First of all, common sense is a great tool to have. We all know that in summer and winter that the majority of the bass are going to be deep, in spring they will be staging to spawn and in fall, they will school up in places that are shallow, but adjacent to deeper water.
With that being said, let's start in the spring, since that is when most anglers start fishing. We know that the bass are going to be staging on break lines that are close to the shallow flats where they spawn, etc., and therefore you need to use something that will find those fish and cover water fast. Spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, and crankbaits are lures that will cover the water and will find the active fish.
In the middle of the spawn, use lizards, because they are public enemy #1 to bass during the spawn. They will destroy a nest, and over time bass have come to know that a salamander/lizard near the nest is not a good thing.
When the spawn is over, once again, use the lures that will cover a lot of water......cranks, jerks, and spinnerbaits, and you can even throw in the top-waters.
Once the bass move toward deeper water, then you will start to see that the jigs, the C-rigs, and the crankbaits will come into effect.
Then, once the bass school up in fall, you wanna use topwaters, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, etc.
As I said earlier, common sense is a great tool to have when determining a pattern. Patterns really come into effect during the summer months, when the spawn is completely over. When bass move deep, they will congregate on points, around ditches and channels, around stumps in deep water, etc.
The key to finding a pattern is finding something that is different. At least that is what I am looking for. If you are pre-fishing a tournament, then fish different areas effectively and efficiently. That being make each cast count.
Finding something different will be the key to finding bass when pattern fishing. If you find bass around stumps, look for what might attract them to that certain area. Perhaps a creek runs in front of the stumps..........or maybe there is a weedline adjacent to them. Perhaps there are larger stumps around the smaller stumps, and vice versa.
Once you catch a fish, remember the things that caused the fish to hit. The area, how the wind was blowing, if any current was present, what baitfish are present, what lure you were using, how you were presenting it, what color was the lure, how deep were you fishing, etc. All the notes that you can take about it will pull the pattern together.
And there are times where you will find a pattern within a pattern. That being, you find bass on a channel ledge, holding around stumps. The bass that you are catching are coming around stumps that are on a smaller break on the channel ledge. That's a pattern within a pattern. You know you have found one of these when you know bass are present on those stumps, but the stumps aren't on a similiar break line, and you aren't catching them.
This is just a small part of what I do, and I hope that it makes some kind of sense. LOL
I'm going to pass on specific pattern talk for now, wanting to present a sort of philosophy about patterning. There are many known methods of bait choice and presentations to try, one or more which ought to work. Complicating that are water conditions, lighting, availability of forage, etc. I'm inclined not to "find" a pattern, but to discover which producing pattern works best. I define a pattern as both a combination of normally effective methods/technique in which a type of bait produces bass in similar conditions elsewhere on a fishery. But I also define a pattern as a definitely non-producing system to be avoided, but has it's place under other conditions. Many anglers spend entire days fishing bad patterns, a pattern of total failure to connect with bass. Even if one works I try to line up an alternate pattern which could become a primary pattern. For instance, a popular pattern (also method/technique) is to swim a spinnerbait around laydowns. The unknowns are: are bass present? Where in the laydown are they? What depth will they bite at? What speed will they bite the spinnerbait at? What trailer works best? Steady swim or erratic stop & go, or other style of retrieve? That's a great potential producing pattern, but might not catch a fish. Maybe it will in a few more hours when bass arrive at the laydown. If not there, then depending on season and other factors the primary objective is to find the bass then choose a pattern category that will get the right kind of bait down to them. I might try several very different potential patterns known to work in a particular scenario. Sometimes two or more patterns show up, one working in shallow water cover, another working in deep water structure, yet another out in open water with no structure or cover. Once bass begin to bite I'll refine the best pattern for a better bite. Again, I consider a "best" pattern to be one that consistently produces in similar scenarios elsewhere on the fishery, yielding the bass quality sought. I also realize other anglers might be on other patterns that produce that I fail to think of. At the end of the day I learn "We found the bass in the ends of coves hitting a black trick worm in 2 feet, in every cove." That was definitely a known pattern the bass were playing by. But maybe my chosen pattern of fishing a lipless crankbait past hydrilla edges in 8 feet of water worked about as well. Someone else got stuck fishing T-rigged worms over vegetation catching only dinks. Well, that's a pattern too, working all over the lake, but not the best pattern, yet a proven technique that often makes THE pattern of the day after the lake goes through a turn over and they get scattered.
There is a difference between a pattern and one or more tactics that catch bass. A particular tactic involving methods and techniques can result in a pattern that applies, let's say the laydown scenario. But way too often there is no consistent pattern on a lake that continues from hour to hour. What might have developed into a productive pattern dissolves by the time you reach the next similar scenario of cover or structure. So we say "No pattern going yet.". If we focus on finding a consistent productive pattern we might fail to catch a needed quality bass, if no single productive pattern exists. So what then? A pattern for the day might be appealing to individual bass, each bass requiring a totally different bait, technique or method. It might be we try 4 baits at a laydown, getting a strike on a worm fished slowly, but maybe it was only because we aggravated a bass into biting due to casting the worm 5 times to it. On the next laydown let's say a spinnerbait succeeds in aggravating another bass, then on a third laydown a crankbait works. Are we on a pattern? Maybe THE pattern is fishing laydowns. It might be the "Whatever a bass might eat wherever it is pattern". But to me focusing on finding a producing pattern could result in missing bass because we waste time trying to come up with a consistent pattern involving one or two baits in similar scenarios. It might be better to go through 5-10 baits at each stop, finding one a bass will hit. That's just plain fishing and sometimes fills a livewell much faster than going with what we think is THE pattern only a few bass might fall for. Of course, if you can find a strong pattern that stands out among several potential patterns of tactics, then you go with it ignoring further experimentation. But winning patterns are sometimes very hard to come up with. I do believe we're better off being willing to simply match bait and tactic to individual bass from now on through summer. Each lone mature bass is more of an individual than most believe, not behaving like all fish in a large school, not at all having a school mentality. Mature bass tend to be loners, reacting to baits differently depending on it's surroundings, mood, level of hunger, excitability, etc., so it's best to recognize those individual differences and pound a piece of cover or structure with whatever it takes to pull a nice bass out of it. What worked an hour ago might not work again for another week. Why? Maybe a bass in a very accessible shallow spot has been shown spinnerbaits and worms all day by the hundreds for several days, while a loner in 20 feet 100 yards behind 99% of shore pounders has not seen a single artificial bait in a month. I believe it's a common mistake to assume all bass in those similar laydown scenarios can be expected to react the same to one or two baits using the same tactics, but occasionally that is exactly the case and you end up with a great milk run.
Bottom line, cycle through several proven fishing patterns you can fish comfortably with confidence with the possible aim to settle on one or more bite patterns. From my experience it's better to work multiple patterns at each stop in the event there are multiple bite patterns. I can't begin to count the times I've convinced myself a particular spinnerbait was the key, swam along a weedline, only to see another boater come along and double my success or totally smoke me using a different tactic I dropped an hour and a mile back. Bass are fickle and they change behavior sometimes by the hour, so be prepared to detect those changes.
OK, now let's start pulling all this together. Patterns come in all flavors. There's the seasonal behavior patterns, at the root of locating a biting pattern that calls for certain fishing patterns! Let's call all that a pattern in a pattern in a pattern, like a "spot on a spot". You find a spot in the lake that holds bass, but if you work at it long enough you can find that special spot, a sweet spot, on that larger spot where bass are more aggressive.
So here we go. Let's take the pre-spawn season pattern that is predictable over most if not an entire lake. What do we know about that behavior pattern? Bass are migrating up channels into staging areas near spawning areas. I'd assume not many bass would be found up on weedy flats chasing minnows. I study the map to find potential staging areas and go there. If the bass are there on time, suspected to be there because the water temperature is right and length of day matches up, I've found the behavior pattern. Now here's where a lot of fishermen fail to benefit from that knowledge. I have a buddy that 80% of the year will tie on a spinnerbait for the first cast (continuing all day becasue he loves spinnerbaits) and insist on fishing edges of weedbeds even though most of the weeds have been killed back all winter, and not many weedlines are found around the deep creek channels along the way to the staging areas. His primary fishing pattern is fishing that bait that way year around because most of his bass get boated that way. He fails to match fishing pattern to behavior pattern, but manages to catch a few bass anyway. So how should he approach this knowing the behavior pattern? He needs to abandon the shoreline weedlines and look for places where the bass ought to be en masse, and use a bait that would appeal more to slow moving bass with reproduction urges on their minds rather than aggressive feeding intentions. Once he finds a fishing pattern that matches the behavior pattern (good tactic), becoming a more productive pattern (better tactic), the next step is finding that fishing pattern in a fishing pattern (best tactic) that works best by refining bait choice and presentation. While a crayfish imitation along bottom might match the fact crayfish are emerging and bass are beginning to feed on them (good fishing pattern for pre-spawn), maybe a suspending X-Rap would work better (better fishing pattern), and realizing the bass at the moment prefer something really slow, the angler finally gets on a slow falling Senko as even better in any staging area on the lake (best fishing pattern). Pattern in a pattern in a pattern.
It's amazing to me so many bass anglers go fishing day after day pounding the same shoreline with the same bait the same old way, hoping to hit on a bite because that old fishing pattern has always been so good so many times. But that just isn't the way to go about matching fishing pattern to the biting pattern. I give a particular bait up to 10 minutes total time fished in as many suitable cover/structure target types as the bait will fish efficiently. I might fish it 2 minutes around a laydown, then give it 2 on a brush pile a little deeper, 3 around a weedline. until after 10 minutes it's obvious bass don't want it, even though that bait was my very best guess for the conditions and seasonal pattern. Then I begin experimenting with other classes of baits, checking out shallow water, mid depth stump fields, creek beds, bends and ledges, then on out to deeper structure.
This came up today in a phone call from a buddy pre-fishing for a tournament this weekend. "Jim, these two guys are catching BIG bass off points. I went over to them and they just took off. I was wanting to know what bait they were using. How can I figure that out? I just can't even find the bass."
I told him those two men had revealed THE pattern for the day, the most valuable secret. Lots of anglers give that part away without realizing what they are doing, but will take the secret lure to their grave. It might work with only one lure they discovered, but most likely there would be several lures as good. He had the hardest part already known, a good pattern. The task was to find the best way to fish it and maybe a pattern within that pattern. I suggested several post-spawn lures for bass probably only interested in extremely easy meals. When he got to the point I had him call back with some particulars. The men were sitting on the steep side of a long point. "Only fish places like that. That's where the bass are feeding today. You've found out all the places they are not feeding. Find them on sonar to figure out what depth they are in, then use lures fitting that depth. Water is clear, so use natural worms, watermelon green to start with. If you think the bass are chasing shad put the worms away and go with a thin flat sided crankbait that likes that depth." He had a couple of shad colored Shad Raps. He came by to say the Shad Rap was the ticket, biggest bass a little over 5#. Plenty good for a Ouachita tournament. Tomorrow he'll re-check the points. If the bass are still there doing the same thing he'll back off lest many other anglers get onto that pattern, and search for an alternate pattern and lure type for a backup.
Find the winning pattern. My friend will be competing with only a few boats that got onto that pattern, so it'll be in the fine tuning on Saturday.
Transitions; post spawn bass use a lot of the same holding locations as they did when staging for pre spawn. The big difference is the post spawn bass are not active, so they tend to use the structure of primary secondary points to rest and recope. The post spawner's are almost always close to the steep side of a point and holding very tight on any wood or shade cover available. The shade or wood breaks up their outline and bass blend very well and can ambush an easy meal without much effort. The key usually is to position your boat on the opposite side of the steep bank, cast over and work back up into the resting bass to trigger strikes.
What is a primary secondary point? I love points, especially major main lake points where river arms join the lake or where long ridges run out into the main lake to the original river channel. Primary secondary points are those Y intersections inside the river or creek arm that are close to the spawning flats or any spawning water. When you look at a map, follow the arm or bay back from the main lake and the first intersection where the arm or bay divides into another creek channel or large cove, the point formed is a primary secondary point, not all the little points sticking out along they to a primary point.
If any of those primary secondary points have a saddle, a low area along the ridge line that leads to a hump or island, you have found a pre or post spawn "honey hole", one of the best locations on any lake. Main lake "saddles" are less common, however even a better "honey hole" for all seasonal periods.
All you need to figure out is what the bass are willing to bite and you have a "pattern" fishing major and/or secondary points. Not all that complicated once you understand seasonal periods and basic bass behavior. This is very important knowledge, as it automatically eliminates over 90% of the water you don't need to fish.
Sometimes I wish I was able to fish lakes like this again. It is fun finding these structure points. But alas fishing in Florida is like fishing in a big round bowl with the same water depth for a mile in every direction
My overall idea of a bass pattern is mostly centered around locale and combination of cover and or structure. Because I believe if any one lure catches bass in similar places there are other selections. One of all of them is likely to be the "best" choice. But regardless of using the best or a marginal lure, if the locale elements are known, that's better than focusing on one lure. Bass might turn off on a particular lure come noon, but they are not likely to change the basic pattern based on location. Location includes active depth, water temperature, light penetration, and many other applicable factors.
Here's a couple of dock talk statements and which one I'd value most.
1. I caught most of these bass on a brown & green Smithwick. I must have covered 2,000 acres to get them, one here, one there, and we covered a good 5 miles of shoreline. But boy when they bit they slammed it. Yep, I was on a brown & green Smithwick pattern.
2. Well, mine came off humps at the ends of points blocking major tributaries. We each used different baits, me worms, him crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Yep, we got on a good "primary secondary" hump pattern. You just have to find a bait that you like and the bass like.
I'd go with #2. One, that boater has cut the field down to about 1% of the lake based on locale of the bass. The active bass are intercepting shad around humps protected by a long point just inside creek arm mouths. Just getting to where the bass are is 99% of the job. If you are willing to change lures often you will find something the fish will eat.
#1 admitted to pounding as much of the lake shoreline as possible, his bass scattered. He wasn't keeping track of locales in common with caught bass. If he gave it some thought he might have concluded after a while "Hey, I think we need to stop following the shoreline and just work on mouths of creeks." But he let habit overcome reason. Sure, it works some of the time. Lots of anglers would rather settle for a few bass each trip rather than try something new based on a current experience.
I would NOT grab a brown & green Smithwick and go pound unending miles of shoreline even if "EVERYONE" was catching some bass that way. Except in the dead of winter bass will be caught along the shoreline any given day. I'd be setting out to find out what kind of shoreline particulars produced the best bass. Once I figured that out I'd refine the search to check out structure/cover in deeper water close by those types of shoreline. If the bass were mostly hitting from big scattered stumps and boulders on mostly barren steep sloped clay bank stretches with mixed sparse vegetation, I could find that setup on humps too where not nearly as many anglers will try.
Keith, your points and structure are so very different than most lake classifications, other than the lowland reservoirs. I have not spent much time fishing in Florida and don't claim to be an expert. The only area that CA has that is lowland is the vast Sacramento delta area and the majority of Clear lake.
Using those areas as guide lines, channels and interections with weed or tulle (reeds) islands become the river and creek arms. Soil transitions are always very important, so sand & gravel transitions to mud/ dirt or any rocks where channels and weed beds meet become important. Adding man made structure like dikes, culvert pipes, bridges or old pilings, docks, old anchored boats or barges, even large buoys all become holding areas for pre & post spawn bass.
Weeds tend to grow where the soil supports roots, except Florida has a variety of floating root weeds. Tulles require mud to take hold and more sediment builds as the tulle beds grow. Look at the tulle beds as a dense forest and target the passage ways and trails that may lead to open water within the tulles or weed beds. Bass tend to locate at the "points" near the trial or passage openings and rarely try to penetrate the tulle or weed bed walls. Floating weeds that have gathered near the solid weed bed openings or trails become good cover for the bass locating at "points" along the weed bed walls.
These can be very slight changes and sometimes you need an over head look to see the patterns or a higher advantage point. Some fisherman use a latter to get a better look and other make trials with their boats into open pockets and fish them later. I know a people that tie a heavy scythe blade to the back of their boat to cut a path through weed beds.
Thanks Tom for the info. I know I am guilty as chargd by what Jim explians. I tend to work down grass edges in my lake because the grass is so thick everywhere else and so shallow it seems it is about the only "pattern" that makes sense right now.
But there are bottom composition differences that I have found and see beds that where made in there. It is kinda fun trying to figure these fish out though. I guess that is part of the thrill.
WOW! I've never considered pattern fishing that way. I have been doing it bass- ackwards all this time. Find a couple of lures the fish are biting, and then figure out where the fish are, concentrating where they should be. Also, I have always just covered water in pre-spawn and post spawn, never sure where to concentrate. Thanks for all the info, Ouachita and old school. :clap: One of these days I'll have to come visit and fish with yall.
Some topics can't be told in one sitting. Maybe by now ya'll better appreciate Tom's emphasis on seasonal patterns, focusing first and foremost on theoretically where active bass ought to be. During parts of the year when bass are tightly schooled you realize they can't be everywhere, yet most anglers fish for bass as though they could be anywhere, stacked up and ready to eat the lure. The fact is much of the year most of the bass in the area your boat floats in are all in a tight community maybe taking up as much area as your boat. It isn't likely you will be lucky enough to spot them on sonar. You should have a good idea whether they should be there. The most efficient approach is to mark (on sonar) either a school of fish and sample the school with a lure that will reach down to them and fit most of the water condition demands, or forage like shad. If bass, what size, and how aggressive? The largest in the school usually gets caught first, being most aggressive. That tells you quite a lot. Is that school able to improve your goal? If not, keep looking. So the search is confined to the most eligible places, and signs along the way lead the angler to probe deeper and in places he isn't accustomed to. You might as well get used to that, as bass seem nationwide to increasingly utilize what we label as "not very fishy" waters. They will inhabit the least pressured areas until the lure storm passes.
There are some things about focusing on catching bass on a favorite bait is that should be reflected on before you do it again. The best pattern to discover is one based on locale within guidelines of seasonal patterns. The objective is to identify the lake areas holding the highest concentration of active bass where you expect to find them. You feel you must boil the lake down to the best 1% because there is too much lake to sample in too short a time period. Let's say the best bass factory you can find is the deep tips of laydowns reaching at least 8' of water next to deep water within 30 feet away. If you focus on lures that don't take to that scenario, chances are you wouldn't discover that pattern since you won't effectively fish that spot, or maintain confidence it will work. You might in fact fish right through that hot strike zone, but if the bait was turning them off, you lose. It's better to keep fishing that spot with something different until the right lure is fished in it. Rather than stumble upon the best bait that happens to work the next time that bait swims through that scenario elsewhere, probably in the last hour, find the factory then find out which lure works best to probe it.
This is why I don't claim an all time favorite go-to lure. I've thrown that concept out. I locate bass then let the bass tell me what to keep tied on. I like spinnerbait fishing. But if the bass want something slower and more natural, I'd be sunk forcing spinnerbaits on them. It doesn't matter what I'd prefer to swim. What matters most is whether I am close enough to bass to catch bass, and am I offering a meal they will eat where their dinner table is set.
Pre fishing is not only for the tournament fisherman, although that is what most bass fisherman think of. Maybe we should call this pre planning a fishing trip, like you would pre plan a vacation. You can do a lot of things ahead of time before arriving at your destination, in this case your pattern for the day.
For my fishing day starts at least the night before thinking about things like seasonal periods, weather, time of day or night to expect a primary bite and where that bite should occur. If I haven't been on the lake in awhile a map survey helps to remind me of whats there and where to start. Today I can fire up the GPS and look at my Navonics maps and GPS trails to remind what I did the last time on the water.
Jim said it best, the seasonal period is my cornerstone and everything for me starts with knowing where the bass should be located, so thats the starting point. As the day goes on the planning continues to find the bass, after finding them everything else will fall in place and a good day on the water occurs regardless of how many bass are caught or what they were caught on. The pattern was confirmed and the planning worked or it may not have, there is always another day God willing.
How would you go about fishing a lake for which there are no maps? There are several lake/ponds here in GA that are unmapped. Most of the time I go to different lakes, and I am only there for one day, so you could say that I am always pre-fishing. I have spent a few days on some of my favorite lakes, ones I mean to fish more, and have scouted out some good spots here and there. I plan on buying the H2O C soon, and this will help considerably with my search. What can I do in the meantime?