Bass are one of the most popular game fish to catch in the United States and the world over, but catching bass isn’t as easy as throwing any old bait in the water.
I used to fish with the same artificial lure, which is my favorite buzzbait, every time I went bass fishing and sometimes I was successful but a lot of the time I wasn’t.
Then I decided to do some digging into bass feeding habits and started to imitate exactly what they were feeding on at different parts of the year. My success rate went through the roof to say the least.
In order to be successful when bass fishing, you need to know what a bass eats and when so you can choose the right bass bait for every occasion. Join me as we cover “what do bass eat?” so you can understand their feeding habits and be catching bass every time you’re on the water.
In this article...
What Do Bass Eat?
As most seasoned bass anglers know, bass will eat anything that they can fit in their mouths from tiny fish to smaller fish, insect larvae, frogs, lizards, and even small aquatic birds like baby ducks.
Bass are opportunistic feeders but bass behavior varies depending on the seasons, bass species, and the size and age of the bass, which we’ll run through now.
When I say motivational feeding, we are talking about when a fish is motivated to eat and this comes down to time of year, nutrients, and general behavior.
Time Of Year
The best time to be fishing for bass, or any other fish species for that matter, is when they want or have to eat, and this is called motivational feeding.
For example, in the fall bass are motivated and need to eat about a half dozen bluegill for energy and to put on some pounds before winter and they feed more aggressively.
But when they are spawning, they won’t eat anything but they are very territorial, attacking anything that comes near their nest.
Bass will generally eat foods which have the vitamins and minerals they are lacking.
For example, they will eat smaller fish called madtoms, a part of the catfish family to get a certain vitamin and mineral fix. They eat the madtoms despite their super sharp spines and the abundance of other small fish without spines.
Bass are also incredibly curious and will always check something out even if it looks foreign in their environment. This curiosity is another motivation and is why you will see bass feed on artificial lures that don’t look anything like their natural prey.
What Do Young Bass Eat?
Young bass will start out their lives in a school with their brothers and sisters under the protection of their parents. The family will move around shallow water and these robust little fish will be eating tiny baits such as plankton, insects, insect larvae, minnows and tadpoles.
Once the baby bass have grown to be around 6 inches, they will start eating larger prey like big insects, bigger minnows, worms and leeches. When a baby bass hit’s 12 inches, it’s diet will consist of all the bluegill, shad, other smaller fish as well as crayfish and more.
Adult Bass Diet
An adult bass diet consists of larger prey. They like to eat frogs, larger fish such as medium-sized bluegill, forage fish, and they eat bass too as well as anything else they can fit in their mouths.
NOTEIn fact, the number one bass predator is bass themselves and a larger bass will eat a small bass without a question and bass fry are a vital food source for them.
What Do Different Bass Species Like To Eat?
Now that we understand the different diets of young and adult bass, plus their feeding motivations, it’s time to look at how their habits differ across the different bass fish species.
Generally speaking, bass have the same behavior across the range of species, greedy ambush predation. What each species chooses to eat only depends on how big their mouth is and whether the prey in their environment will fit inside it.
By adapting your natural and artificial baits to your targeted species, your chances of catching the particular species goes through the roof.
What Do Largemouth Bass Eat?
Baby largemouth bass will eat prey including small fish, insects and the like until they become adults.
Adult largemouth bass, however, will literally eat anything from smaller bass species like choctaw bass to frogs, lizards, small birds, crayfish, as long as they feel they can fit in their mouths and it doesn’t require too much energy.
Largemouth bass tend to like to hide around cover like weed beds, sunken trees, and drop offs.
They move slowly using their keen sense of smell to find prey and lurk in the shadows but can move very fast when they see an easy meal. Any small fish, worm, leech, crayfish, that happens to swim close by to a largemouth bass will be hoovered up in a second.
RECOMMENDATIONTo catch largemouth bass you want to be fishing with big new and old lures that look like small fish, frog lures, lizards, big worms, and more. Big lures and baits are where it’s at for largemouth bass.
What Do Smallmouth Bass Eat?
Smallmouth bass are a little different from largemouth bass as they have smaller mouths and therefore tend to eat smaller prey and even forage on the bottom for their food.
Insects are a huge part of the smallmouth bass diet and they will eat things like beatles, grasshoppers, cicadas off the surface and any larvae in the water too. Smallmouth bass also enjoy crayfish, smaller fish like minnows, worms and leeches.
RECOMMENDATIONTo catch smallmouth bass you can use insect lures, especially if you’re fly fishing, or smaller worms, small fish lures, and crayfish imitations.
What Do Peacock Bass Eat?
Peacock bass are one of the largest and most aggressive freshwater bass species on the planet. They are indigenous to South America but have been stocked in states like Florida to control other fish populations like invasive tilapia, that’s how hungry and aggressive they are.
You should imagine a peacock bass to be a largemouth on steroids. They will eat bass, any fish smaller than them, crawfish, frogs, lizards, and anything else that swims by and will fit in their mouths.
You should fish with bigger baits and lures for these bass and be prepared for a serious fight as these fish feeders know how to pull line.
What Do Striped Bass Eat?
Striped bass are a saltwater species and when they are young they will feed on small crustaceans and larvae. Once they become adults, striped bass strike anything that moves which they can also fit in their mouths.
Anchovies, sardines, lobster, crabs, squid, and eels are high on the menu, and this is also a species that eats bass too.
What Do Sea Bass Eat?
By sea bass, I mean European bass that spend their time cruising shorelines and striking anything that takes their fancy. Their favorite food source is sand eels but they will happily eat anything from fish to crabs, shrimp and more.
NOTEAll the bass, no matter the species from black sea bass to spotted bass, are not fussy, just hungry all the time.
How Do Seasons Affect Feeding Habits?
Bass like all fish are cold blooded and therefore react to temperature changes of the water they live in, just like their prey does. Bass will eat anything that is going, but what is on the menu changes during the seasons and so does their motivation to eat.
What Do Bass Eat In Winter?
When the water is too cold, like during winter, they move deeper into the lake or river in search of warmer water and their metabolism slows down to conserve energy.
This makes them sluggish meaning they won’t eat something if it requires too much effort but will continue to eat anything that they can get their hands on from amphibians to fish, crayfish and insects.
To catch bass in winter, you should fish deep with normal bass bait but move it very slowly so that a bass has time to eat it despite their lack of energy. Also time your fishing with the warmest part of the day as this is when the bass will be most active.
What Do Bass Eat In Spring?
Once spring is in full swing, the water temperature will be warmer and the bass will move out of the deep and this coincides with when a lot of food sources start hatching like insects, tadpoles, etc.
During this time of year, bass will be in the shallows gorging themselves to fill up after a long winter on anything they find but usually smaller baits based on what has hatched.
RECOMMENDATIONWhen fishing in spring, target shallow areas with small bass baits or try out topwater baits too as the bass will be near the surface. This is also when bass spawn, so be sure to drop a plastic worm close to their nests and you’ll get a bite.
What Do Bass Eat In Summer?
In summer, the waters bass live in are alive with food and they are hungry after spawning. This means that everything is on the menu, particularly things in abundance that are seasonal like frogs and lizards as well as shad and bluegill.
If the water gets too hot, bass will retreat to the deeper areas to find cooler water and then feed there, so be sure to fish deep with something like a Carolina rig if it’s too hot.
You should also go bass fishing in the coolest times of the day including early morning and late evening as this is when they will be most active.
What Do Bass Like To Eat In The Fall?
The fall is one of the best times to fish for bass as their waters are packed full of fresh fry that have just been born and they are frantically trying to put on some pounds for winter.
The water temperatures are also perfect meaning the bass will be sitting shallow and thus it’s a great time for topwater fishing and using smaller fish baits as well as large plastics.
Check out this video to help you catch bass throughout the year.
How Much Do Bass Eat?
The amount of food a bass will eat is dependent on quite a lot of things. For example, a bigger bass will eat more than a smaller bass, and all bass will eat less when the water is too hot or too cold.
Bass require about 10 lbs worth of food in order to grow by a pound in weight themselves and in order to be healthy and continue growing should consume about two thirds of their body weight per day on average over the course of the year.
This means a 9 lb bass needs to eat 6 lbs of food per day on average whereas a smaller 3 lb bass just needs 1 lb of food per day. The number of times each of these example bass eats might be the same as the larger specimen will eat bigger, heavier meals.
Bass don’t chew their food, they inhale and swallow it, and therefore will only target prey that they can fit inside their mouths.
What is the best bait for bass?
The best bass baits are always the bait that imitates what the bass are feeding on at any given time, but there is one bass bait baitfish that seems to be the winner, small soft fish, regardless of the bass species.
If you are fishing for large or smallmouth bass, then using a lively shad is your best bet. This involves using live shad which you have caught and kept alive. Keeping shad alive requires a live bait well filled with cool clean water that is continuously oxygenated with an aerator.
Then you simply add a live shad to your hook by hooking it just in front of the dorsal and letting it swim around cover until a bass eats it, which shouldn’t take long.
What Attracts Bass The Most?
The three things that really get bass attracted to your bait are sound, color and smell.
You will see a lot of bass baits that have propellers on them to make a disturbance on the surface, others will have rattles built into them, and others spinners. All of these make a ton of noise to attract as bass to the bait.
Bass have an excellent sense of smell and therefore are drawn to baits that have a scent to them. You can buy soft plastic baits that are loaded with fishy scents to attract bass or use live/dead natural baits that bass can use their nose to find.
Color is also an important part of what attracts bass to your bait or lure. It’s important that they can see the lure so dark colors with a lot of contrast are excellent. Red is also a great color as it imitates an injured fish and creates a lot of aggression in the bass.
Lures with shiny reflective parts like spinners are also great as they catch the light and bass can see this from a distance and always come to inspect.
Thanks very much for reading my article. I hope you found it useful and now know everything about what bass eat, when, and why.
There is nothing more important than understanding the diet of the fish you want to catch and then using that knowledge to use the right baits and fish in the right areas.
Feel Free to Share
Please share the article with your fishing buddies, as we all need to know this kind of information when bass fishing. Also, check out some of my other articles, I cover everything from the best fish finders to info about a Carolina rig and how to hook a minnow.
(1) “Largemouth Bass Fingerling” by USFWS Mountain Prairie is marked with CC BY 2.0.
(2) “27 inch striped bass from Sengekontaket Pond” by nilsrinaldi is marked with CC BY 2.0.
(3) By © Citron, CC BY-SA 3.0