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Discussion Starter #1
We have discussed how to catch bass, where they go, what to use and why but we have not really touched upon the subject of the bass' forage. As we all know bass forage is a long list: shad, minnows, darters, sunfish, frogs, turtles, birds, snakes, rodents and basically anything the bass can get in its mouth.

Around my area the predominant forage is american shad and blueback herring.

Crawdads are also a major forage for bass as well and i think this is a forage that is more or less country wide. Crawdad's as far as I know are also the most protien rich forage that the bass can aquire. It is my understanding that even bass are aware of this.

I am sure if we put our heads together we can come up with many helpful facts and information about our quarry's forage that will aid all of us in our pursuit.

So how about it? a discusson on forage?
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Some facts that I know are that american shad will spawn in water around 60 degrees. While threadfin shad spawn when the water reaches about 70 degrees and they can keep spawning right into the summer months. Spawning generally occurs in the morning hours and with this in mind anglers can make better bait and presentation choices if they are aware of a shad spawn happening in the area they plan on fishing.
 

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Also, crawdads will molt there shells many times during their life. When they lose their shell, they are known as softshelled. During this period they will change colors to match their enviroment not unlike a chameleon would. This is something that if remembered will help you match the hatch during those tough times. This is one reaosn why greens and browns are very good choices.
 

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A few years ago I got a list of crawfish species in the lake and looked up photos showing their different colors depending on time of year, water temperature, etc, printed them in high res colors, then cut out patches of colors. I laminated them to make a fishing key, mixing species that shared same schedules and colors. But when doing a bass club presentation one night, after passing around lots of handouts that key went missing. Somebody apparently became a believer.

Someday I might make a new one, but pretty well have the general idea down anyway. That took a number of hours researching and doing. It's just nice to have a key to match bait colors closely. I was convinced beyond any new facts matching those colors mattered a lot. My own theory is bass get onto a particular forage species and specialize that day on a particular color to aid in finding plenty, ignoring other animals. As long as that species works for them, the bass apparently work it until they are made scarce, then switch to something else fairly reliable. That explains to me why a particular color and presentation works for days and weeks, then an abrupt color and presentation change occurs following change in forage.

Jim
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I like that idea. I wonder how I can learn what species of crayfish live in the lakes around me? DNR ya think?
 

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I knew all the local biologists but it's hard to pin them down over the phone or in person for stuff like that. Call offices and get their names and mailing addresses. Do NOT give them an email address or your phone number. Why?

A little government secret about contacts: Phone calls end as soon as one party hangs up. No report, no trail worth messing with. Emails get slow responses, a lower level of dedicated response, again made basically lost history upon deleting. LETTERS ALWAYS REQUIRE A FULL RESPONSE. The level of detail they have to supply must match the level of inquiry. They don't DARE or even think about tossing your letter in the waste can. Most will even keep the envelope the letter came in to have a record of when it was post-marked. It gets filed, reported, and acted upon quickly. They also have a mortal, crumbling, debilitating fear of letters from Congressmen initiated by a complaint from one citizen (voter) to their Representative. Those can cost an agency hundreds of manhours investigating and answering perfectly.

Knowing that, all it takes is a nice letter specifying exactly what you want from a local, state or federal agents. The DNR is a good place to start. A county extension agent or federal wildlife officer can help. In my case I figured out to at least ask for specific species and molting schedule, as well as what they feed on, and where have biologists located regular colonies. They provided links to websites that have the photos and sometimes a wealth of knowledge about each. It still takes a lot of work to come up with the key.

Jim
 

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Crawdads are called crayfish if you look them up for study. It's easy to catch crawdads with a trap left over night near the launch ramp, there are always crawdads in the marina area feeding on dead fish. A simple trap can be made from 1/4 square hardware cloth (wire mesh) that you can buy by the yard and 1 yard 36" square make a trap. You roll the mesh wire into a tube, flatten one end and fold it back over about 2 inches. The open end you bend back inward to form a funnel that has a opening about 3 inches in diameter. Tie a heavy cord about 8 to 10 feet long near the open end. To bait the trap open the folded over end and place a fish head, piece of bacon back fat or whatever meat scrap you have down in the middle of the trap and wire in place. Close the folded end and your are ready to place this trap where it is out of sight in about 2 to 4 feet of water. Under an old dock works well. Overnight the trap should have a dozen or so crawdads inside when you pull it up.
Catching crawdads in the lake you fish will tell you what colors they are in that environment at that time of year. Crawdad colors differ depending on several factors, the ph of the water is the primary factor along with the variety of the crayfsih. My conclusions are; liver brown with redish black highlights make up the majority of basic color, with cinnamon brown having red and greenish blue high lights making up the balance, where I fish. During the winter when the water temperatures drop below 55 degrees, the crawdads dig into the mud and turn dark redish black.
Tom
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Lots of great info coming out! :D Seems we are focusing more on crayfish than the other possible forage types but thats ok :D

I use to go crayfish hunting a lot, down here and up north. That was one of the things Bryan Kerchal and I did often when we werent fishing, go crayfish hunting to feed them to my bass, Einstein. We'd do this is brooks and creeks though, looking under rocks. Down here I fashioned a net out of a 10 foot piece of bamboo that I cut from behind my house and a... LOL... cage from a bug zapper. Worked like a charm and i use to drag it through the ditches and bottom of ponds and pull up a mess of crawdads at a time. Down here, I used them for catfish bait.

Ive never thought of tryin to catch them out of the lakes I fish. I must give that a shot.
 

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Bait fish are a lot more complicated to try to catch, most open water varieties like shad or herring require netting. There is lots of information and color photos of bait fish, so you shouldn't need to catch them. There are always a few injured bait fish on or near the surface after bass feed on them, so go pick them up and look closely at the colors, if they are still alive. Sunfish family of young of the year bait fish are easy to catch with a small #12 hook and piece of worm or just ask some kids to catch a few.
American shad grow to be a good size fish over 5 lbs, so only the young of the year would be suited as bass bait. Herring are also a good size bait fish 6 to 12 inches, silver with light blue/gray back. I would think a swim bait and soft jerk bait would be the ticket, along with slender minnow lures and surface poppers in those colors. Gizzard shad get to be about 12 inches, where thread fin only about 4 inches, so it's important to know the type of shad you have. Shad colors vary a little, mostly silver with chartreuse highlights and blueish purple and gray backs. Gizzard shad have an orange tinted chest patch during spawn. Bream or the sunfish family come in Heinz 57 color verity from dark purple greenish to lime green bluish chartreuse and anywhere from 2 to 6 inches make up bass size bait fish. Young of the year and every type of fish under 6 inches make up bass size bait fish, so the list is nearly endless.
Tom
 

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In my opinion crayfish supply bass more months than shad do since many species die off in winter. Crayfish in inland freshwater don't truly hibernate, coming out after any slight warm-up. I've harvested lake crayfish in shallow water rocky areas all months of the year. They just cut their activity in cold water like bass do, but they can't store enough energy to lay out all winter, same as for bass. They move shallower, and bass will come get them on warm "Indian Summer" days. I'd put crayfish as the most reliable source of bass food year around, but there are times when other forage animals like shad are much more plentiful.

As ya'll already know and some probably detest, I always take a few minutes to check bass stomach contents at the fish cleaning stations. Lifting a few flat rocks next to the launch ramp will usually expose one. Raccoons do that all night long, harvesting them.

I think the crayfish (I sometimes use "crawfish" to reduce confusion) in any lake could be classified according to what they eat. That leads to clues as to habitat locations like rip rap banks, docks, boulder areas, cobblestone rock slopes, coarse gravel flats, sandy ridges, heavy matted vegetation, dying vegetation, pockets catching dead floating fish, etc.

Some live way up in the head waters of creeks, feeding on stuff freshly washed from the watershed. You wouldn't find those in 30 feet of water out in the lake. Some feed only on rotting wood, dead vegetation and dead animals. Some feed on living plants and living animals. Some feed only on little fish, and some, mostly exotics introduced to a fishery, feed on other crayfish. Knowing the type of forage available for crayfish helps locate places to expect large populations of them, enough to feed a lot of bass.

Jim
 

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When I had kids and we camped one project they liked was to keep an "aquarium" with wild little fish until we left. That was a 1 gallon pickle jar. We caught them by tying that jar to a root by the water, then screwing the lid on that had a hole in it and a screen wire funnel poked into the jar. The funnel hole is no more than an inch in diameter and the edges very sharp and jagged, preventing anything that comes in from going out. Bread crumbs, crackers, insects, whatever was put inside for bait, then the jar was sunk. A few hours later the aquarium was full. A few critters stayed, duplicates dumped. That included crayfish, newts, snails, bream, bass fingerlings, etc.

Sometimes we used the jar to get fishing bait. But I learned a lot about the critters by just looking at them. The true colors show through the glass much more realistically than when a fish in is your hand.

That same jar got put on a long line suspended from a plastic float jug to take samples of crayfish from deep water. Those fellers make fine bass bait.

Jim
 

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Bream as you all call sunfish/bluegill are more difficult for bass to swallow than crappie due to their spinney sharp dorsal fins, so bass prefer crappie when they are small enough and available. Don't forget to think about crappie as a bass prey when considering colors. My old rule of thumb is use contrasting colors with bars for weedy areas and spots or dots for open water. Example would be fire tiger for weedy areas and darker back with lighter sides and belly and added spots for open water, when selecting hard baits for reaction bites. I tend to stay with translucent colors for open water soft plastics that match the hatch and darker less translucent shades with brighter highlights in weedy or wood cover areas.
Tom
 

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About the time black crappie should be spawning is the time to go with a black swimming jig&pig since they turn a dark almost black at that time. Maximum length of bait is usually 3" around here, but fluffed out and bulky. The rest of the year they lighten up a lot showing a lot less black and much more yellows and greens.

I've opened up a lot of bass holding bream. They love bluegills under about 4" long, but I've found up to a 1/2 pound bream in stomachs. When I see that I begin bassing in classic bream headquarters, starting with gravelly rocky points. When I see much of that happening I figure the shad are terribly scattered, so bass are feeding shallow waiting for shad to come back shallow at night for their bedtime hours. The 1-2 pound bass do tend to stick it out in open water schooling on shad, a pretty ignorant activity burning a lot of calories, while some smarter 3-5 pounders learn to wait for supper to come to them. The big mamas wait till dark hours to risk going shallow, staying deeper and catchable through the day.

Jim
 

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Discussion Starter #14
My bass Einstein was only 12" long when I released him back in 94, but I raised him from the time he was 1/2" long until then. At one point in his life in my 150gallon tank I decided to give him some company and tossed in half a dozen small bluegills. I figured he'd enjoy t he company. Well, they soon became company for dinner lol

The dorsal spines didnt even phase Einstein. He'd attack them head on and suck them in like that so that the dorsals would close up and stay closed as he swallowed them. It was definitly cool to watch! :D Not quite as cool as watching him stalk a frog on the surface. Now that was the most AWESOME sight to behold. Sometimes he'd nail it instantly but most often he's angle up at the surface and watch the frog for a while before he's race in and suck him in head first. An instant later he was at the bottom, frog legs hanging out of his mouth, happy as a pig in mud ;)
 

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:rofl1:

Not long ago I watched a video at a bass club meeting, featuring some shots of bass feeding in a large tank. When a bass caught a bream the catch was rarely perfect, not quite head on. Lots of times they bit down on the belly below the gills. The bass immediately shakes its head violently and swims off chomping. After crushing the fish a while it stops and holds the fish a moment. I'd say its checking for movement. In a flash the bass spits the fish out and inhales it head first. The gills flare wide open to inhale, then flare open again to swallow. Bluegill gone. Yep, them fins just fold right down once turned right. Tom's right about preferring crappie. Only problem is crappie grow up much faster so the window of opportunity on them doesn't last long.

After watching that nobody had to point out why lots of times we ought to hesitate some on setting the hook for some baits like buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, large topwaters, etc. They might have it by the blades and need a chance to turn it head first :dance01:

Jim
 

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It's not that uncommon to find a dead bass with a big bluegill (bream) stuck in it's throat, never have seen one with a crappie stuck where the bass died. Once found a big bass about 7 lbs struggling to swallow about a 2 pound channel catfish, so we are not talking about a smart fish, some are dumb, mostly the ones I can catch.
Long slender small scaled fish are preferred over flat fat spinney heavy scaled fish as bass prey. Bass eat bass make no mistake about that because bass will eat anything they think might be food. I think we are talking about what they prefer to target at any given time.
Preferred bait fish are those that are the most abundant and easy meals of opportunity. Bass are also school fish and prefer to work on other schools of bait fish as a group teamed up to herd schoolsof bait fish to a convenient feeding location where they are trapped. The lakes surface is such a trap because the bait fish must either stay up on the surface or swim back down toward the bass.
Open water bait fish like shad, herring and trout require team work from a bass school to be effective at herding and trapping the school. This is one reason why it is important to fish under the bait fish school or use larger lures than the bait fish when targeting big bass. Smaller school size 1 to 2 1/2 pound bass will work a thread fin shad school to a site that big bass can take advantage of both the small bass and shad or whatever else may be prey, like trout working the shad school. larger bait like trout require a school of big bass to herd them and trap them against the shore line or surface. The big bass will be under the large bait fish and attack by comming up and striking, they usually give up the chase if the big bait fish goes back down.
Weed line or heavy cover bait fish like bream or crappie are difficult for bass to herd because the survival instinct for pan fish is to hide in the weeds or cover. The bass try to either ambush pan fish or push them up to the surface for an easy target. This is why a faster moving reaction lure works good in cover because the bass doesn't have time to chase down these little quick maneuvering bait fish.
When bass are targeting a specific bait fish type they tend to key on that particular size, profile and color, especially when feeding in a school or on school type bait fish. Your presentation needs to look like and act like the prey, wounded prey, or other big bait fisf the bass expects to find, otherwise the bass may ignore it under those conditions of feeding activity.
Tom
 
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Bream are nothing compared to a Catfish's arsenal of barbs. Those catfish can lock those barbs out in all 3 directions. Yet bass gobble up small catfish like it is nothing. Bream are one of the favored meals by a Bass in my opinion. Out here in Florida they regularly hit bream as bait. My friend who lives in Jacksonville lives on a 3 acre pond and he sees big bass eating monster bluegills like 1lb bluegills every day. His lake is gin clear and those bass do not want anything else but those bluegills right now. He has caught some and used them as bait and has missed every bass that bit. I think it is like Jim said the bass hits the bluegill sideways or at the belly then swims off with it trying to crush the fish and wound it. Meanwhile Brian is counting to 10 and sets the hook only to get nothing back. I think that shows the bass is biting a large bluegil and needs to work on how to swallow it first.
 

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The problem with bream is if they are too big to swallow, the bass can't spit it back out and either swims around until the bream is partially digested or it will starve. Too big is relative to the size of the bass verses the bream, general rule is about 1/2 lb bream about 10 inches long is maximum for bass up to 7 lbs.
Tom
 
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That is probably the size Brian meant when he said 1lb haha. 10" is a pretty big bluegill or Bream.
 

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In one of my last tournaments on the Arkansas River I put a 7-8 largemouth in the livewell just before the last weigh-in. I went in, dipped up fish, dumped them in the bag. I got to the line and someone pointed, saying "Campbell is pretty desperate. He's got a jackfish in there. Man, when ya gonna learn to know yer fish?" Well, sure enough there was a pickerel in there, about a pound worth, a good 12" of fish. The eyes were already dissolved. It was puked up while standing there. "One pound penalty for Campbell." The guy was a real horse's butt, one of the few people I just couldn't stand. Well, I spotted a little 4# bass in his bag and told him to put the minnow back. This was a big boy game. By the time they weighed my fish I wasn't ashamed. It didn't matter, I came in about 30th and out of the money and had 5 bass at 33 pounds of bass. SON those were tough tourneys back then. Winning weights were over 36#, a HUGE difference in catch. Had we gone 3 days like nowadays someone would have held the record for a long time.

Point is, a bass will put anything in its stomach smaller than that bucket mouth and keep anything that will stay there until put in a weigh-in bag. Pretty often it comes out in the livewell, too. Check it often after the first bass goes in. You'll get updated on exactly what the other bass might be going after.

Jim
 
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