The first step in consistently catching mature largemouth bass is understanding their environment: where they live, how various conditions impact their habits, and what they eat. It all starts with understanding their habitat.
Last updated: April 7, 2023
By: Brandon Sanders
Have you ever tried to fly an airplane?
Here’s a pro tip: You can’t fly an airplane without first understanding airplanes.
And in the exact same way, you can’t catch big largemouth bass without first understanding bass. 💡 A largemouth bass’s habitat will give anglers important clues about daily bass activity—where they can be found, and what they tend to eat.
Most people look past this crucial fact. Successful bass fishing all starts with learning about the habitat of largemouth bass. So if you’ve ever wondered where bass live, the type of water and cover they prefer, and what drives their daily activity, then you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s learn about the environment and conditions that largemouth bass prefer. 👇
When someone begins to take an interest in bass fishing, they soon find themselves facing many unknowns and even more options. Simply trying to locate bass can be an incredible challenge, even for the most seasoned of fishermen.
However, every task that seems daunting can be broken down into its more elemental parts and tackled much more efficiently. We should begin our investigation into the optimal largemouth bass habitat by considering the typical diet of largemouth bass.
Bass are ambush predators that require a high protein diet. This can come in the form of crustaceans, smaller fish, and other random targets of opportunities like small ducks and snakes. The environment that best caters to their mode of hunting will draw bass in.
This means that the habitat must be teeming with potential prey and provide cover for the bass to hide in while they hunt. Unlike other species of fish, this can be anything from ponds to running rivers provided it gives the bass cover to hide in and food to prey upon.
Largemouth bass inhabit a wide array of waterways across North America. They prefer water temperatures that are generally above 60 degrees but can be found in colder waters too. Largemouth bass are ambush predators and will always gravitate toward docks, submerged logs, or vegetation to provide the cover they require to ambush their prey.
Dissolved oxygen is often not even considered by bass fishermen, but it is crucial to bass vitality. The concept is fairly simple, bass do not want to struggle to breathe. If the water they find themselves in becomes low in oxygen, then bass have to move more water across their gills to absorb the amount of oxygen needed to survive.
Therefore, seeking water that is dense in oxygen is one component that the bass fisherman must take into consideration. Depth of water, the presence of submerged living vegetation, and the appropriate amount of current helps oxygenate the water to levels conducive to holding fish.
This has even become a talking point in the bass fishing community concerning livewells. Bass require a minimum of 7 mg of oxygen per liter of water to simply sustain themselves. For perspective, a healthy environment will likely produce 14mg of oxygen or more.
In this case, the regulation of livewells to keep above the minimum level of oxygen teaches us something about the habitat bass desire; they must be heavily oxygenated. This points the bass fisherman to areas with slight current, heavy aquatic vegetation, and access to deep water.
So how do water temperatures play into oxygen saturation? It is known that the warmer the water becomes, the less oxygen it can hold. If you imagine the molecular structure of water like a net that catches oxygen molecules, the higher the temperature becomes, the larger the gaps in the net. Therefore, less oxygen is caught for the fish to breathe. It has been noted that at 70 degrees, the oxygen saturation is at 8.8mg per liter.
Yet as the water temp rises to 80 degrees, oxygen saturation drops by over 1mg. As the summers wear on, the water temperature rises and drives the bass into deeper water at the warmest parts of the day.
Fertility is also directly affected by water temperatures. Given this fact, bass react to water temperatures more than any other variable in their environment. In the winter, the water temperature is in the low 50s and the bass move slowly, stay deep and are far less reactive as they seek to use as little energy as possible. However, once spring arrives and water temperatures cross above 65 degrees, the spawn begins.
After the spawn, water temperatures will rise even further, pushing the bass back into deep water in search of more oxygen. All of this affects the vitality of the bass population. If the water temperatures stay lower for most of the year, the bass will be forced into a much shorter growing season and will not reach their maximum potential. If the water temperature is overly hot, the same effect will occur as they seek water where they can respirate without an absurd amount of effort.
As stated before, bass are ambush predators at heart. They will take advantage of targets of opportunity, but when they hunt it will be with an ambush mentality. This makes the understanding of cover and how bass use it crucial to locating bass. Structures offered by trees, logs, docks, and vegetation all allow bass to lurk in the shadows and hit unsuspecting prey.
A classic example of this is a swath of lily pads. Lily pads offer a large shadowed area that bass can hide in. The bass cannot be seen from the surface and prey that find themselves crossing the lily pads are susceptible to ambush from the bass below.
Simultaneously, baitfish that may be cruising the edges of the lily pads are also susceptible to ambush. While lily pads are the gold standard for bass cover, it is but one of many examples out there.
It can be difficult to sneak up on largemouth bass and effectively fish such areas. Bass fishing from the shore is obviously limited. Gas-powered bass boats are an alternative option, but they can also be noisy, which can spook the bass from biting. An alternative is to use a stealthy fishing kayak which can be used to quietly and calmly enter the areas where bass typically use as cover.
The structure provides two things to bass, thermal channeling and prey attraction. First, let's discuss how structure draws in potential prey for bass. Algae forms on hardpoints in the water. These could be rocks, logs, trees, or even man-made structures. As the algae forms, things that feed on the algae also begin to be attracted to the structure.
Crayfish, worms, and other life soon find themselves on the structure and are preyed upon by small baitfish. Once the baitfish show up, the bass are not far behind. Structure is the bedrock of the food cycle that bass capitalizes on.
Another aspect of structure, particularly the exposed structure that extends beyond the water’s surface, is thermal channeling. Since bass is extremely sensitive to the water temperature, finding places that are different from the average temperature of the lake can be critical for finding bass.
Trees, docks, and other types of structures sit and absorb the sun’s warmth. It then channels that warmth into the water below it. This temperature rise can be advantageous to bass during cold snaps and will draw them in.
Every novice bass fisherman has asked himself about the bass spawn. However, the professional bass fisherman often looks to determine where the bass spawn. Spawning grounds are always shallow, have rocky or sandy bottoms, and sport a variety of vertical structures for bass to nest by.
Bass beds will always be free from debris, in 2-3 feet of water, and next to a log, tree, stump, or some sort of vertical cover. Locating where bass live during the spawn will require finding a large area that meets these requirements.
Bass, like many animals, find themselves doing different things at different times of the year. During the springtime, bass use migration corridors to move to shallow flats where they can spawn. This typically involves moving from their deeper winter waters down creeks or channels to shallow parts of their home waters.
The successful fisherman during this time of year will identify and exploit those corridors during the pre-spawn. Then once the water temperatures rise above 65 degrees and the spawn has begun, transition to casting to beds.
Summertime fishing can be challenging as the bass tend to pull off to deeper water to avoid the summer sun and lack of oxygen in shallow flats. A lot of fisherman have luck when casting a soft plastic that imitates a worm, and reeling it in suddenly for a short amount of time, only to pause and let the soft plastic float to the bottom, only to repeat another few seconds of quickly reeling in the lure.
Fishing in the summertime is best done during the early morning as bass move into the shallows to feed during the cool night, but then pull off into the deeper water where the temperature is cooler and the water is more saturated with oxygen. During the middle of the day, it can be very difficult to induce a bite and the fisherman may be better off just getting lunch.
Due to largemouth bass activity in the fall, fishing for bass as the temperature cools can be explosive and an incredible time. With the drop in water temperature as winter approaches, bass begin to feed more often and often more aggressively. With this infusion into their diet, they are more likely to engage in high-energy behavior.
Lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits offer the hungry bass something that resembles a high-protein baitfish and is fun to fish with. Toward the end of the fall, bass begin to pull into deeper holes and prepare to weather the winter cold.
Winter can be a hard time to be a bass fisherman, but that doesn’t mean it's impossible to be successful. The cold water slows the bass down and forces them away from the surface below the thermocline. Fishing deep submerged structures very slowly can be productive as it matches what the bass are doing that time of year. Catching the attention of bass through the use of a jig is also a common method during this season.
Bass can inhabit a wide range of waters. Understanding the body of water you are most likely to fish helps in determining how you can best access bass: either from land or in a vessel be it a gas-powered bass boat or kayak. Additionally, it helps determine where exactly the bass will be when you get there. Since there are different dynamics at play with each type of body of water, bass behave slightly differently.
Ponds are some of the simplest and easiest places to fish. Ponds are cut off from other sources of water and consequently, give the bass the same type of food source repeatedly. Once you begin fishing with something different than what bass normally encounter in the pond, then a bite is almost guaranteed.
Further, since they are small, they are easy to understand and pattern inside an afternoon. This allows the novice bass fisherman a much quicker route to success as they build their core skills to take on larger bodies of water.
Lakes are where bass fishermen go to stretch their skills to the next level. Large lakes can often challenge bass fishermen as they attempt to locate fish and determine what presentation is required to make them bite.
Having a solid understanding of the topography of the bottom of the lake is crucial as you begin to interpret where in their annual cycle the bass are. Finding travel corridors in the lake is crucial to pre-spawn, shallow flats during the spawn, and finding points that have access to both deep and shallow water is pivotal to winter and summer.
Rivers are a challenge unto themselves as they are far from monolithic. Rivers can be very warm and muddy or cold and clear. Bass will inhabit all types of rivers and largely keep to the same patterns as they would on flat water.
The real challenge is to find the deep holes and shallow flats that have the optimal current while watching the river level fluctuate. While they can be excessively challenging, they can also be extremely rewarding to the committed fisherman.
There is an overlap between largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. The key difference between the two is that smallmouth requires current to thrive, whereas largemouth simply prefer it.
This leads to a lot of largemouth bass slowly encroaching on smallmouth territory. However, in large mountain rivers where smallmouth thrive, they will often be more successful than the largemouth bass. The same is true of slow-moving river systems in river deltas, but largemouth bass.
Smallmouths can be found there, but are often out-bred by their largemouth cousins. It is typically at transition points between the two extremes that anglers can enjoy both species.
We all know that largemouth bass angling has grown more and more popular over the years for good reason: It's challenging. Other types of fishing can be mundane and formulaic, but bass fishermen are required to adapt their approach daily.
This means that dedication to the practice of catching bass is required for success to be achieved. Understanding the habitat is one of the crucial first steps to mastering bass fishing. You’ve got everything you need to know at this point. Get out there and study your local bass habitat! 🏆
Largemouth are not an invasive species in many parts of the United States. However, they have been introduced in areas west of the Rocky Mountains where they were previously not found.
The largemouth bass is native to the waterways of the American midwest and south. However, due to the resilience of the fish and their ability to thrive, they have been introduced to areas that they did not have natural access to. Today, the range of the largemouth bass is the entire continental United States.
Largemouth bass can be found in every state in the US except Alaska. This includes a population that was introduced in Hawaii.
As largemouth bass proved to be sturdy fish that were popular commercially, different state game and fish agencies sought to establish populations for local fishermen. Therefore, the largemouth bass expanded its range far beyond the Missippi watershed that it had naturally called home.
Bass reproduce in small ponds, rivers, lakes, and large reservoirs that they call home. The spawn will always occur with water temperatures in the mid-60s and at shallow depths. Therefore, fishing the spawn will look differently in different bodies of water.
A bass pond should be as deep as needed to accommodate the bass in that area. Bass are known to be in all parts of the water column depending on the time of year and what is happening around them. It is best to follow a fishing report for your local area and then pick your pond according to the depths reported there.
There is no best habitat for largemouth bass which makes the species especially interesting. They are extremely flexible and can thrive in nearly any environment that will provide the water temperatures they require.
A recent study shows that their habitat may cause them to grow faster or live longer depending on what environmental stimuli are presented. This is a testament to the adaptability of the largemouth bass to make adjustments to their behavior depending on what environment they find themselves in.
About the author: Brandon Sanders, who goes by BBSanders, is a freelance outdoors writer that enjoys hunting and fishing across the world. He is a combat veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other smaller deployments. He lives in East Texas in a small cabin with his wife and two dogs. You can learn more about him on his own website, here.