the warmer water brackets the bass will only be in these
places in the evening, early morning or at night; but when the surface
water is between 65° and 70°, you will find the fish feeding
in such spots all through the day.
casting a bass bug, feather-minnow or dry fly in these brush
and log cover locations, put the fly far enough away so that
a bass under the log or brush can see it and yet not so far
out that he has to swim many feet to reach it.
This depends on the depth of
the fish; the best spot is usually between 2 ft. and 7 ft.
from the log or brush cover.
Fish it slow—by the rest-and-twitch
Deep fly fishing for small mouth
For small mouth that are bottom feeding
in these log and brush cover conditions, bucktails, streamers, nymphs,
and spinner-flies are all good if you let them sink. Use action
fly methods with the bucktails, streamers and spinner-flies. Nymphs
should be fished by the hand twist retrieve, allowing the nymph
to settle back to the bottom every five or six feet- just as in
nymph fishing for trout.
65°-70° water is also ideal
for bait casting with surface or medium depth lures. Medium depth
trolling or drifting crawfish, minnows and worms, or still fishing
with live bait, are all successful methods.
Small mouth in 70°- 75° water
This is a common temperature bracket
in the summer in many bass lakes. In the evening, early morning
or at night, bass will be in water 2 ft. to 8 ft. deep. Bottom and
cover are the same as I mentioned before.
Watch for surface rises; if you see
them, use bass bugs. Otherwise some type of wet fly will probably
be more productive. The bait caster, the still-fisherman, the skillful
drifter with live bait and the troller who hits the good spots will
still do all right in these conditions.
With lake temperatures of 70°
to 75°, in the daytime, in stormy weather or with a falling
barometer, you'll find small mouth bass in 4 ft. to 10 ft. of water.
The small mouth haven't changed their
liking for bottom or cover; but it's more important at this water
temperature to have some deeper water close to where you're fishing.
The fish will be resting more and feeding less. Use smaller and
darker lures—and fish them more quietly than before.
Small mouth in 75°- 80° water
In the evening, early morning or at
night, in lakes, you'll find small mouth bass in the deeper, cooler
water, 6 ft. to 12 ft. deep. At this temperature, look for rock
or gravel bars near deep, cool water, in or near spring holes. The
deeper rushes are good, too—especially if near still deeper
water; gravel or sand bottom is still preferred.
in the evening and at night at this temperature, small mouth
often feed in the shallows where they will take bass bugs
Except for this special condition,
however, you'd better use bucktails, streamers, nymphs or
spinner-fly down deep.
Spinner and minnow, fished deep,
is a real fish-getter at this temperature. Be sure to use
the live-bait cast with this rig or you'll break your rod.
With 75° to 80° lake water
in the daytime, or if you run into falling barometer or stormy weather
conditions, you've got to go deep for small mouth. Fish in 15 to
30 ft. water, in spring holes, deep rock or gravel bars, or along
deep rock ledges. Drifting live bait — minnows, crawfish,
crickets or worms—will usually catch more bass than any other
method. Deep trolling also works.
If you'll use a nymph, bucktail or
spinner-fly and let it sink clear to the bottom, then "jig
fish" it in, you may do all right. In this method, you must
tip-work the lure in, retrieving just fast enough to keep it off
Night fishing for bass in lakes
Small mouth bass become night feeders
more and more as the water warms up. From the time the surface water
reaches 75° and up, small mouth will be so deep (in their search
for 67° water) that they can only feed on the bottom if they
feed at all in the daytime. If there is 67° to 70° water
available down deep and there are minnows, crawfish or larvae available
at that depth, small mouth will feed in the daytime on the bottom;
but you'll have to go down to that 67° water to get them.
In 75° to 80° or even higher
surface temperature ranges, however, small mouth bass still get
hungry; you'll find them feeding at night in the shallow water,
along rocky shores, bars, rock ledges and brush and log cover, on
sand and gravel bottom.
If you've never done any night fishing
for bass, you've not only missed your chance for the biggest fish
you are likely to catch, but you have also missed a thrilling new
fishing experience. While small mouth are the chief night feeders,
this also applies to largemouth in very warm water conditions. Except
for the kind of bottom and cover situations, the same night fishing
tactics will apply to both fish.
In the first place, as with night
fishing for trout, be sure you chart out in the daytime the water
you intend to fish at night. Make a map of that section with the
depths of water and type of bottom plainly marked. Locate all rocks,
bars, ledges, logs and brush cover. Take a flashlight along but
use it only for changing flies or lures, or for taking fish off
Do not use your flashlight when casting.
Fastening the flashlight to a cord around your neck is an easy way
to carry it. Take a long-handled landing net with you.
Casting in the dark
One thing that helps a lot in night
fishing is the tournament caster's ability to cast a 20, 30, 40
or 50 foot cast with a fly rod without seeing the fly or lure at
all. You do this by measuring the line that you shoot out through
the guides. You can train yourself to do the same thing in bait
casting. This accurate casting ability, used in conjunction with
a map of the water you are fishing, solves a lot of the trouble
most anglers have in fishing at night.
A night fishing adventure in Lake
Chabaneau, in the upper Peninsula of Michigan, illustrates my point.
We went out about eleven o'clock. There was no moon. We didn't have
a map, because it was an impromptu night fishing trip. The bass
were not feeding in open water that time, but it was so quiet we
heard the "swish" and "spat" of feeding bass
in Wardwell Cove, a shallow bay covered with logs and stumps, but
with clear spots in between the cover. This was where the bass were
rising to aquatic insects.
A nice lad who was rowing the boat
for me, knew this bay by heart, but I didn't. So he put the boat
up to casting distance off the logs, and then called for casts of
35 ft., 40 ft., 50 ft., or whatever distance was needed—telling
me to aim towards a big tree silhouetted dimly against the night
sky, or just "straight in" for the length of cast needed
to lay the bass bug up along a log or brush pile. The night was
absolutely black. It was exciting—and we took our limit in
On another night we did the same thing,
bait casting with a black Arbogast Jitterbug. You've no idea the
thrill you get casting into the dark, having the lure land without
seeing it at all, then hearing a splash and feeling a hard-fighting
bass on your line—all in the pitch dark.
Night fishing weather
The best weather for night fishing
for bass is when it is hot and still, with plenty of stars but no
moon. Sultry nights, when you couldn't sleep anyhow, are particularly
good night fishing times—probably because hatches of aquatic
insects are liable to come in these conditions.
If you hear a bass feeding in one
location, try for him until you get a strike. After you have caught
one bass in a certain position at night, go back there half an hour
later and you'll probably find another fish has taken the place
of the one you caught—in the exact spot, too.
Night feeding bass will often be in
very shallow water— just enough to cover them. Be careful
not to frighten them. They can't see you but they are very sensitive
to thumps on the bottom of the boat, scraping of feet, banging oars
in the oar locks or any commotion in the water.
Bass bugs for night fishing
In this very shallow water fishing,
a bass bug, either a hair type or a small popper fly, is ideal.
Hair frogs, hair crawfish and hair mice are all good for this night
fishing; dark colored ones are usually best. A bass is so easily
disturbed in a foot of water that bait casting lures will often
scare away fish that would take a bass bug viciously.
Better use a little heavier and shorter
leaders for night work; 6 ft. tapered from .020 to .012 is about
right for most conditions.
By the way, bait casting with a pork
chunk does a very nice night fishing job, too, especially if you
cast the chunk up on the bank and then twitch it off into the water.
Be sure not to pick up your bass bug
from the water too quickly in night fishing. Let it lie still when
first cast, then use a slow retrieve. The longer your bug stays
on the water the more chance there is of a bass taking it. A fish
can't take a fly when it is in the air or in the boat.
If you have never done any fly fishing
at night, be careful not to get a low back cast by bringing your
rod too far back at the end of the back cast. Most inexperienced
casters will do this even more at night than in the daylight.
For night fishing for small mouth,
the rock and gravel bars are good places. Rocky shore lines with
gravel bottom, where the drop-off to deep water is fast, are especially
If you are after largemouth bass at
night, go to typical largemouth water—mud bottom with plenty
of weed growth and lily pods.
While bass may feed at any time of
the night, I have caught more before midnight than after that. Solunar
Tables are worth following on the time of the night to fish. Of
course, night fishing is a warm water sport. Certainly for the thousands
of salaried people whose vacations come in late July and August,
this night fishing is a life saver.
There are many times in summer lakes
when you must fish at night, or you get no fish. At least, in very
warm water periods, you must either fish very deep or at night,
and night fishing has the edge, both as to probable catch and the
enjoyment of fishing in shallow water with a bass bug or other surface
80°- 90° water for small
If you fish in the South, you'll run
into some lake fishing where the water temperature is 80° to
90°. In the early evening or early morning, you'll find the
bass in water 10 to 25 ft. deep. Look for the coolest water you
can find—spring holes if there are any. Better drift or still-fish
if you want bass, and use live bait—fresh water shrimps, minnows,
crawfish or worms. Deep trolling may work.
In the late evening or at night, you
can sometimes find bass feeding in the shallows even at this warm
temperature. In this case use long casts, 40 to 50 ft., and leaders
9 ft. to 15 ft., tapered to .010 or .009. Give the bugs lots of
time on the water.
If you have to fish in a lake in the
daytime or in stormy weather or falling barometer conditions when
the water temperature is 80°- 90° F., you'd better search
out really deep water—20 ft. to 40 ft., or even 60 ft. if
the lake is that deep— and go down there with a live minnow,
crawfish, shrimp or worms. Bass have been caught in water 73 ft.
down, where the temperature was 67°, with the surface water
Another good summer bait is the weed
worm, found in stalks of giant ragweed, or "horseweed."
Deep water jigging, or very deep trolling with spinner or spoon,
might get you some bass at this temperature, but you must go deep.
So much for what your thermometer
tells you about small mouth bass in lakes.