LARGEMOUTH BASS FEEDING
A lot of bass anglers have become field experts on bass feeding behavior. In a day or two of a tournament, they can establish patterns of what types of structure the bass are holding on, the proper depths, the types of forage bass are eating, and lure speeds.
Let's take a look at why some of these feeding patterns occur and why the largemouth bass might be considered the "perfect predator."
Like most predatory fish, bass have a large mouth and are very quick. Florida biologists told us: "Various senses are used to locate prey, although bass feed primarily by sight. The location of their eyes creates a field of vision much greater than our own, since they can see in all directions except directly behind and below. The distance a bass can see depends largely on water clarity. Thus, in low light conditions, they must rely on other adaptations that sense sound or vibrations. Using "inner ear" structures and a highly developed lateral line system (which occurs as a series of sensory pores along each side of the fish), a bass can respond to water movement by sensing the vibrations or sound made by its prey. This is a probable reason why rattling lures or buzzbaits do well in very green or turbid lakes where water clarity is poor. Largemouth bass can also detect odors, but their use of smell or taste is not understood very well. Smell and taste are probably used less for feeding than other senses."
Largemouth bass feeding habits appear to change as they get larger. The new hatching first live off the yolk sac they are hatched with for 13-15 days. Advanced bass fry feed continuously on zooplankton, microscopic organisms that live suspended in the water. As bass grow larger, aquatic insects and small fish start to become the makeup of their diets. By the time a bass attains two or three inches in length, it feeds almost exclusively on small fish and larger crustaceans, such as grass shrimp and crayfish. High mortality often takes place during this period due to a shortage of suitably sized prey.
Adult bass have a diet that consists of mostly other fish, such as threadfin shad, gizzard shad, bluegill, golden shiners, smaller bass, etc. They are basically opportunistic feeders that consume whatever is most readily available at the time. Frogs, salamanders, snakes, mice, turtles, and even birds are among items that have been found in bass stomachs.
The following is an excerpt from a Florida fishery biologist study report: "A recent study determined differences in food habits of largemouth bass in vegetated versus unvegetated lakes in Central Florida. Findings indicated that sunfish (e.g., bluegill and redear) were primary fish species ingested by bass in vegetated lakes, and crustaceans (grass shrimp and crayfish), constituted a significant portion of their diets. In contrast, shad and tilapia were the dominant species ingested by bass in unvegetated lakes, with little or no feeding on crustaceans. Bass swallow organisms whole instead of biting off pieces, limiting the size of prey that they consume. Any prey having a body depth less than the diameter of the bass' mouth may be consumed. A bass will grasp its food any way it can, but usually tries to swallow fish head first. This allows the dorsal fin of prey fish to lie flat when swallowed."
Largemouth bass often ambush their food, lying in wait for prey to swim by. This type of behavior is used when vegetation or other cover, is available. In open water, bass become pursuit oriented in which their streamlined shape and strong body allow them to move very quickly for short distances and catch their prey. Although the larger bass are usually solitary predators, the smaller ones often school to 'herd' their prey and make catching them easier.
Feeding of largemouth bass is triggered both by hunger and by a reflex. Reflex is when a bass may instantly strike something that is introduced into its immediate environment. Fishermen may trigger this reflex response when presenting a lure within its field of vision. Our fishery biologist friends further tell us that "adult largemouth bass do not feed continuously. Once a meal is ingested, the bass may not feed again for hours or days, depending on the size of the prey that was eaten. In general, larger bass eat larger prey, so the time span between meals is usually longer. Since largemouth bass are cold-blooded, temperature directly affects digestion rates. The warmer the water, the quicker digestion occurs. Largemouth bass prefer temperatures in the range of 65-85o F. Feeding frequency declines considerably when water temperatures occur outside of this range. Bass fishing also slows down during periods of extremely cold and hot water temperatures, which is probably related to the level of feeding activity."
Feeding occurs any time during the day or night, but appears most frequent at daybreak, dusk, or during overcast conditions. They appear to like low-light conditions much more so than bright. During sunny conditions, bass may position around cover or structure or in the shadows associated with banks, vegetation, or docks.
Most forage fishes such as bluegill and threadfin shad spawn several weeks, and sometimes months, after largemouth. These newly spawned prey provide young bass with an abundant food supply. Once forage fish reach a size that can no longer be eaten by bass, they may compete with small bass for food. At this point, we are told, an overabundance of prey fish may be detrimental rather than beneficial to young largemouth bass.
The reader should note some key items from the contained in the above paragraphs:
We seems to know a little about the habits and preferences of the bass. But, until we get to talk to one and ask questions, we will never know for sure.
- Bass feed primarily by sight
- In low light conditions, they must rely on other adaptations that sense sound or vibrations
- Smell and taste are probably used less for feeding than other senses
- Bass are basically opportunistic feeders that consume whatever is most readily available
- Feeding of largemouth bass is triggered both by hunger or by a reflex
- Adult largemouth bass do not feed continuously. Once a meal is ingested, the bass may not feed again for hours or days, depending on the size of the prey that was eaten
- Largemouth bass prefer temperatures in the range of 65-85o F. Feeding frequency declines considerably when water temperatures occur outside of this range
- Feeding occurs any time during the day or night, but appears most frequent at daybreak, dusk, or during overcast conditions
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