Bass For Beginners
Story by Trey Iles, Public Information Officer for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
From the Louisiana Conservationist
If you’re looking to take up bass fishing, you couldn’t have picked a better state in which to do it. Louisiana features some of the best bass angling in the world thanks to its abundance of lakes, rivers, reservoirs and marshes.
From Caddo Parish all the way to Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area at the mouth of the Mississippi River, largemouth bass can be found. It may not always be easy, however, to catch this prized fish.
If you decide to take up bass fishing, the first two things you’ll need to stock up on are patience and a willingness to practice. Bass can be discerning eaters and they aren’t the easiest fish to locate and land.
“I have young kids and they want to bass fish and I tell them it’s not like bream fishing,’’ said Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist program manager Alex Perret, an avid bass fisherman. “You’re not going to go out and catch 50 or 60. I tell them we might catch four or five, or maybe 10, and that’s a fun day. It’s hard for them to understand that you can go hours without a bite or catching a fish.’’
The great thing about bass fishing in Louisiana is that you don’t need an expensive boat or gear to get started. Granted, those things are nice to have and can enhance the experience. There are, however, excellent fishing opportunities right from the bank.
The lagoons at City Park in New Orleans are loaded with big bass. Multiple BREC ponds are available in the Baton Rouge area as well. All you have to do is park your car and walk to the bank.
You’ll obviously need a rod and reel to get started and an adequate setup can be found for less than $100. Perret said it’s best to begin with a bait caster rod and reel combo. It’s easiest to start off with a shorter 6-foot rod, depending on the size of the angler. As you become more comfortable, you can increase the length of the rod to improve casting distance.
“You can be more accurate with a shorter rod at first,’’ Perret said. “What separates bass fishing from other forms of fishing is it is very target oriented, especially in south Louisiana.
“An open-faced casting reel allows the line to come off freely. You use your thumb to regulate the line. Eventually, you’ll learn to cast overhand, underhand, sidearm and pitching like we use with soft plastic baits. This allows you to get under branches and into hard to reach places. But for beginners that’s down the road. The only way to get to that point is to practice and get comfortable at casting from all angles.’’
And that’s where practice makes perfect. Perret recommends starting on open water such as a small pond.“Watch and see what different lures do as you reel them back,’’ Perret said. “If you’re a beginner, going to open ponds allows you to experiment and learn how to throw different lures, how to learn the cadence and work the line. That’s an important step in learning how to bass fish.’’
It’s likely you’ll catch small bass in ponds. However, even small bass can make for an exciting day, which is one of the many reasons the species is so much fun to target. You’ll need to learn how to set the hook with different lures and how to land the fish. Small ponds and lakes are the perfect training ground.
When to go, What to use
Go to any outdoor store and you’ll find an overwhelming selection of lures for bass. Perret said when selecting them, it’s important to keep it simple. He said initially to consider them in two categories, fast-moving and slow-moving lures.
“Simply, those that you cast out and reel in are fast-moving lures,’’ Perret said. “Those that you cast out and work along the bottom are slow-moving lures. For beginners, it’s a good way to split your lure categories. For fast-moving lures, crankbaits and spinnerbaits are easy and are very basic lures that every bass fisherman should have in their tackle box. You can have success with these lures just by simply casting them out and reeling them back in.
“Plastic worms and crawfish imitators are great slow-moving, or bottom-hopping, lures for beginners. Paired with a 3/16-1/4-ounce weight, these can be easy and effective offerings for bass around trees, bushes and submerged vegetation.
“Lure selection depends on the time of the year and the temperature of the water. That can determine where and how you fish, and can be the difference between fishing and catching.”
Beginner bass anglers should keep their lure color selection very simple.
“There are thousands of different colors and lures out there,” Perret said. “Many of those are meant to catch the fishermen. Color selection should be simple. When fishing in clear to slightly stained water, natural colors like pumpkin (brown) and watermelon (green) for soft plastics and white or shad and bluegill imitations for fast-moving baits will work. In stained or muddy water, darker colors like black and blue are excellent for bottom-hopping baits. Moving baits with chartreuse and orange colors with blue or brown accents are more visible to the fish in those conditions.”
The good news for fishermen in Louisiana, particularly south Louisiana, it’s possible to catch bass any time of the year.
“To me, the most important consideration is the time of the year you fish,’’ Perret said. “The time of year will determine your approach.’’
One of the best times to fish in south Louisiana is late January through March. As the water temperature warms, bass move into shallow water areas preparing to spawn.
“That time of the year is when the bigger fish are up in shallow areas where they are more catchable,’’ Perret said. “If they’re in pre-spawn, they’re feeding. They’re trying to gain weight as they get ready for the spawning period where they use a lot of energy.
“Later as the water is starting to warm and crawfish are coming out of the ground, we’ll try to use lures that look like crawfish. Dark red and brown crank baits and similar-colored plastic creature baits are good. They look like crawfish. These dark colored crawfish are becoming more active and the bass are going to eat them.’’
Water temperature plays a major part in how and when to bass fish. Perret said when the water reaches 58 degrees, bass begin to work their way to spawning areas. When the water holds in the mid-60s and it’s during a full moon phase, bass will start spawning.
When the water temperature holds in the 70s and on through the summer, Perret said it’s the time to include top water lures.
“A bass’ metabolism starts speeding up when the water gets in the mid-60s to around 70,’’ Perret said. “And some of them are on the back side of the spawn and they’re trying to regain their energy. They’ll become more active and start hitting faster moving baits and baits on top.’’
Casting practice comes in handy during the hot summer months. Bass look for shade to escape the heat of the day under available cover. This is when slow moving baits should again become a large part of an angler’s arsenal.
“Much of our bass fishing in Louisiana is focused on targeting shoreline cover,’’ Perret said. “Being accurate is very important. Many times unless you hit a target with that bait, they won’t go after it. There are plenty of times when I’ll cast five or six times at a tree before I’ll get a bite. Most of the time it’s because you finally cast the bait at the right angle or you bounced it off of the cover the right way to get a reaction strike from the fish.’’
Bass fishing can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. You can start simple and upgrade tackle and techniques as your experience and abilities dictate.
Get out and give bass fishing a try and see why more than 12 million anglers go after bass each year in the United States.
For more Conservationist stories and to learn more about the work of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, visit: http://laconservationist.wlf.la.gov/