What’s the Best Time of Year to Fish for Bass?
There are an estimated 60 million anglers in America, who fish for sport, recreation, or pleasure. No matter the reasons, all can agree that bass fishing is one of the most challenging and also one of the most rewarding activities. Largemouth bass are the most sought after gamefish in America, partly because the way you fish for them is so personal. Each angler has their own techniques and preferences, from those to whom fishing is an occasional hobby, to competing professionals.
Largemouth bass fishing is so challenging because the fish are constantly on the move. The movement of largemouth bass is dictated daily, weekly, and seasonally by a number of factors. These include water temperature, spawning desires, the pursuit of food and the evasion of predators. To become a better bass angler, you need to understand how these factors drive bass migration, so no matter what time of year it is, you’ll know the best place to target.
When it comes to bass fishing, each season holds its own opportunities and challenges. The best time of year to fish for bass can be heavily varied, it depends on each individual angler’s circumstances. Generally, the best time of day to catch bass is dawn until 8 am, then from around 5 pm to dusk. This is when the bass are most active. However, this varies seasonally, so we’ll go into more detail.
Throughout this article, we’ll go into detail about the in’s and out’s of bass fishing each season. Conditions change due to water temperatures, visibility, spawning patterns, and other factors, so you need to know how to make the best choice depending on each.
We will explain the best time of day to fish, as well as how to find the best spots and the lures which hold the most chance of success. With all this information, you should get plenty of bites no matter the season, but you can also decide for yourself the best time of year to fish for bass.
In late winter or early spring, after ice-out, bass begin moving away from the deeper areas where they spent the winter. The fish migrate towards the rapidly warming shallow waters, but they don’t necessarily stay. In the early spring, the weather is unpredictable, and the water temperature fluctuates from day-to-day.
As the temperature goes up and down, bass will move back and forth between the deep areas and shallow waters. As well as changing according to the water temperature, the movement of bass fish in the spring is also largely dictated by spawning behavior. This means we can break down spring into three separate periods; pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn.
Once temperatures exceed 50 degrees, bass begin swimming towards shallower areas in search of the ideal location to spawn. During this period the weather has a big impact. Water temperature rises quickest where the bottoms are dark and the sun’s impact is strongest. The sun will warm south-facing slopes of coves first, creating areas with higher temperatures.
In the springtime, the best time of day to catch bass is in the late afternoon onwards. Between 6 pm and dusk is the ideal time period, as this is when the conditions are best. Firstly, the lake will have had the whole day in the sun to warm up, so water temperatures are favorable. The low light makes it easier for the bass to see their prey, meaning they’re more active and more likely to bite. The early morning can also be a productive time to fish in the spring, however less so than the evening as the temperatures would be lower.
Largemouth bass exhibit different behaviors and occupy different locations in each stage of the spawning process. In the early spring, bass look to feed a lot, in order to regain the weight lost during the winter as well as building up energy for the spawn. There are several staging areas which the bass may occupy pre-spawn until the shallows start to warm up.
Before this rise in water temperature, shoreline points near deep water, sharp breaks leading to large flats, channels or depressions in spawning coves, and any type of deepwater near a shallow spawning area is where the bass are most likely to be found. Most of these areas aren’t visible to anglers, so they must be located using electronic equipment.
When fishing for deep bass in the early spring, crankbaits, lipless crankbaits, and jigs are most effective, dragged across the bottom of lakes. You could also use spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, swimbaits and worms at this time of year.
Cold fronts during pre-spawn can drive bass fish away from the shallows, back towards deeper water where they await more favorable conditions. Once early morning water temperatures are stable within the 65- to 75-degree range, bass fish will generally move to their spawning beds with a new or full moon.
When they’re moving towards the spawning coves, bass will stop to feed at isolated and covered areas, such as rocks, fallen trees, or old weed patches. At this time, use brightly patterned lures in stained water and natural patterns in clear water.
In the last bit of time before the spawn, bass will seek out the warmest available water. Look towards the northern sections of large lakes, particularly shorelines that get a lot of sun exposure. Protected shallow coves will also retain warmer water, but avoid shady or windy areas as the water temperature here will be colder.
As water temperatures in the spawning coves reach further than 60 degrees, the bass will begin to spawn. As we mentioned, a rapid drop in temperatures during this time could cause the bass to move back to deeper water- but not very far. If you were catching bass a foot off the bank and a cold front moves in, try fishing 5-10 feet further out, and closer to the bottom.
Spawning beds will be located at the warmest, most protected sections of the lake first. Bass spawn in shallow water on a hard bottom and prefer to be next to some form of cover. This could be a stump, dock piling, tree, or bush, and it helps protect them from both predators and wind.
The smaller male bass will typically move to spawning areas first, looking for a place to create a bed, and clearing the area of debris. The larger females often wait nearby where the water is deeper, or where submerged grass is closest to a drop-off.
All the bass in a single body of water won’t spawn at the same time, some spawn while others are still graduating towards the shallows. If you aren’t having success fishing bass in shallow spawning areas, try targeting the deeper bass. At this time, mid-range fishing is the best option.
It gives you a shot at both the males preparing the beds and the females lurking on the outskirts. If you see a male sitting on a spawning bed, chances are a female is waiting nearby, so fish the deeper water leading up to the bed for a chance to catch the bigger female bass.
Targeting bass on their spawning beds can be easy. If you avoid being seen by the bass, using wind and low light as camouflage, it’s more likely that you’ll get a bite. The simplest way to catch bass in these conditions is using a 4- or 5-inch Texas-rigged soft plastic bait, and slowly moving it to the bed.
Then, if the bass picks it up, wait a moment then set the hook. The last few days leading up to the spawn are your best chance of catching a lunker, as the females are often full of eggs.
After the spawn, female bass moves away to the outskirts of the spawning area, while the male stays to protect the eggs and fry. Around the same time, bluegills will move into the area. Bass will wait at ambush points while the bluegill spawn and lures worked past these points can often lead to a successful catch.
Wakebaits in a bluegill pattern are best here and spinnerbaits too. Post-span, the best fishing spots are shoreline points either side of a spawning cove, shoreline pockets, and any cover or structure near bluegill beds.
Throughout the remaining spring period, bass stay in shoreline cover, around trees and brush. Don’t worry about pitching your bait too deep, snagged lines are worth it to fish the spots no one else is.
Bass fishing in the summer can be a challenge, as higher temperatures can make the fish retreat to cooler depths. This happens when water temperatures at dawn hit the 80’s. The best areas to fish in these conditions are depths of around 6 to 12 feet. In the height of summer, especially in clear water, bass may move as deep as 15 to 20 feet.
Summer brings weed growth to the lakes, and the edges of these clearly visible weed walls hold the best bass fishing. In the early morning, bass will be positioned towards the outside of the weed patches, so pull straight up and fish parallel to these areas. We recommend using crankbaits, spinnerbaits, or jigs at these times; try slow-rolling a spinnerbait along the bottom as close to the weeds as possible for the best results.
Bass seek out the shade created by dense aquatic vegetation, and in the hottest parts of the day will move deeper inside the weeds. In deeper lakes, some largemouth bass will move to cooler water around offshore structures. Underwater humps surrounded by deeper water, sunken brush piles, and deep depressions all hold bass in the summer. Fish these areas using drop-shot rigs, football-head jigs, or Carolina rigs and crankbaits. You could also try using topwater lures during low light conditions.
In the summer, bass are most active around dawn and dusk. The reduced sunlight puts the bass at a big advantage over almost all of its prey, and also the temperatures are more favorable. Avoid fishing in the morning hours after a full moon, as the bass at this time are likely inactive and not hungry. If you didn’t already know, bass are influenced heavily by the cycles of the moon. Read here for more information on bass and moon phases.
As the temperatures decrease, bass move to shallower areas to feed and put on weight for the winter. Once the water drops below 55 degrees in the fall, your chances of a bite increase significantly. This is a less popular time of year for anglers, but there are still plenty of big fish waiting to be caught, so don’t let the colder weather stop you.
In the early fall, bass move back into the same shallow areas where they fed before the spawn. In September we recommend the use of medium-size spinnerbaits and square-billed crankbaits. Points once again are great spots for fishing, as well as any cover adjacent to deeper water. A jerkbait is another excellent choice for the fall, and topwaters and spoons can also be effective.
As the lake turns over, when the warmest water changes from the surface to the depths, bass fishing becomes harder. However after the turnover, bass move to the steepest ledges leading to the flats, where the last remaining weeds are. If you get weeds stuck on your hook when fishing these spots, take note of the color. Green weeds are still living, and the bass congregate around them. On the other hand, brown weeds are dying and suck up all the oxygen around their area, so bass don’t stay long around these patches.
At the water temperatures sink to around 40-50 degrees, bass will abandon the flats altogether, and will concentrate mainly on steep slopes. The best fishing spots in late fall are the sharpest drop-offs, so look for these for the best chance at a bite.
In the fall, bass eat well on shad, minnows, frogs, and bluegills in preparation for the winter. The best time of day for fishing in this season is late afternoon to dusk. Once again, temperatures at this time are ideal, and the other factors are favorable too, the same as in spring.
Winter is the most challenging time of all for bass fishing. Daytime temperatures stay below 45 degrees, and even professionals struggle to find fish in this season. Bass do bite in the cold, but in the winter, their metabolism slows and they tend towards lethargy. If the fish are to be found, its where deeper water is located, along steep creek channels and river bends, or sharp points.
Target the sharpest drop-offs you can find, and try dragging a jig over the bottom. Otherwise, fish a jerkbait with long pauses, the colder the water, the longer the pause, up to 25 seconds in the coldest temperatures.
In southern states where the lakes don’t freeze over, bass are generally quite active in the winter. The best time of day for fishing is around noon until 4 pm, when the temperature is warmest. Where lakes freeze over, bass can still be caught most successfully around midday, and can actually be caught through the ice.
If you decide to try your hand at some bass ice fishing, which is easier than you think, check out our article on the best ice fishing boots. Overall, the best days for fishing in winter are overcast, as the lower light conditions are more favorable.
If the easiest fishing is what you’re after, spring is the best time of year to fish for bass. In the spring, the bass are spawning, so they’re incredibly active. This activity makes them easier to catch, so most anglers find success in spring. Throughout pre-spawn, the shallows and just slightly deeper are where you stand the best chance of a bite.
For this, we recommend jigs and spinnerbaits as lures. As the spawning period starts, spawning beds are clearly spottable and make easy targets. You can also fish around the beds for the larger female bass, who are usually waiting nearby. After the span, bluegills move in and will keep the bass attracted and busy, while you can pick up bite after bite. Using wakebaits in a bluegill pattern is best, just work them past the ambush points at bluegill spawning beds.
In the summer, higher temperatures mean the bass move deeper, and they can be found in dense vegetation and shade. You can use topwater lures in low light conditions, or drop-shot rigs and crankbaits. Bass are most active around dawn and dusk in the summer, so make the most of these milder hours.
Fall means colder temperatures and less competition from other anglers, but there are still plenty of bass to catch. The fish move back to the same shallow areas where they fed pre-spawn, so check out these spots before the temperatures drop.
Bonus tip: Watch this video to learn about bass lures that work year-round!