What Largemouth Bass Eat: Best Baits (Every Season)

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Video do bass eat perch

Many bass fishermen don’t actually know what bass eat as part of their standard diets. Their diet is a lot more wide-ranging than many anglers assume.

Largemouth bass eat frogs, leeches, insects, baitfish like shad, minnows, shiners, suckers, yellow perch, bluegills, and crayfish. Bass will also eat smaller bass, snakes, mice, ducklings, and even small turtles on rare occasions.

SeasonPreferred Food of Bass

Theoretically, any item small enough to fit within the jaws of a largemouth bass can be fair game. Bass have been seen trying to consume bass almost their same size. Their eyes are truly bigger than their stomachs but their stomachs are still pretty big.

Bass are ambush predators and will often lie in wait beside or within cover like timber, weeds, rock pilings waiting for prey to swim by within strike distance. Bass, being remarkably strong for their size, easily overpower just about anything they get their jaws around.

Check out this link here to view my complete bass fishing gear recommendation list, including rods, reels, baits, gear, etc. I have field tested a lot of bass gear and these are my recommendations.

Bass Lure Selection by Season

Crankbaits

SeasonColor & Style

Jerkbaits

SeasonColor & Style

Jigs

SeasonColor & Style

Soft Plastic Baits

SeasonColor & Style

Swimbaits

SeasonColor & Style

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What Do Largemouth Bass Eat?

Diet of Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass have a varied and robust diet. They consume just about anything that moves in and on top of the water. Young bass consume zooplankton, tiny minnows, insects, and tadpoles. Larger bass start to focus more on fish and crayfish.

Large bass consume a very meat-rich diet of bluegills, shiners, suckers, yellow perch, shad, frogs, crayfish, ducklings, snakes, and mice. Many adults will even eat other bass they encounter.

Bass are voracious eaters and their large mouths allow them to eat prey items nearly as large that they are. Studies by Schindler & colleagues (1997) as well as by Hickley & colleagues (1994) correspond with this list of food items.

During the day, bass tend to be fairly lethargic as the bright sunlight and hotter temperatures put bass at a disadvantage to most of their prey. Instead bass tend to rest in shaded areas where they could launch effective ambushes.

Where bass really shine are in the lower-light time frames around sunrise and sunset. It is during this time bass have a distinct tactical advantage over their prey since their highly-developed eyesight allows them to see prey clearly in conditions they prey fin hard to see in.

At night, even the bass’s excellent vision is limited. Bass will actively feed on full moon nights but there feeding will be at or very near the surface.

Predatory Behavior of Bass

Largemouth bass, like many species of predatory fish, are ambush predators. They prefer to lie in wait and let their prey venture too close.

Bass will sometimes pursue and chase down prey but this can be very calorie-intensive and not their preferred means of obtaining food.

Bass are most successful when they can lie in-wait beside rock pilings, dock pilings, lily pads, weedlines, sunken timber, or dropoffs.

These are locations where bait will also congregate and bass can hide themselves and wait for prey to venture too close.

Bass rely heavily on their vision to detect prey in the water. Bass have superior vision to most prey items which allows them better color and depth perception along with better reduced-light vision capabilities.

As a result, dawn and dusk, when water light is greatly reduced are prime ambush times for bass since their eyes give them a decided tactical advantage over prey which cannot see as well in the lower light hours.

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That tactical advantage is greatly reduced during full-sunlight since baitfish are better able to see and the vision of bass is often hindered by bright sunlight. Bass are most active feeding typically early morning daylight and near sunset.

For a complete breakdown of the best times of day to fish for bass, you need to read this article I wrote. It will teach you everything you need to know to pick the right bass fishing times.

Selecting the right gear and bait for bass is vital. For a comprehensive breakdown of the best rods, reels, electronics, line, and baits for bass fishing, check out my recommended bass fishing gear list. Always be the most prepared and equipped angler on the water.

What Do Young Largemouth Bass Eat?

Young bass consume small prey items like leeches, minnows, small bluegills, small shiners, tadpoles, insects, and crayfish.

Depending on the age and size of the bass, their diets will be accordingly specialized. Young-of-year bass feed predominantly on zooplankton, insects, as well as tiny fish.

As bass mature, their diet becomes more meat-based. A 6-inch bass will start feeding only minnows and shiners and all but forgo plankton. Bass near a foot-long will start eating small bluegills and have a very heavy fish-based diet.

Bigger items like frogs, medium-to-large bluegills, yellow perch, suckers, mice, and snakes won’t start becoming an option until the bass are at least 3-4 pounds in weight.

Young bass will still try to consume items as large as their mouths but since they are limited in size, they cannot eat much of the large fish that big bass will eat.

What Do Big Largemouth Bass Eat?

Big largemouth bass will bigger food. With their large jaws, they are capable of consuming or at least grasping onto food almost as wide around are they are.

Perhaps the 3 most important food items for large bass are golden shiners, bluegills, and frogs. These baits are important for the growth and massive size of many bass in trophy waters.

It is argued by anglers and fish researchers that bass cannot truly maximize their size potential without having an abundant supply of bluegills to eat from.

Personally, I think huge bass will eat whatever bait is available to them and can attain big size on any food source. That said, I have caught plenty of big bass on large bluegills before.

During the summer months especially, big golden shiners and frogs are prime big bass baits. Trophy bass are caught on a variety of other baits and artificial imitations.

Yellow perch, suckers, and fathead minnows are known big bass baits. Gizzard shad is another bass bait that really delivers big bass in reservoirs and rivers.

Big bass will also opportunistically eat other big food like snakes, ducklings, mice, and even small turtles.

What Do Bass Eat in Spring & Summer?

Bass usually spawn during mid-to-late spring. During this time, they don’t feed much unless food comes right to them. That said, huge Bass are caught during the spawn since bass become hyper-aggressive defending their beds.

Anglers often catch huge females full of eggs right off their bed by repeatedly lobbing soft plastic baits and jigs right in front of the bass to elicit a strike.

A great springtime bait to try are plastic salamanders. Bass don’t typically eat aquatic salamanders but they will strike and kill salamanders they see approaching their nests. This is because salamanders are predators of bass eggs.

Once the spawn concludes, bass begin to feed aggressively. Bluegills, frogs, shad, and golden shiners make up the bulk of a big bass’s summertime diet.

Bluegills and shiners are great year-round bass baits but frogs are the best mid-to-late summer bass bait you could find.

Yellow, black, brown, and green frog pattern lures work great all summer but when the summer is at its hottest, many anglers find black frogs work best. I think it’s because black is most visible viewed from below with the bright sun as a backdrop.

Towards the latter end of summer, many bass will move into deeper water along structure like bridge pillars and boulders. Down here is where they’ll ambush large schools of shad.

Shad is a great year-round bass food but late summer, bass can really gorge themselves. You can target these deeper bass by jigging jigs or soft plastic worms near the base of concrete bridges or bouncing them off big boulders down deep.

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When bass are suspended near the bottom like this, crayfish (crawdad) patterns work really well too since they will also be munching on these crustaceans.

What Do Bass Eat in the Fall & Winter?

Bass will continue to feed throughout all the colder months but they do tend to slow down a bit during the winter. During early-to-mid fall, bass are really eating a lot in preparation for leaner times associated with winter.

During this fall preparation time, they’ll be feeding heavily bluegills, yellow perch, shiners, and shad. Frogs will be mostly hibernating by this point so fish makes up the bulk of the fall bass’s diet.

During fall, you can find bass both in shallow water chasing bluegills and yellow perch and down deep ambushing schools of shad as they pass structure.

Later in the tail-end of fall and during the winter, bass become much selective and picky eaters. Shiners, shad, bluegills, and yellow perch are still the favorite food sources, but the frequency they consume food slows down during the cold months.

Bass do no enter a hibernating state but their metabolism does slow down. This means bass require less food to survive but it also means your chances of catching winter bass will decrease. It is best to fish for winter largemouth bass on slightly warmer days.

As an example, if you are experiencing consistent daily temperatures in the 40s, a day where the max temperature reaches the low 50s can be a killer day for fishing. Bass will take advantage of this slightly warmer windows and feed aggressively.

Bluegills as Bass Bait

Bluegills are a favorite food source for largemouth and spotted bass. Bluegills are sometimes difficult to catch since their high-profile bodies make them difficult to get a mouth around and their large pectoral fins make them very agile. They are difficult to catch for most predatory fish but for large bass, they are worth the hassle.

I mentioned earlier in this article that some folks believe bluegills are required for bass to truly achieve their size potential.

While I don’t necessarily buy into that line of thinking, I have no doubt that bass love eating bluegills. Bluegills may be a bass’s favorite food source.

Small bass can eat small bluegills. Small bluegills have more torpedo-shaped bodies lacking that deep-profile of adults. As bluegills mature, the shape of their bodies make it impossible for small bass to eat. Instead, big bluegills become prime food for trophy-class largemouth bass.

Bass will feed on bluegills all year long but, from my experience, late spring and early summer are when bass consume most bluegills. I think this has a lot to do with bluegills spawning and being more aggressive and in-turn, more vulnerable to being eaten.

Baitfish as Bass Bait

Bass consume a diet heavy in fish as they mature and especially as adults. While bluegills and yellow perch are prime baits for big bass, bass also feed on baitfish voraciously.

Golden shiners are one of the most popular bass baits and large golden shiners are responsible for more trophy bass than just about any other bait or lure out there.

Bass love big golden shiners. It doesn’t just stop at golden shiners though. Young bass gorge themselves on fathead minnows. Suckers and smelt are key bass baits in many river systems.

One of the most important big bass baits in reservoirs are threadfin, Alabama, gizzard shad. These schooling baitfish are available in big quantities and make tremendous food for large lake bass as well as in big rivers.

Shad are prime food for a whole variety of gamefish in reservoirs like walleyes, muskies, catfish, striped bass, and even trout.

If baitfish of any kind are found in a river or reservoir-system with largemouth bass, you can be almost guaranteed bass are feeding on them.

Frogs & Mice as Bass Bait

Frogs are one of the most important summertime bass baits out there. Summer is frog season. A time when frogs are plentiful, clumsy, and active.

This is prime time for bass to be watching the surface around lily pads, weeds, and banks for a clumsy frog to make a mistake.

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In the deep south, frogs can remain active well into the late fall but in most of the country, frogs start to shut down and get ready for hibernation by early fall.

For this reason, frogs should be viewed as a summertime only bait for bass. All colors of frog imitation lures will work but during the dead of summer, no color pattern catches as many bass as a black frog. Toss these frogs near weeds and along lily pad openings.

For a much more comprehensive guide on bass fishing with frogs, read this complete breakdown. This is one of the best posts on this site in my opinion.

Mice are a bit different than frogs. Bass do like eating mice and other rodents that venture into the water but they are a rare delicacy for bass whereas frogs are a staple food source. Mice are a perfect size for big bass and they can be very clumsy while swimming in the water.

Bass make aggressive strikes on mice during the summer and early fall months. There are a variety of mice lures on the market for bass and they can be very effective.

Fish these lures just like you would a frog. By that, I mean on the surface in and around cover. Bass don’t eat mice often but they will strike them if presented the opportunity.

Crayfish (Crawfish or Crawdads) as Bass Bait

When most freshwater anglers think of bass fishing with crayfish, they assume smallmouth bass are the targets. Smallmouth bass love crayfish. In fact, crayfish or crawdad or yabbies or crawfish depending on what you call them, are a favorite food item of smallmouth bass.

That said, largemouth bass do like eating them too. If I had to rank them on a list of favorite bass food, I’d put crayfish way down the list around 15 or so.

Largemouth bass will consume a crayfish or two as opportunistic predators but they generally won’t seek them out like smallmouth bass will.

Bluegills, golden shiners, yellow perch, and frogs are definitely favorite bass foods but crayfish are more occasional “nice meals” rather than important food sources. In lakes and rivers with a heavy population of crayfish, bass will key in on them more.

To mimic crayfish, pumpkinseed or maroon-colored jigs with a pork tail work really well. Bounce these off the bottom in areas with boulders and rocky ledges.

These can be very effective mid-to-late summer baits for bass that resting in deeper, cooler water. There are plenty of options on the market. Even a dark green or black color could imitate a crayfish pattern and draw bites.

Selecting the right gear and bait for bass is vital. For a comprehensive breakdown of the best rods, reels, electronics, line, and baits for bass fishing, check out my recommended bass fishing gear list. Always be the most prepared and equipped angler on the water.

Related Questions

What do smallmouth bass eat?

Smallmouth bass are much more limited in the size of food they can eat because they have much smaller mouths than largemouth bass. Smallmouth bass eat yellow perch, young bluegills, minnows, shiners, suckers, aquatic insects, but their favorite food are crayfish. This is why smallmouth bass do so well in creeks and rivers and why they are so prevalent among boulders.

What eats largemouth bass?

Largemouth bass are a very aggressive predator but they are not at the top of the food chain in many waterways. Large northern pike and muskies will eat adult bass.

Walleye, big rainbow trout, catfish, and chain pickerel will consume small bass. Snakes, raccoons, and otters are also potential bass predators. Perhaps the biggest predator of bass are bigger bass. Largemouth bass exhibit strong cannibal behavior.

To learn how to catch more and larger bass, check out this article on catching largemouth bass. I spent 2 days on research just to draft up this complete bass fishing guide. It is jam-packed with helpful tips.

Scientific Literature Referenced:

Hickley, P. (1994). The diet of largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides, in Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Journal of Fish Biology, 44(4), 607-619. doi:10.1006/jfbi.1994.1058 (via: Wiley)

Schindler, D. E., Hodgson, J. R., & Kitchell, J. F. (1997). Density-dependent changes in individual foraging specialization of largemouth bass. Oecologia, 110(4), 592-600. doi:10.1007/s004420050200 (via: Springer Link)

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>