Everyone learning to fish would rather begin by heading to the lake and catching a few, but the most solid lessons are taught with a good grounding of fish biology in mind.
Understanding which lures catch fish when and where depends entirely on the why, which begins with the fish’s instincts and the meeting of its basic needs.
Bass need food and shelter, and they spend all their nights and days procuring the two. From their earliest days, bass are both predators and prey. They eat smaller fish and try not to be eaten by larger fish. Both of these quests take place around cover, natural and manmade objects in their environment that present opportunities to find smaller fish hiding and to hide from larger fish themselves. Cover includes tree stumps, brush, floating and anchored docks, fallen trees and literally anything else with nooks, crannies, crevasses and places to hide and find things hidden.
A bass’s eyes are especially sensitive to light. That’s why, especially in clearer water, they feed primarily early and late in the day and overnight. In shallower bodies of water, anything that offers protection from the sun, such as a manmade dock, will be a haven for bass.
In deeper water and larger lakes, where a bass’s diet consists primarily of shad, structure becomes an important element of the game. Structure is any change or irregularity in the lake floor. Points and ledges that may, in themselves, offer nowhere in particular to hide, nonetheless play an important role in filling a bass’s diet because the movement of shad around the lake is affected by them. Bass hold just off a ledge and face into the current to clean up shad that may be stunned or scattered when moving water brings them by.
With these basic requirements in mind, the array of available lures begins to make sense. There are hundreds of thousands of lure variations, but these fall generally into just a few different general styles. Lures need to address the depth at which the bass are feeding, what they’re feeding on and the overall activity level of both the bass and their prey.
Early in the morning and late in the afternoon during the warm months bass will feed close to the surface, and fishing topwater lures one of the most appealing techniques to be found. In waters where schools of shad thrive, a shallow- running, shad-imitating lure is always a go-to technique.
In the spring, when bass have come shallow to spawn, jigs imitating small grubs can be finessed into these spots to catch fish. As summer approaches and the bass head back to the depths, deep-diving crankbaits that can get down to their level are the ticket.
When bass are finicky and hesitant to bite, a plastic worm slowly presented can be just the thing, no matter what the depth.
Crank and spin
Two of the best lures for locating fish quickly are crankbaits and spinnerbaits, both of which specialize in fishing the middle depths. The first gets its action from the shape of the lure, the second from the spinning of its blades, and either can be fished at a variety of depths depending on the speed of retrieve. Either can be worked in a variety of cover and conditions and, while not producing the visual drama of their topwater cousins, a strike on either of these is pretty unmistakable.
Together, these elements form a firm foundation for any tackle box, and a good grounding for a lifetime’s enjoyment of the outdoors.