Why You're Not Catching Bass and How to Fix It
We've all had some frustrating days on the water wondering why the fish aren't biting! But lucky for you, those days are over. Read on for some bass fishing tips!
Honest bass anglers admit that sometimes, no matter what we do, we have trips when we don’t even get a bite. Even if you’ve been fishing since you were a kid, or have the best rod, reel, or lure, you can still come up empty-handed.
Many factors come into play when we approach a body of water that affects our chances of landing a new personal best. The temperature, time of year and day, and angler skill all play a determining role in our odds of success. Maybe we had a bad day at work or an argument with someone close. There are many reasons our heads may not be in the game.
I’m an equipment aficionado. It would be a lie to say that the gear and lures I use don’t matter. However, even the best tackle, in the hands of an inexperienced angler, won’t make a difference in their odds of success.
As someone who targets bass, I know they aren’t picky eaters. We have heard stories of someone hooking into a 10-pounder using a cigarette butt or a piece of gum. While they may be true, to have consistent success catching trophy-sized bass, we need a game plan.
I’m going to share some pointers to troubleshoot the times when you’re stuck in a rut and can’t even land a half-pound dink on a Senko. I primarily fish for bass using lures, so that’ll be my focus. Many of the same principles apply when using live bait or fishing for other species.
Talk About The Weather
It’s possible to catch big bass year-round. But to accomplish that, we must adjust our approach to fit the current conditions. Let’s lay out some general principles on how to approach the water depending on the time of year.
In the winter, bass are cold and sluggish. To catch them, you need to slow down and slim down your presentation. A spinning combo with light fluorocarbon line is essential for that very reason. Spinning gear is ideal for casting lighter lures. A great one to start with is with a Pflueger President.
Fluorocarbon is best for cold weather because it sinks down to the bottom of the water column where bass will be. Seaguar IvizX 6lb is an excellent line to use on a spinning reel because it's especially supple and goes through the guides with ease.
The most common mistake anglers make when the temperature drops is not slowing down their presentation so the bass can keep up. I can’t emphasize this enough. You’ll be cold and impatient, wanting to speed things up just to keep warm. But to catch fish, you gotta slow it down. It’s tedious. Twitch and pause your lure, but you’ll be waiting at least half of the time.
For the best chance of success fishing in icy winter water, use lighter lures too. Groggy bass won’t put up a fight to get their meal, so presenting lures with a slim profile is important. One lure I have had success with is the Megabass Dark Sleeper. It has a slim baitfish profile, and the hook is embedded between its dorsal fins, so it doesn’t get stuck in the weeds. Cast it out deep and fish along the bottom just like you would a jig.
Fish also love a ned rig. It’s a small jig head with a modest, soft plastic trailer and a tiny profile. Twitch it around drop-offs for the best results. The Swagger Tungsten Ned Head is especially sensitive to faint bites from lethargic bass. Googan Baits makes a rattling soft plastic Ned bait called the Rattling Ned. Fish it slow. It makes just the right amount of sound to attract bass.
Winter is a great time to catch your new personal best. You won’t get a ton of bites, but the ones you get are likely to be big fish that need more protein to sustain themselves. Take advantage of that opportunity and remember to slow down and slim down your lure presentation.
Temperatures rise and the bass get active in spring. As frozen lakes begin to thaw, bass are encouraged to feed by coming up shallow and staging for the spawn. Stick to light tackle, but introduce your casting gear and spinning setups. Keep fishing slow and add reaction baits like spinnerbaits and chatterbaits.
Red is deadly in the spring. Why? Because as water temperatures warm, crawfish feed on zooplankton that turn an orange/red color. This time of the year, if you’re not throwing lures that feature red, orange, and pink, you won’t catch bass consistently. A small, painted blade on a spinnerbait draws significantly more fish than one without that red accent.
Start fishing reaction baits with plenty of flash and thump this time of the year, but keep moving pretty slowly if you want to catch fish. Even though they are more active, bass are still sluggish and won’t move quickly until water temps warm and stay warm. A chatterbait is deadly in the spring, as is a spinnerbait, but fight the urge to speed things up.
To keep from going too fast, use a slower gear ratio reel like the Abu Garcia’s Revo X 6:6:1. Gear ratios of 7:1 and up are perfect when the mercury is on the rise, but slower gear ratios mean more fish early in the season. One standout spring lure is Zman’s Jackhammer chatterbait (pictured above). The finely tuned blade on this upgraded chatterbait makes a lot of noise, even at slow speeds.
After the spawn, bass transition to their summer habitats. As the lily pads grow and grass and weeds take over, throw heavier lures on a heavier line. Baitcasters will quickly become the MVPs of your arsenal.
In the heat of the summer, bass are up shallow. They hide in pockets of open water among matted grass, under fallen trees and overhanging brush. If you’re not fishing shallow, you’re not making the best of the summer fishing season.
Bass hug the embankment in water more shallow than you expect. Buzzbaits are deadly when fished shallow right up against the bank. Pitching and flipping jigs in pockets of open water and skipping a frog lure (pictured above) underneath overhanging trees are great ways to catch bass in warmer weather.
Because bass have no eyelids, they hide deep inside thick heavy cover to avoid the constant glare. Without enough weight, your lure won’t get down through grass and lily pads to where they are hiding. When fish relate to cover, they typically won’t leave their hideout, so present your lure directly to them.
Tungsten is denser than lead, which means weights like VMC Tungsten Flipping Weight are smaller than lead ones and the best choice to get down through the slop and cover faster. It’s more sensitive than lead, so you’ll feel bites even when wedged up against weeds.
Towards the end of the summer and the transition into fall, bass fatten up before retreating to their winter habitats. They move throughout their lakes, ponds, and rivers, chasing protein-heavy baitfish until temps turn cold and stay that way.
One key mistake anglers make as the fall approaches is not moving around enough. You need to cover a lot of water as the temperature falls, or you won’t catch a lot of bass. It’s not the time to painstakingly and methodically fish any specific piece of cover and determine patterns because there aren’t as many. Use loud lures that catch the attention of hungry bass and focus on fan-casting your lures around for the best chances of success.
A common mistake anglers make in the autumn is to neglect topwater lures. One might think fish are down deep in the water column as temps fall, but as fish are very mobile this time of year, a loud topwater lure, like a buzzbait or a wakebait, will grab the attention of big bass. Burning a buzzbait or slow rolling a wakebait around laydowns and hard structure rock pilings are the trick this time of year.
Kicking it Into Gear
I’ve gone over some common weather-specific mistakes anglers make. Now I want to cover common fishing mistakes regarding gear.
With a 7’ medium spinning combo and medium-heavy baitcaster setup, you can fish practically any bass fishing lure, but there are exceptions. If you’re looking to catch fish consistently with a specific type of lure, you’ll be interested in the following pointers to fine-tuning your tackle.
Most bass fishing rods are built on a graphite composite blank. This makes them lightweight and sensitive with a faster tip action, meaning only the tip of the rod flexes when under load. This isn’t ideal for crankbaits and lures that use treble hooks.
Fishing rods that bend through the blank are better for treble hooked baits. With all of that flex, bass can’t easily shake free from the lure and small treble hooks. Rods ideal for crankbaits have a moderate action and flexes throughout the blank. Fiberglass offers more flex than graphite, but it’s heavier. Many crankbait rods like the Daiwa Tatula Elite Series Crankbait rod are made of graphite and fiberglass for added bend without adding too much weight to the rod.
A great way to trigger aggressive strikes from hungry bass is with a reaction bait like a spinnerbait, chatterbait, or buzzbait. One error anglers make when fishing reaction baits is they use a rod with too fast of a tip. A rod with a moderately fast tip allows fish to get the whole lure in their mouth and start loading up so you get an easy hookset.
Another way to land more fish with reaction baits is to use a trailer hook. They fit over the hook on a standard reaction lure and stay in place with a piece of plastic tubing. This additional hook gives fish something else to hold on to if they strike a little late. You can still set the hook and land that fish.
Hollow body frogs are deadly in summer heat around lily pads, but they are one of the hardest lures to master. The hooks are weedless, so you need a rod with a heavy backbone and a braided line to set the hook before a bass spits the lure and swims off.
A high-gear ratio reel makes it easier to walk your frogs on the surface and reel in the slack quickly for a perfect hookset. Dobyn’s Sierra 735c is an excellent frog fishing rod. It’s got a soft tip for casting distance and its backbone pairs beautifully with Lew’s Tournament MP Speed Spool. Heavy braid is also a must and Sunline’s SX2 50lb is a perfect choice.
Bass fishing is a lot of fun, but it’s hard work. It’s discouraging to get skunked. But being outdoors, even when the fish aren’t biting, is a great way to spend your day. Take the time to fine-tune your technique and your gear to optimize your fish catches. You’ll have a much better chance at landing your new personal best. If you have any questions or want to get your ideal setup, reach out to a Fishing Expert here on Curated!