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Instinctive Behavior: Thinking Like a Bass

When fishing in the many lakes, reservoirs, and rivers across the country, whether for recreation or tournament competition, perhaps the most important lesson that I've learned is to know as much as I can about the natural and instinctive behavior of the largemouth bass. Across the diverse spectrum of freshwater fishing locations from coast to coast and season to season, only one thing is for certain: The more you know about how, why, and what a bass is likely to do under various conditions, the better equipped you will be to make the right adjustments each and every time you fish. Simply stated, the better you are able to "think" like a bass, the greater your odds for improving your catching consistency. With that thought in mind, let's take a very condensed look at what a largemouth bass is all about... regardless of where they are living.

Fundamental Elements

Bass are creatures of nature rather than technology or intellect. As a result, their behavior is governed by one very simple, uncomplicated, and dominating instinct -- survival! As a result, the behavior of a bass revolves around three independent yet intertwined survival needs: security, food, and procreation.                                    

A closer examination of these "survival needs" reveals that as a bass ages and grows in size, security becomes less of a behavior consideration. Why? Because in most environments, when an adult bass reaches three to four pounds it is near or at the top of the food chain. Thus, at this juncture of its life, food and procreation most heavily influence the behavior of an adult bass.

Keep in mind that Mother Nature has established a two- to three-month window during which a bass' behavior is primarily focused on procreation. So one can correctly surmise that for nine or 10 months out of every year the behavior of an adult largemouth bass revolves around hunting, eating, and digesting food.

Having reduced bass behavior to its fundamental elements, you would think that catching bass would be rather simple: All anglers need do is convince a rather unsoph-isticated creature to attack, with intent to consume, the bait we are offering it.  On the surface, we possess essentially every possible advantage. Our intellect, ability to reason, technology, and cumulative years of fishing "know-how" should make catching bass relatively easy and consistent, rather than the frequently frustrating experience it often is.

The Adaptable Bass

Why do we catch bass one day but not the next and have no earthly idea why? Why isn't the bait we caught bass on yesterday producing a single strike today? How come a successful pattern on one lake does not work on another?

The answer to the above and many other similar questions is what makes the largemouth bass one of the most challenging and exciting of all freshwater game fish -- its endless ability to adapt and its total unpredictability.

Think about it. Of all the popular game fish, none is as adaptable as is the largemouth bass. It thrives in virtually every type water and habitat imaginable. From north to south, from the Carolinas to Lake of the Woods in Canada, from cold to warm, deep to shallow, small to large, murky to clear, in rivers, lakes or reservoirs, largemouth bass not only adapt but more significantly, they survive.

The distinct ability of bass to adapt throughout a range of widely varied habitats is the result of its instinctive ability to bend the rules that govern its behavior. It's truly rare when a bass' behavior is limited to one specific choice. Each time we fish for bass there are a myriad of possibilities. The right response cannot be clearly defined because a bass' needs, moods, and temperament are not narrowly defined. Thus, those of us who are blessed (or cursed) with the love of bass angling are often confused. Without question, bass are unpredictable!

But figuring out what location, bait, and type of presentation will work on any given body of water for each possible combination of conditions and habitats makes pursuit of the largemouth bass exciting. Anyone who wants to be a bass angler must first recognize and accept the reality that each fishing trip often presents new challenges resulting in a frustrating (but at times rewarding) learning experience.

Human nature demands simple solutions. I guess that explains why bass anglers are continuously searching for the perfect bait, scent, or technique. I guess that's why we sit glued to our televisions watching hour after hour of our favorite "pros" catching bass with what appears to be every cast; or religiously read fishing magazines from cover to cover in search of the universal key to bass-catching consistency. Certainly there is nothing wrong with these forms of learning; in fact I encourage them. Anything we can do to increase our knowledge and gain different perspectives on the art of bass fishing is useful. In the final analysis, it all starts with a "basic" understanding of Mr. & Mrs. Bass.

To those of you who enjoy this sport as much as I do, I would be remiss if I did not offer one important caution. Unfortunate but true: There are no quick solutions, surefire techniques, or easy answers to bass catching. Some days you catch them and some days you don't. I guess that is why they call it fishing -- not catching!

Till next time, have fun fishing, be safe and courteous on the water, and please practice catch and release so we all can enjoy bass fishing for many years to come.