We love bass. You love bass. Everyone loves bass fishing. Science could not produce a more perfect sportfish. Black bass live on almost every continent and in almost every country. You can catch them in tiny farm ponds, giant lakes or raging rivers. Voracious predators, bass eat almost anything, day or night. You can catch them with a shaky head, wacky rig, topwater, deep diver, jig, pig, frog, mouse or a piece of red wiggler on a little hook. Even if black bass aren’t the biggest fish, they put up a big fight jumping and diving with angry head- shakes and spastic gyrations. They even have a convenient handle; just grab a bass by its toothless mouth. There are nine major species of black bass, and every one of them is perfect. Catch one of each and you score a BASS Slam.
Smallmouth bass are native to the Mississippi and St. Lawrence River systems but the scrappy fighters have been stocked in water systems coast to coast and around the world. Smallies like clean water with rocky or sandy bottom and prefer moving water but they also thrive in clear, cool lakes. As the name suggests, unlike a largemouth, the corner of a smallies petite mouth does not extend beyond the fish’s eye.
Hot Spot: Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Voted the best smallmouth fishery in the nation by Bassmaster Magazine.
Best Season: Spring, as soon as water temp rises over 50 degrees.
Techniques and Tackle: Slow roll a four-inch grub and 1/16 to 3/32 ounce jighead (pictured at right). Smoke and salt-and-pepper colors are best for clear water, blue pearl for clouded water. Make a long cast and work the lure just fast enough to bump the bottom. Use a wacky-rigged, four-to-five-inch worm. For cold water below the upper 50s, slow twitch a suspending jerkbait. In warm water, use a steady retrieve with a 3/8 to 1/2-ounce, willow-leaf spinner bait.
Best Jerkbaits For Bass
Shop jerkbaits on:
Rods and Reels: Eight-foot medium-light rod and 2000-series reel spooled with eight-pound braided line. Add a three-foot leader of 10-pound fluorocarbon line.
Kayak and Rigging: 13 to 15-foot-long, 28 to 34-inch-wide open-water kayak. Bending Branches Angler Pro or Aqua Bound Surge Carbon paddle with wide, lightweight blades for long-distance. Excellent polarized glasses for early-season sight fishing.
Bass Love: After 20 years and over 4,500 smallmouth, Schultz still remembers his first smallie. “They fight hard and put on a great aerial display,” he says, “and I live on the best smallmouth bass waters.”
Find Fish: Look for smallies over rocky bottom and around boulders in water less than eight feet deep. Do not harass fish that are actively protecting beds.
Shoal bass are a favorite for southeast anglers fishing the swift Appalachian rivers of Georgia, Alabama and Florida where the fish hide in shallow, rocky backwater creeks and headwaters best accessed with a kayak. These aggressive bass have a red eye, cream-coloured pelvic fins and three black stripes painted under the eye.
Hot Spot: Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, Flint rivers.
Best Season: Year-round.
Techniques and Tackle: Swimbaits, spinner baits and topwater worked over large, rocky flats. Or, crankbaits, shakey heads and jigs dropped into pocketwater.
Shop spinnerbaits on:
Rods and Reels: Six-foot, six-inch medium-heavy baitcaster spooled with 30-pound braided line. Add a 12-inch section of 10-pound mono leader in clear water.
Kayak and Rigging: Use a drag chain to anchor. Start with a 15- foot retractable dog leash. Attach an eight-foot length of bungee cord and add 18 inches of heavy chain wrapped in duct tape or innertube. Use caution anchoring in swift current.
Bass Love: Shoal bass are incredibly aggressive and live in shallow, swift, rocky water that is inaccessible to all but kayak anglers.
Find Fish: Like the name says, shoal bass like to hide behind river shoals where swift water turns to bubbles and turbulence. Look for them lurking along current seams holding in the slow water ready to dart into the current for a bite.
Spotted bass are found in Mississippi River tributaries from the Pascagoula River in Mississippi to the Guadalupe River in Texas. Widely stocked along the Southeast and mid-Atlantic. Similar to largemouth bass except its jaw does not extend beyond its eye.
Hot Spot: Mobile and Apalachicola rivers, Georgia to Florida.
Best Season: Best in the heat of summer.
Techniques and Tackle: Small torpedo or buzzbait for hot water. Fly anglers should use crease flies, wooly buggers and clousers. Cast over and over to the same spot to aggravate the fish.
Rods and Reels: Light or ultra-light spinning rod with eight-pound braided line and 12-inch leader of eight-pound monofilament.
Kayak and Rigging: Choose a light, small kayak with minimal rigging for narrow, shallow creeks. Expect to wade some sections.
Bass Love: Spotted bass are small, but they are aggressive. They will eat small fish, insects, crustaceans and even rodents. They like hot weather and silt bottoms that largemouth and smallmouth bass avoid.
Find Fish: Spotted bass prefer slow-moving, silty water flowing over soft sand or gravel bottom. Look for wood, vegetation or clay stone outcroppings. Often found in water too turbid for smallmouth and largemouth.
Largemouth bass are the star of the black bass universe. They are found all around the world and they are state freshwater fish of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida. A northern largemouth’s most prominent feature is its (no kidding) large mouth—the corner of the jaw extends beyond the eye. They are also the largest species of bass; the world record is 25 pounds.
Hot Spot: Clear Lake, Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, California.
Best Season: Year-round. Slow down retrieve in winter.
Techniques and Tackle: Top lures are Zara Spook or buzzbait for topwater. Try wacky- rigged, five-inch Senko or lipless crankbait. Cast all three in the same location and one will catch.
Best Topwater Lures For Bass
Berkley J-Walker Fishing Hard Bait
Berkley Choppo Fishing Hard Bait
Rods and Reels: For wacky-rigged softplastics, use a seven-foot, medium-action spinning rod with 10-pound fluorocarbon line. For crankbaits and spinnerbaits, work a seven-foot medium casting rod with 15-pound fluorocarbon. Try a seven-foot, seven-inch heavy casting rod spooled with 65-pound braid for topwaters.
Kayak and Rigging: Nothing beats a pedal drive for finessing a softplastic. By working the pedals, the angler can hold in one position and jiggle the jig. Pedal power also makes it possible to cast all day and cover a lot of water without pausing to paddle.
Bass Love: Largemouth are the ultimate challenge. It may take all day to find the lure and pattern the fish are seeking. Carry favorite lures in multiple colors and rig up as many as five rods with different configurations. Change lures often to find the fish’s favorite.
Find Fish: Most of the structure in these lakes is hidden. Submerged trees, points, drops and hills are only visible on a fishfinder.
Redeye bass prefer the cold water of southeast mountain rivers. Bright red eyes accented by three stripes give the look of a real warrior. Redeye have a disposition to match. The fish feed in swift water; they bite first and ask questions later. Catching redeye might be easy, but navigating and fishing swift water will test boat handling skills.
Hot Spot: Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers above the fall line.
Best Season: Spring and fall.
Techniques and Tackle: One-quarter-ounce to 3/8 ounce spinner baits in black or chartreuse white, with willow-leaf and Colorado blades. Boat control is key; hold the kayak in the current and cast upstream. Then slow roll the spinnerbait over the rocks like a crayfish scooting downriver.
Rods and Reels: Medium-heavy casting rod and sturdy reel. Use 15-pound mono that provides stretch on a hard hook-set.
Kayak and Rigging: Look for a light, maneuverable kayak. A hybrid kayak like Wilderness Systems’ Commander 120 is easy to hop in and out and bounce over rocks and between deadfalls.
Bass Love: Redeye are dynamite in a small package. These fish are super aggressive and hardly picky. Redeye bass will hold in current too swift for other bass species.
Find Fish: Rocky, sandy rivers with swift current.
ALABAMA SPOTTED BASS
Alabama spotted bass live in the same mountain streams that host redeye bass. While the redeye play in the fast water upriver of the fall line, the Alabama bass takes over downriver. Alabama bass look like largemouth, but they have scales on the base of the second dorsal fin and they are missing the vertical bars.
Hot Spot: Coosa, Tallapoosa, Black Warrior, Tombigbee and Mobile rivers.
Best Season: Year-round. Pre-spawn in April, trophies in October.
Techniques and Tackle: Slow roll spinnerbaits with the current. Look for a 3/8 to 1/2 ounce spinner bait with Colorado and willow- leaf blades. Add split tail or curly tail trailer; use a lizard or worm trailer when fishing wood cover.
Rods and Reels: Medium-heavy casting rod with enough backbone to fight the fish and the swift current.
Kayak and Rigging: To sneak into the best Alabama bass holes look for a lightweight kayak that can be dragged, carried, pushed or pulled over the hills and through the woods.
Bass Love: Alabama bass are pure predators. They are more likely to school up than redeye bass. If you know where they live and what they eat, you can catch 50 to 60 fish in a day.
Find Fish: Alabama bass are the ultimate generalists. Look for any ambush points behind rocks, wood, depth drops, current eddies or in shade.
FLORIDA LARGEMOUTH BASS
Florida largemouth bass caught in central to south Florida are most likely the state’s special strain. Florida largemouth grow faster and larger than northern largemouth. You can catch Florida strain almost anywhere in America, but to be sure you’re working with a Sunshine State fish, it has to come from the rivers and ponds of its native region.
Hot Spot: Ponds and lakes, drainage canals and impoundments, Lakes Trafford and Okeechobee, Florida Everglades.
Best Season: Year-round.
Techniques and Tackle: Fish topwater poppers and frogs thrown around structure such as docks and vegetation. During the heat of the day, fish a live shiner under a bobber or work a Carolina-rigged worm off the bottom.
Rods and Reels: Light-action spinning rod spooled with 10-pound braided line and a 12-inch leader of 15-pound fluorocarbon.
Kayak and Rigging: Stand and fish is the name of the game. Look for a stable kayak. Some of the best fishing is in small lakes or canals that can be far from the launch. Look for a light boat that travels well.
Bass Love: When the bite is on, you can catch bass on every cast. The fish jump and splash, then run and dive. Just never stop reeling.
Find Fish: Best bet is fish early or late in the day.
Suwannee bass live way down upon the Suwannee River. These small bass rarely grow larger than two pounds but they are incredibly aggressive and prolific. Isolated in a handful of swift, clear rivers, Suwannee bass often take the turquoise hew of their limestone waterways. Suwannee are great sport on light tackle, a truly unique black bass.
Hot Spot: Rivers in northern Florida and southern Georgia Best Season: Year-round.
Techniques and Tackle: Pitch softplatic crawfish, chatterbait or small spinnerbaits into vegetation.
Rods and Reels: Light-action spinning rod and eight-pound test braided line.
Kayak and Rigging: Use a light and maneuverable kayak with basic rigging for small backwaters.
Bass Love: Even though Suwannee bass don’t grow to trophy size, catching these rare fish in their unique environment is the real reward.
Find Fish: Look for the fish in heavy cover and vegetation.
Guadeloupe bass are small and rare. They’re even decorated with diamonds. They look like a spotted bass but they have black or grey diamond-like markings along and below the lateral line. Guads are so valuable that they are the Texas state fish.
Hot Spot: Only found on Texas’ Edwards Plateau, including the San Marcos, Colorado, Llano and Guadeloupe rivers.
Best Season: Year-round.
Techniques and Tackle: Purple worm rigged weightless or Texas-rigged. A squarebill crankbait (pictured right) will also turn Guads on. In winter, use a skirted jig and crawler trailer.
Rods and Reels: Seven-foot medium to medium-heavy rod with 2500 series spinning reel spooled with 15-pound fluorocarbon for clear water or 60-pound braid in murky water.
Kayak and Rigging: Look for a short kayak that can navigate narrow rivers and choose a stable boat to stand and fish.
Bass Love: Like a diamond, Guadalupe bass are beautiful and tough. Their extravagant markings make them stand out among smallies and largemouth on the same rivers. Although they don’t grow much over 17 inches, Guads put up a big fight in swift water. They love aquatic insects, making these bass a favorite for fly fishermen.
Find Fish: Guadeloupe bass are a lucky catch. They love swift-moving water and rapids. They often hide behind rocks or along cliffs.
Learn more about the BASS Slam at www.bassmaster.com.
This article was originally published in Kayak Angler, Volume 10.