Background & Natural History Information
The Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoidesis) is one of the most popular freshwater sportfish in Massachusetts. With its reputation as a fighter, its palatability, and extensive range, it's easy to understand why.
Common to almost all water bodies, from the smallest farm ponds, lazy rivers and streams to the largest reservoirs, this fish is indeed adaptable. Its original range was restricted to warmer waters east of the Rocky Mountains, but its reputation as a formidable gamefish created a demand for stocking programs both east and west to its present range throughout most of the U.S. and southern Canada. Largemouth bass prefer calm, or slow moving water associated with areas of rooted aquatic vegetation and overhead cover. Within the fresh water food chain the largemouth bass is nearly without rival. A voracious feeder, the largemouth will eat aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and even small mammals, but its diet is comprised mostly of fish.
Largemouth bass spawn in late spring when water temperatures are between 62 and 68 degrees F. The males build nests in calm sandy or fine gravel areas in less than six feet of water. Females lay between 2,000 and 7,000 eggs per lb. of body weight, however, not necessarily all in the same nest. The males actively guard the eggs, and later the newly hatched fry. Hatching occurs within 7 to 10 days. Young fish or fry remain on the nest until their yolk sac has been consumed, after which the survivors will then school until reaching about one inch in length.
Historic Background & Management
MassWildlife has been managing largemouth bass since they were introduced into the Commonwealth one hundred and twenty years ago. The initial introduction of largemouth bass was undertaken to provide angling opportunities during the summer months. The earliest reference to largemouth bass populations in Massachusetts occurred in 1879 when they were introduced from northern New York State into numerous ponds of Essex County. During this early period, management consisted of transplanting adult bass from pond to pond. Beginning in the early 1900's, hatchery culture, and stocking programs for black bass (largemouth and smallmouth bass collectively) began, which allowed widespread stocking of fingerlings. By the late 1960's, tagging studies, as well as surveys in Massachusetts and surrounding states showed that largemouth bass populations were self-sustaining. It was then determined that stocking bass into waters with these self-sustaining populations did not improve the fishery, therefore, the largemouth bass hatcheries, and stocking programs were phased out. Currently largemouth bass are managed statewide by a year round fishing season, a five fish per day creel limit, and a 12 inch minimum size.
Finding the Big One
Trophy bass can be found in many warm water lakes, ponds, and rivers in our state. Here is a link to our Best Bets for Bass page which lists the waters which have turned out trophy size fish. The list is based on a 10-year period of Freshwater Sportfishing Awards records.
MassWildlife runs a Freshwater Sportfishing Awards Program, which offers awards for 22 species of fish. The program also tracks the more consistent waterbodies by species. Minimum weights for adult and youth anglers are listed.
Fishing Tips for Largemouth Bass
The widespread distribution of largemouth bass translates into fishing opportunities for anglers all across the Commonwealth. Anyone can participate in the sport, as these bass are plentiful and can be fooled by a wide range of fishing tactics. There are many specialized types of equipment that are commonly used to catch bass with regularity, however, chances are good that if you currently own a rod and reel, and have a tackle box, you have the gear to catch largemouths.
- Largemouth bass are cover-oriented fish. They use structure - rocks, weeds, logs, grass, and ledges - to protect themselves from predators and to ambush food items that pass by. Although you might catch the occasional largemouth bass out in the open, you will catch many more if you focus on structure.
- Water temperature greatly dictates where to find these fish. Cold water (less than 50 degrees F) will mean the fish are in deeper water. Warmer temperatures (greater than 65 degrees F) will get the fish actively feeding in the shallows. It's those temperatures in the middle (50 to 65 degrees F) when bass behavior is toughest to predict, so some experimentation will be in order.
- A 5'6" baitcast rod and reel w/10-12 pound test line - Lures: a 1/2 ounce white/chartreuse spinnerbait - topwater baits (Zara Spook, Jitterbug, Pop-R, buzzbaits) worked near structure late April to late September - Texas-rigged plastic worm - soft-bodied stick bait (Sluggo, Bass-Assasin) - crayfish or shad colored crankbaits cast along drop-offs Fishing Tip: Spinnerbaits in white or chartreuse are easy to fish since all you have to do is cast it out and reel it in. However, altering the retrieve (fast or slow, constant or jerky) and paying constant attention to the lure will always bring more fish to the boat or shore. When teamed up with a plastic or pork trailer, spinnerbaits are one of the more effective offerings available.
- A 6' 6" or 7' medium-heavy baitcast rod & reel w/15-20 pound test line - Lures: 3/4 ounce black & blue flippin'jig with a blue pork frog trailer - Texas-rigged plastic worm or lizard in black or purple - weedles crawdad colored jig and plastic trailer Fishing Tip: Flip or cast the lure into the thickest cover you can find. Lightly raise and lower the rod tip, letting the lure bounce off the structure and settle to the bottom intermittently as you reel in. Cast to deeper structures when the temperatures are cold, shallower cover during the warmer months. Keep a finger in contact with the line to feel the strike. The strike can be subtle but you will quickly learn the difference between a bite and a bump from a tree limb or rock.
- A 6' medium action spinning rod and reel w/8-10 pound test line - Lures: Rapala Husky Jerk - topwater baits listed in Tip number one - finesse plastic worms (4-6") - 1/8 to 1/2 ounce lead jigs with auger-tail plastic grubs Fishing Tip: Use a jerk-and-pause retrieve past rocks, lilly pads and trees. Fish have a tendency to hit this lure on the pause so be ready and pay attention to the line at all times. Many of the lures used with this type of spinning gear are not weedless so be careful just how close you get to the structure. Although this type of gear does not have the "power" of the baitcast rigs listed above, it still has enough gusto to set big hooks rigged weedless (Texas-rigged or Carolina-rigged plastic worms, etc).
- A 5'6" spinning rod and reel w/4-8 pound test line - Lures: Rebel Wee Craw - 1/16 to 1/4 ounce bucktail jigs or plastic grubs - light stick-baits (Rapalas, Rebels) - small crankbaits - ultra-light topwater lures Fishing Tip: Cast to rock humps or near downed trees (be careful because the velcro-like hooks will readily snag anything in their path). Use a consistent, medium-speed retrieve to get the lure down as deep as it will go. The strikes can be surprisingly vicious as the rate of retrieve teamed up with the yank from the fish results in a very abrupt stop. Don't expect to use this gear to horse lunkers from snag-laden structure. Instead, anticipate sporting fights from even modest 2-pound largemouths. Ripping a small fish out of the water with 20-pound test doesn't exactly get the adrenalin pumping. Let that same fish start ripping line off the spool of a 6-lb or even 4-lb test rig, however, and you'll remember the catch quite vividly.
Live Bait-- Fishing for largemouth bass with live bait can be extremely effective. The slowest fishing days can be brought to life by using real food for real fish. Here are three good choices.
- Golden shiners - Perhaps the most commonly used (and consequently most available) live bait. Used in conjunction with a bobber, shiners cast into the edge of a weedline or by a big blown-down tree can produce many fish. They can also be productive when used with a sinker and cast down to rocky depths for cruising fish in early spring or late fall. Shiners can also be live-lined - no bobber, no sinker - just allowed to swim on their own into and among the weeds or rocks. Ice fishing just isn't ice fishing without at least a small bucket of shiners to induce strikes from sluggish winter fish. Set a foot off the bottom in 4 to 10 feet of water, a largemouth will find a circling shiner hard to resist.
- Crayfish - Less popular than shiners for live bait, but judging from the number of artificial lures that mimic them, they are still a wise choice. A bobber and a number 4 hook placed through a portion of the tail will often do the trick.
- Nightcrawlers - Probably the most imitated live bait. The scores of colors and styles of plastic worms are a testament to the effectiveness of the real McCoy. The trick is to make the nightcrawler appear natural while on the hook. Don't ball the worm up by running the hook through 5 or 6 times - just hook it through once in the head. Again, a bobber or sinker will help to get your crawler to the strike zone.
Beginning Anglers! Check out MassWildlife's Angler Education Program which offers clinics and fishing festivals for aspiring anglers of all ages. Experienced anglers with a love of teaching others are encouraged to join the program and work with other volunteers who offer these fishing experiences.