Bass are especially prone to hunt or forage opportunistically and will seek prey fish and crayfish alike off the bottom. Knowing when to fish baits off the bottom can really increase your success rates at certain times of the year.
Bass predominantly hunt mid-column chasing baitfish, shad, and bluegill but become bottom feeders as conditions such as cold fronts or post-storms prompt them to feed on crawfish, gobies, and suckers.
This article will cover the bottom-feeding habits of a variety of bass species, including how bass feed and how to change your strategy based on these habits to become a better angler.
If you want to catch more bass, knowing the exact temperature to fish at can make all the difference. Click here to see this article I wrote to learn the best water temperatures for bass fishing are in every season.
Are Bass Bottom Feeders?
Though bass spend a majority of their life in the middle water column, many would be surprised to hear that bass do in fact feed at the bottom as well. If you’re having a slow day and missing bites, you may just be setting your bait at the wrong depth.
All species of bass will feed at the bottom depending on water conditions and the season, so accounting for this behavior could mean the difference between pulling a hoard or coming home empty-handed.
Where do Bass Feed in the Water Column?
The greater portion of a bass’s lifespan when not resting will be in the middle water column, where they search for baitfish and migrate between resting and feeding grounds. Bass favor the middle column because of the lighting conditions, and because many of their bait fish are highly migratory and move with main currents.
Bass may aggregate into schools when chasing schools of baitfish, or hunt in this column on their own. In areas that are more brackish or where there are weaker currents or lower depths, and depending on the clarity of the water, their behavior changes and they may be found at any depth depending on surrounding conditions. Additionally, bass will seek food above or below them, but setting your bait in the middle is generally the best strategy.
In places with colder winter months, however, bass will be found predominately on the bottom as the water temperature falls. In colder waters, bass will hide in covered areas near boulders, weeds, and timber, where they forage for insects, worms, crustaceans, and a variety of food sources. Because bass feed using suction and rely less on strikes, they have more of a proclivity to take advantage of food sources other species don’t.
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When do Bass Feed on or Near the Bottom?
The winter months are when bass will be most likely to be found at the bottom and in deeper waters. At these times, you may find that bass are less concerned with bait at higher depths, but will jump on anything as soon as it hits the bottom.
Colder waters impact their movement patterns, typically making them less mobile and more inclined to seek cover and feed on less active prey to conserve energy. Other species will also hover closer to the bottom during the winter months, which also serve as prey for, particularly active bass.
As the spring brings rising (but more variable) temperatures, you may find bass moving back and forth between shallows and deeper water, but typically favoring lower depths. In colder waters where you’re testing the bottom, it’s best to use smaller bait and reduce movement as you drag along the bottom. Using a three-part rig and bouncing your bait along the bottom is a good way to attract bottom-dwelling bass.
Bass are also known to bed near the shore during their spawning period in the early spring, where they are especially susceptible to predators and anglers. There are concerns about catching bass while they’re bedding, however, as you may be significantly impacting future bass populations in a given habitat.
When water temperatures begin to rise to above 60º following winter, many may mistake bedding bass as those foraging the bottom. This is why it’s important to keep aware of bass spawning behaviors if you’re keen on helping to keep the fishing game good for the years ahead.
Species Breakdown: Bottom Feeding Tendencies
Largemouth bass are apex predators and are largely keen on preying on other fish at a variety of depths. They feed at any point in the water column most times of the year and opportunistically move near the middle column. Largemouth bass will also feed the bottom, however, and are known to school and feed near weeds close to the shore. Because they’re site feeders, anything that causes a stir at the bottom may attract a largemouth bass most times of the year.
Largemouth bass are also prone to move toward deeper waters and bottom feed more during the winter months, but will still actively go for live bait on the bottom or hovering at higher levels. Looking for areas with larger cover and more clarity gives you a better chance during these colder months to fish the bottom for largemouths.
Smallmouth bass will typically be found in the middle column, but also at sandy bottoms of reservoirs and lakes. Smallmouths will, like most bass species, seek crayfish and aquatic insects which makes the bottom a particularly viable place to fish most times of the year, but especially in colder months as they are found disturbing sands in search of bait.
Spotted bass have a higher tendency to feed on insects, frogs, worms, and crustaceans, and are commonly found feeding at the bottom throughout the year. Though they also seek smaller prey fish, they will tend to favor the bottom in clear and especially shallow waters. They are typically found in areas with rocky bottoms, so it’s best to rely on less complicated rigs.
White bass are particular in that they typically only feed the bottom as juveniles, favoring larvae and small crustaceans. However, as they become adults they are more commonly found seeking smaller prey fish. This makes fishing the bottom more rewarding during the colder months when they seek prey fish that have moved to greater depths.
Striped bass are no exception to bass bottom-feeding behaviors, favoring insects, worms, and crustaceans. Like white bass, mostly juvenile striped bass are typically found closer to the bottom, but all will opportunistically and seasonally (in the winter) feed the bottom.
In fact, some of the largest stripers you can encounter will be found at the bottom, which makes bottom rigs an excellent choice. Stripers particularly favor cut baits like bunker fish chunks or clams when fishing the bottom but will also go for live and artificial baits.
Bottom-Dwelling Prey & Imitation Baits for Bass
Most bass are highly opportunistic feeders, which means that they’ll eat pretty much anything that will fit in their mouths. This includes insects, crustaceans, snakes, fish, and even baby birds. When bass are bottom-feeding, they’re mostly looking for worms (earthworms or mealworms) and grubs, certain aquatic insects and nymphs, crustaceans (crayfish), mollusks (clams), and will opportunistically seek small prey fish at the bottom (crappies being one good example).
Baits that are designed to mimic any of these natural baits are perfect with the appropriate rigging. Crappie style Bandit 200 crankbaits are an excellent option, as well as variants in bluegill and perch. Jerkbaits are also a viable option, especially in colder months, but will require a shorter lead as they’ll tend to float.
Crawfish imitations work great as well, especially pairing the Strike King Rage Menace (which imitates both crawfish and baitfish) with a Texas rig and bobbing the bottom. Most imitation soft plastics and bottom-hugging swimbaits will work well, too.
Regarding rigging, there are many different setups you could effectively use to catch bottom-dwelling bass. Ideal bottom fishing should occur when water is at its clearest, which means that if you’re using a lead it should be as difficult to see as possible.
An ideal sinker weight should be one that isn’t heavy enough to easily snag, but still provides enough weight to keep the whole rig stable on the bottom. There should also be enough give in your line for your bait to float slightly above the bottom for the most enticing presentation.
The Carolina rig is a great option due to its more natural appearance which helps to draw in target bass. Typically a Carolina rig uses a longer leader (between 16-22 inches), but you may opt to shorten this as you’ll ideally be fishing in a spot with heavier cover. Circle hooks are a great option for most baits with this rig, but depending on how cold it is may wish to opt for j-hooks or similar styles as bottom-feeding bass may not run with the bait.
Split-shot and drop-shot rigs are also effective choices, but will typically only work best with smaller bait sizes. These are better suited to fishing in the winter when you want to go with a small bait that’ll entice in a docile fish. Ideal rigging often comes down to the kind of bait used, so it’s best to look up a setup based on the bait/lure you opt for.
Seasonal Guide: When Bass Feed on the Bottom
Spring is a particular time of year where the weather is usually at its most variable, and conditions can be either perfect or terrible for bottom fishing. As waters begin to heat up, bass will move closer to the shores and stalk vegetated areas.
However, if waters cool down again they’ll favor the deeper waters, where you can still have some good success fishing the bottom. In the mid to late spring, bass will typically be undergoing a period of spawning anorexia where they’ll be less inclined to seek active bait.
In Spring, it’s important to note that when temperatures approach 60º, bass will begin their spawning period and will be prone to bed near the shore, especially if temperatures are fluctuating. Though this may seem to be the perfect situation for an angler, it’s important to consider the future impacts you might have by interrupting a successfully spawning bass. It’s much better at this time to avoid shores and opt for fishing in deeper waters during the spawning period.
In the summer months, bass can be found mostly having a post-spawn feeding frenzy in the middle channel, chasing after migratory prey fish. Bass are keen on larger prey during this period, so live bait is usually where you’ll find the best success.
Largemouth and smallmouth are particularly opportunistic, however, and will be apt to feed on the bottom as well. Particularly hot summer days with no overcast would offer decent conditions for bottom fishing. That said, it’s best to keep your line set toward the middle to have the best chances to net the largest bass throughout the summer.
Similar to spring, fall months are beset by rather variable temperatures, but you’ll find comparatively clearer waters in most places. Bass seek cover in these months, and bottom fishing is certainly a viable option, especially as the waters begin to cool. Most types of imitation or natural/live baits work fine in the fall months, as bass will opportunistically seek food in preparation for the winter.
Winter months are truly ideal for bottom fishing, especially with ice caps or frigid waters drive bass to lower depths and restrict available food sources. Bass may be less inclined to go for anything higher in the water channel at these times but will spring for anything as soon as it touches the bottom. Worms and crustacean/mollusk natural or imitation baits work well in the winter months.
Does a Bottom Feeding Bass Mean they are Lethargic?
One important thing to note regarding bottom-feeding bass is that while bass may at times favor the bottom, they are not less inclined to feed. Bass remain hungry throughout the year, including the coldest days of winter, and will still jump for bait as it presents itself.
However, one thing to note is that there are times of the year where bass will be disinclined to rise from the bottom for bait, especially in the colder months, where bottom fishing becomes the most viable option. Like most species of fish, bass will conserve their energy in colder months and opt for slow-moving or stationary bait, but will still go for lethargic prey fish in these conditions.
How to Tell if Bass are Currently Feeding on the Bottom
There are many ways to tell when it’s a better choice to fish the bottom than the higher depths. The first way to get an idea of their feeding pattern is by assessing the ambient conditions. Weather, lighting, and water temperature all have a significant impact on bass feeding habits.
As discussed above, clearer days are better for bottom-feeding in the summer than in the winter. Rain and overcast conditions can drive bass to the shore, whereas windy days may keep bass in the middle favoring the main current. Keep an eye out for developing weather patterns as you may need to adapt your strategy throughout the day.
Another way to determine if you should fish the bottom is also by the presence of prey fish. Bass are more inclined to feed the bottom when not aggregated into a school, so it’s oftentimes easy to tell if you can find them at the bottom if you’re not finding schools of prey fish.
Lastly, the most obvious way to determine whether bass are at the bottom is, of course, by how many bites you’re getting. Bass will variably move throughout the water’s depth based on a number of conditions, and if you were getting bites the day before but not today, you may just want to rig your line for the bottom.
Will Bass Rise for Surface/Mid-Water Baits When Holding the Bottom?
Most species of bass are extremely opportunistic, and will often change depth responding to the presence of bait. Most of the year bass will move either up or down to go after imitation, natural, or live bait, which makes the middle typically the most preferred spot to fish.
However, as we discussed there are times of the year when bass will not move from the bottom. This is usually during the coldest days of summer, when bass are at their most lethargic and seeking shelter at higher depths to conserve energy.
Bass will be much more inclined to seek bait that hits the bottom than they will be to rise, though you can occasionally get lucky with a particularly voracious bass. These habits will, of course, vary by species, with black bass being more inclined to vary depth at these times than will other species.