BASS PATTERNS AND THE STRIKE ZONE
By Ken Poor
Understanding the seasonal and daily movements of bass is part of the key to catching fish consistently and is called patterning. Patterning bass starts with knowing when and where the bass should be both seasonally and during different times of the day. After you develop a pattern, it is just as important to get your bait or lure into the bass’s strike zone, the area that a bass will strike your bait.
First let’s discuss seasonal patterns. Predictably, during the different seasons fish will relate to certain types of structure or areas within a lake. In both the winter and
summer most bass and especially big bass will move to deeper water. During the fall and spring bass will move into shallow water to spawn and or feed. Summer is the easiest time of year to pattern bass and about the only way to really pinpoint their location is with your fish locator.
Seasonal patterns are different from daily patterns in that bass will move around on a structural element, but as long as they are holding on a structural element (seasonal pattern) they will return to a specific spot on the structure at specific times of day (daily pattern. Don’t expect to find fish on the same spot at different times of the day. Bass move around so the trick is to know at what time of day they are likely to be on a certain spot.
When bass are in the shallows and the weather is consistent they will also move around in a predictable pattern, but shallow bass are more influenced by weather patterns than deep water bass. Daily weather conditions such as changes in barometric pressure or thunder and lightning may cause shallow bass to move out of an area or become dormant.
Two key elements that will help you develop bass patterns are a logbook for writing when, where and how you caught fish and your fish locator. Using a logbook is the easiest way to track these movements. Tournament fishermen have used log books as part of their strategy for years. When they go out on a lake they use the information to define the seasonal pattern and then pre-fish the lake to identify daily movements.
Once you start writing down the information you will find you can go out on most days and catch fish. The more information you write down and the longer you keep your log book the easier it will be to compare the months from year to year, see what the weather was and where you fished when the weather was the same.
Most fishermen work the shallows early in the morning or late in the evening and if they don’t catch fish they go home. While this is a shallow water pattern that works some of the time, what do you do if the shallow bite shuts down? The answer is to move out to deeper water and work different areas until you find active fish. Each time you do this take the time to write down the information in your logbook.
After a while you will identify several spots that are likely to hold fish when the shallow bite is off. Look for other similar areas on the lakes you fish and before long you will have several spots that produce fish anytime of the day or year that you want to fish. Fishermen often call this a milk run.
Once you have a milk run setup you can jump from spot to spot any time of day until you locate active fish. Keep in mind that at any given time a hot spot may shut down for any of several reasons. Baitfish may move out of the area, wind can generate currents that may move fish and a predator fish may move into the area and shut the fishing down.
Many years ago I learned to keep an out for the walleye fishermen, especially on the lakes I fish for muskies in Canada. When the walleye fishermen move off a spot it normally means the fish have stopped biting. They have a milk run just like bass fishermen and will move to another spot that should be holding fish.
As soon as they are well clear of the spot I move in with my muskie gear. Often times a big muskie or northern pike has moved into their walleye spot to feed. Using this simple strategy has produced several muskie and even more big northern pike. Always make a note of where other fishermen are fishing and what they are fishing for especially if you see that they are catching fish.
Another thing that you will discover about pattern fishing is that you can use seasonal and daily patterns on lakes in the same geographical area that have similar structural elements, including depths and bottom composition. At the very least a well-kept logbook will provide needed insight into the seasonal patterns that should be used to fish on similar lakes. Then all you have left is to pattern the daily timetable for the specific lake.
Once you know where the fish are, you also need to put your bait or lure in the fish’s strike zone. The strike zone is the area where bass will strike your lure. When fishing for bass it is important to understand that the longer you keep your lure in the strike zone the better your chances are of putting fish in the boat.
On some days the strike zone is measured in yards, other days the strike zone is only a few inches in front of that big bass’s nose. Here are some time-tested tips for understanding and using the strike zone to catch more fish.
The strike zone may be at any depth. Cast at an angle in front of the boat so your lure stays at the desired depth longer. If you cast directly toward the shoreline, your lure passes the depth too fast.
When your lure hits a stump, stop your retrieve and let it fall. Shake it or twitch it right at the cover. Give the lure action while not moving it away from the cover. A lure that passes two feet from a stump may not trigger a hit, but a lure that bumps the stump often triggers a strike. The strike zone may be only on the shady side of a stump. Slow your lure just before it enters the shady area.
Always consider the strike zone to be at or just above the fish’s holding depth and never below it. Lures worked below suspended fish are the least likely to trigger a strike. Know exactly what depth your lure will run at and make sure it is at or just above the fish’s holding depth. Fish will rise up to take a bait, but will seldom move down to take a bait.
On days when bass are not active the strike zone may be only inches in front of the fish’s nose. Under this condition a fast moving lure will rarely trigger a strike. If you suspect that a piece of cover is holding a bass flip or pitch your lure within inches of the cover and then just shake it without moving it off the cover. When you are working a lure slowly during a tough bite try downsizing and slowing down even more.