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For those who consistently catch a bunch of bass, BIG fish or always cash a check at the tournaments there are few commonalities, being prepared, having reasonable equipment, a little luck and an intimate knowledge of the habits of their quarry. Knowing the habits and habitat favored by the fish are a giant advantage. At the top of the list is the understanding of the preferred food sources of three major, most well distributed species the largemouth, smallmouth and spotted Kentucky bass. Most commonly consumed forage for bass are bait fish. In the category of most often digested food sources are minnows of all varieties, several of the sunfish family but most meals are the shad, gizzard and threadfin shad comprise the majority of bass meals. The reason for this is that the shad are the most available forage food therefore the most frequently eaten. The most preferred but not the most available are crawfish. Good populations of a large variety of crawfish exist in waters all over. Simply stated bass love crawfish because of the nutritional value of the clawed creatures. Scientifically proven, for every five pounds of crawfish a bass eats it gains a pound in weight, this is most important for trophy fish, because in order to maintain or gain weight the must eat the best fish food and a lot of it.

For bass chasing shad (or other baitfish) there is a critical concept understood by live bait fishermen that everyone should understand. When a solitary bass or a bunch of fish are after a concentrated school of shad they opportunistically chase, engulf as many or the closest they can catch. Often hitting the forage from the back, move off and literally turn the shad to swallow it from the front. The reason for this, if the finny bait fish flares its fins (many have at least five fins) potentially the bass would choke on the extended multiple appendages. This is the reason bass shy away from eating the crappie equipped with very large fins. This is not to say bass will not eat crappie, bass are opportunistic and will especially in early spring and fall feed on anything they can catch and will fit in their mouths.
TIP: match the color and erratic swimming motion of the bait fish to draw more strikes. The best shad imitating baits are swim baits, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Consider upsizing your offering to give the bass a big bite. Poor presentation will be troublesome for larger lures, concentrate on retrieve speed and bumping cover to hook more bass.
The crawfish, (aka mudbug, crawdads, freshwater lobsters, crayfish) known in scientific circles as crustaceans share almost all waters where bass reside. Found in clean waters especially rocky areas, crawfish come in multiple colors, go through stages of being soft shelled, various seasonal color shades, are recognized as having more than 300 species and are capable of regeneration of lost claws. Another interesting fact, they walk forward but escape in backward bursts utilizing their skeletal muscles and segmented tail. When threatened craws take on a defensive posture, backing away, claws extended, open and upraised, hardly striking fear in a bass of any size. Once again slurping up the craw and eventually turning the hard shelled creature to more easily facilitate the swallowing process. The early spring emergence brings pre-spawn bass in search mode. Once surface water temperatures reach the low fifty degree mark bass and other fish are on the prowl ready to eat before going into the exhausting spawn. At this point everything is fair game but the crawfish again provide the most return for the “seek out and find” food process used by the bass affected by the winter layoff in cool water environments. Adding weight to their frame now and in the fall triggers fish to gorge themselves on every forage food available to carry them through the spawn or winter depending on the geographical location. Bass are in competition with most other gamefish for consuming the crawfish. Everything including catfish, crappie, musky and other fish prize the crawfish as a normal part of their diet.

TIP: The two baits that best mimic the look and motion of the “real” thing are a rubber legged jig and the soft plastic craw imitator. In most instances the jig is trailed by a soft plastic craw but the craw can be rigged in many ways to be fished solo. Texas rigged with a slip sinker and an appropriately sized worm hook (I prefer a 4/0 Daiichi copperhead hook) Carolina rigged, added to a leadhead or even locked onto a shakey head, the soft plastic craws are available in several sizes and veritable rainbow of colors. My jigs are Strike King models including but not limited to casting, swimming, flipping and finesse, a few different weights ranging from the tiny finesse 1/8th or ¼ ounce to ¾ ounce flipping versions for “punching” matted or heavy vegetation but standard is 3/8th ounce casting jig. Colors are chosen mostly to match the current color of the crawfish. Roll a few rock in shallow water and you will conform the presence of the crawfish and the color stage they are in. My preference and the bass’ is the Strike King Rage Tail craws as trailers or primary bait. The trick to imitating real crawfish is a varied cadence working either bait in short intermittent hops /swim motions which matches the escape action of the fleeing craw. Keeping the medium heavy action rod between the 10 o’clock and 12’clock position keep constant contact with your craw lure of choice, concentrating on any change in the feeling of the swimming bait.

While bass will eat anything that can’t get away and fits in their oversized mouth the shad and the crawfish comprise a majority of what they ingest. Most available or prized matching the normal activities of either is almost a guarantee to more bass at the end of your line.