On the Menu for Bass

“Every wild creature is a slave to its stomach”, I use this phrase often when I’m doing fishing seminars. A large part of catching bass or any other fish for that matter is understanding the lifestyle of the fish. The understanding includes various tolerances, where they live, habits and what they eat to survive. To be clear there are food preferences and forage for mere sustenance, survival. Most creatures are opportunists, what they can catch and kill they will consume. A view of that species says a lot about how they live and how they are physically equipped to cope with the challenges of living in their environment. For the sake of this discussion, let’s limit it to largemouth bass. Camouflage coloration, senses include a lateral line that picks vibration, great eye sight, a limited sense of smell and more than adequate hearing. Not so much when it’s closed but a cavernous mouth when open accommodates almost anything it encounters. Here’s a comprehensive list of what’s in the largemouth lunchbox.


I’ve witnessed several examples of a wide variety of prey turned into a meal for bass. One of the most common is the shad. In Tennessee Threadfin and Gizzard shad are a major source of food for bass. Shad eat mostly plankton and microscopic organisms and range in size from an inch to over a foot long and weight more than two pounds. Widely distributed and abundant shad are the primary forage for bass in big water. They more shad than anything and most people believe they like the better than any other food. Not true. They eat more shad than anything else because they are more available than anything else. Weight gain of the fish is consistent but not off the charts. Shad are obvious targets when they school up in the fall and huge numbers. Bass charge through the school gorging themselves on as many as they can and continue to do so throughout the winter months. It’s not uncommon to catch a fish with the tail of the shad still visible.


My constant description for crawfish as a dietary example for bass is referring to them as Red Bull for bass. Simply the highest energy food and preferred because of the return and reward for the chase, crawfish add a pound to the frame of the fish for every five pounds consumed. Nothing else is close. Multiple species, coming in many sizes, colors and around from early spring through late fall, crawfish inhabit clean waters and are good indicates of high water quality. Walking forward and swimming backwards in their attempt to escape, this is a great tactic to use in fishing artificial baits that simulate this crustacean. Bass will prowl rocky areas in search of crawfish. The crawfish feel safe in the crevices of rocks and move out to feed and seek the rocks to hide under when threatened. Craws will when cornered assume a defensive posture, back down, craws up. Predictably this does little to disturb a hungry bass. For smaller adversaries the pinch of the claw is a deterrent. If a claw is lost it can be replaced by regeneration. Find the crawfish and bass are sure to be in the area.


Minnows seem to be an unlimited category Bullhead, Fathead, Creek Chub, Hog fish, Suckers, Herring, Stone Rollers and more all fall into the minnow / forage family. Sometimes netted or seined to use as live bait, each of these become potential snacks for fish. Some school up others just travel randomly seeking food and comfortable shallow waters. Often on moving water, in eddies, below dams or in stream or creeks. Not sought out by bass, but if they come in range they will be swallowed routinely.
As for insects, bass will eat them as available but not willing to expend much energy to inhale bugs. Likely snacks are dragon flies, grasshoppers, mayflies (hatching in massive numbers), and cicadas are often the most ingested winged creatures fed upon. Shoreline weeds, aquatic vegetation, trees lining the banks and other natural or manmade structure are common homes or resting spots for bugs.


In vogue now are any artificial baits that match the look of frogs. Antique artificial baits also show the wide spread mimicking of the frog in topwater offerings for bass in decades past. The early pork rind baits (pork frogs) were developed to match frogs when they were unavailable are too hard to catch. Leopard frogs and bullfrogs frequent marshy spots, backwaters, shorelines along rivers, creeks and ponds. Presenting a big visual target for fish, frogs again are a meal that will frequently draw the interest and appetite of a largemouth bass. Frogs do disappear in winter, are seasonal fill in food when found. Once in the water the frogs are at a decided disadvantage to the bass whose bursts of speed make quick work of the “croakers”. The hop-hop retrieve used by anglers draws explosive strikes from bass.
Other odd ball food sources for bass include, snakes, baby ducks, turtles, lizards, salamanders, baby muskrats, any other fish and essentially anything in or even close to the water. There are documented reports of squirrels and many other unlikely creatures being swallowed by bass.
As a side note watch the normal food sources, learn about them and how to match their movements and you’ll get a nature lesson and also increase your kayak bass catches.

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