BasSmart: Part 2
Where Bass Live and Eat
In Part 1 we talked primarily about Largemouth Bass behaviour. Now we are going to drill deep into their habitat and the locations—basically, everything you need to know to track down Mr. LMB.
Green weeds emit oxygen, which in turn promotes new life in the form of microscopic organisms like Zooplankton and Phytoplankton. These tiny life forms attract insects, frogs, minnows, and other small creatures that feed on them. This is a scenario that makes bass incredibly happy: lots of food, good protection from other predators, and great ambush points. However, Largemouth Bass prefer some types of weed to others; knowing what they are is vital. Cabbage (Potamogeton spp.), Coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum), and Milfoil (Myriophyllum sibiricum) are the three most preferred—but broad-leaf cabbage is the number one choice, by far.
Cabbage (or Pond Weed, as it is sometimes called) is a fish magnet. It provides the best possible bass-holding habitat due to several factors. First and foremost, it attracts all types of panfish because it houses snails, small invertebrates and crustaceans that feed on the underside of its leaves; so much so that wherever they are prevalent, bluegills nest exclusively around the base of the weeds, making it a veritable smorgasbord for most predators in the area— bass included. This hardy plant is not necessarily the deepest growing weed in its environment (it will grow as deep as 20 feet), but it often prefers to grow near drop-offs and along deep tapering points. In other words, it lives where the bass live: on or near the bass highway, contact points.
Another interesting characteristic that cabbage has is that it is often the first plant to emerge after ice out and the last plant to die off in late fall, meaning that cabbage beds produce oxygen long before and after all other plants are gone for the season. This becomes a key factor in establishing the bass migratory path in your favourite body of water because—although you may not necessarily be fishing them when they are spawning—the existence of cabbage beds along good bass contact points will help determine their migratory highway from deep water wintering areas to shallow spawning bays. I’ll guarantee you that primary summer homes will be somewhere in between. Find it and you, my friends, will be in bass heaven.
Brown or rotting vegetation, no matter what variety, depletes oxygen from the immediate area and replaces it with carbon dioxide, thus lowering PH levels. And nothing says “Hit the road, Jack” to bass louder than lack of oxygen and low PH. In all cases, these conditions will cause bass to move to more tolerable areas. Look at it this way, if the oxygen levels start to deplete in your home, the very first thing you’re going to do is get away from there and seek fresh, breathable air. Bass are no different.
Very sparse weeds or weed-choked areas are generally not ideal bass habitat and will be used only as a means of getting to and from preferred contact points. So don’t spend too much of your valuable fishing time in these areas.
A break-line is simply a change in bottom contour or composition. A rock drop-off or weed-line (end of a growth of weeds) is often inhabited by bass. They’ll relate to weed edges and drop-offs the same way they would relate to a shoreline. For example, cabbage weed is often found on mid-lake humps and flats, but the water surrounding this vegetation is deeper and thus penetrates the deeper areas. Largemouth Bass often hide along the edges of these weeds and ambush prey that moves by. They’ll often bury themselves deep into cabbage on hot days or suspend over deeper water during seasonal changes.
This mid-lake structure of cabbage weeds attracts a multitude of game fish species because it provides deep-water access. Largemouth follow shorelines like a highway until they find a suitable environment. Weed-lines and break-lines, likewise, are also followed until the bass finds suitable cover. Find out where the bass are hiding, and you’ll be in for the fishing experience of a lifetime.
Lily Pads beds act like an umbrella over the water’s surface. This is a perfect place to find marauding bass. But not all pads are created equal. Water Shield (or dollar bonnets, as they are more commonly known) are often mistaken for lily pads. They may look good from your vantage point, but to a smart ol’ bass, they’re way too small and flimsy. They need to support frogs, snakes, birds, and other small animals that use lily pads as hunting areas.
Frogs are the most common bass food in lily pads. They are well camouflaged and stealthily wait for insects to fly into their ambush areas. Bass do the same thing; they rest quietly under lily pads, waiting for prey to fall into their world. One false move by the frog and the bass will often plow right through pads in an attempt to disorient their prey and propel it into open water where it can be easily captured.
But bass that are located in lily pads are not feeding exclusively on topwater creatures; they will readily prey on subsurface life as well, because bass are opportunistic fish.
Lily pads over 2-3 feet of water with adjacent deep-water access will usually yield the most bass. I prefer clear water pads much more than muddy-water ones, but, in all fairness to that comment, I have caught some really nice Largemouth in off-coloured water pads as well. When push comes to shove, and you’re confronted with way too many pads to fish in one day, cherry-pick. First, work the isolated clumps that are closest to deep water and sitting in 2-3 feet of clear to slightly-stained water. Focus on these areas, and you should have some remarkable action.
These are a triangular weed that possess similar characteristics to lily pads but fish totally different. Arrowheads grow in dense clumps with massive root systems that are home to a multitude of creatures—all of which are on the bass menu of favourite foods. They are common to most marshy areas and should be fished as much as lily pads. Big bass like hunting arrowheads because they offer everything that pads do and more. The dense nature of arrowhead roots offers the ultimate home for lunker bass.
Cane and Rushes
Canes and rushes grow high above the water’s surface. They do not possess the same umbrella quality as pads and arrowheads, but bass like these weed areas and they provide great ambush opportunities and suitable protection for foraging fish. Canes and rushes are usually found in windswept areas and offshore locations. They allow current to pass through easily, unlike pads and arrowheads. This current carries nutrients that become trapped in the cane stalks. Baitfish and other forage gather to feed on these nutrients, and these forage fish attract bass.
Floating weeds—called a mat—are frequently carried into rushes and canes by wind and current where they become trapped. These are high-percentage areas and can hold monster bass.
Cane and reed growth played a significant role in Pete’s success during this fishing day-trip to Lake Simcoe.
Vegetation that loses its rooting for one reason or another is often carried by prevailing winds to specific areas. It will build up on shorelines or in canes and rushes until wind direction changes or extreme water levels free it to float further. This accumulation of surface vegetation is called a mat.
When mat congregates around areas with deep water access and plentiful forage, bass are sure to be under it. Mats provide bass with protection and an excellent ambush area. Some common types of mat are duckweed, algae bloom and slop. Always remember that if there is a hiding place available and deep water access, you’ll be sure to find Largemouth.
Here, the Doc (Gord Pyzer, Outdoor Canada) provides more info about throwing frog-, mice- and rat-style baits on mats during the fall.