Large mouth bass streams are not as beautiful as the cool, fast water rivers where the smallmouth lives, but they have a friendly, restful attraction all their own.
The river large mouth is a great game fish—just as he is in the lakes of America. He will take artificial flies and artificial lures at water temperatures that make the smallmouth almost completely a live bait fish.
Large mouth bass rivers are mostly slow current streams with mud bottoms and pretty heavy weed growth. Many of them are outlets of lakes or just connecting waterways between lakes.
Others drain swamp lands or rush-covered flats, like the St. Clair marshes in Michigan.
In the Ozarks, there are a great number of quaint and highly scenic rivers flowing down through terraced hardwood forests and picturesque gorges where you may float and fish for days or weeks—camping out on pleasant sand bars in the rivers. These are both smallmouth and large mouth streams. There are smallmouth bass in the faster, sand and gravel-bottomed rocky stretches. Then, in the next mud-bottomed sloughs, you will find large mouth bass.
In the deep South, all the bass rivers are large mouth streams. They merge into bayous and lagoons that form ideal large mouth water.
Large mouth in 55°- 65° water in streams
Large mouth bass in streams seldom feed in water under 55° F. From this temperature up to 65°, you will find the bass in water from 1 ft. to 3 ft. deep in the evening or early morning; and in water 2 ft. to 5 ft. deep in the daytime. The large mouth will be on mud bottom; slow-current pools are good places.
Along the shore line, near underwater logs, stumps, and brush piles and undercut banks, you will find excellent hiding places where large mouth bass lie in wait for minnows, frogs or aquatic insects and larvae. Weed beds, rushes and lily pad areas are favorite large mouth water in streams as in lakes. Under low, overhanging foliage along grassy or wooded banks is also a favorite hang-out.
In 55°- 65° water, large mouth bass feed freely on nearly everything they can find—minnows, frogs, crawfish, worms, hellgramites, fresh water shrimp, every kind of aquatic insects and larvae and anything else that falls or lives in the water. They take on all comers. From this you can see that bass bugs, streamer flies, bucktails, nymphs and spinner-flies all look good to the large-mouth.
I prefer fishing with a bass bug because it’s more fun—and also I get plenty of bass. The smashing surface rises, for one thing, make this about the most enjoyable way of fishing for bass.
If the fish are bottom feeding, then use one of the underwater fly methods—a streamer, bucktail or spinner-fly fished deep with an action handling, or a nymph fished with a natural drift retrieve. Either does well in these temperatures.
Bait casting with surface lures, or drifting with any of the natural food mentioned before, will get you bass in this water temperature bracket.
If the water is murky, live bait is almost a necessity. In muddy water, you can sometimes get bass by fishing very close to stumps, large rocks, and fallen trees in the water, as well as at the mouths of feeder streams. This is because the water is clearer in these places.
Large mouth in 65°- 70° water
Large mouth bass are very comfortable in this water. They range into shallow water in these conditions, going wherever they find their favorite food. In the evening and early morning, you will find the bass in water from 1 ft. to 3 ft. deep, and in the daytime a little deeper—from 2 ft. to 6 ft. They’ll be in the same sort of locations as in the lower temperature bracket.
An oxbow cut-off in the river is a very likely place for large mouth bass. A bass bug, hair frog, hair crawfish or feather minnow cast up to and along the banks, rushes, and weed beds of these cut-offs should bring you some good fish. Don’t overlook the fact that these bass are pretty alert. They won’t take your fly if they see you first; even though this big-mouth water is probably not so clear as the smallmouth rivers, the bass still can see a careless fisherman far enough away to avoid his lure. So watch your pick-ups and use long enough casts so the fish won’t see you.
Large mouth in 70°- 75° water in streams
Water temperatures from 70° to 75°, especially 70°-72°, are in my opinion the favorite water conditions for large mouth bass. In these temperatures the bass range widely all over the stream—in deep pools, the shallows, the shore lines, weed beds and under the branches of trees on the banks.
In the evening, early morning or at night in normal weather, large mouth bass will be at depths of 1 ft. to 4 ft They will be a little deeper in the daytime—2 ft. to 7 ft.
Large mouth bass rivers are practically all fished from a boat. They are usually too deep and too soft-bottomed for wading. The boat should be kept where the fish won’t be able to see it and the oars handled quietly. Don’t thump your feet around in the boat, either, if you want to catch fish. If the current is right, the most successful way of handling a boat in a large mouth river is to let it drift in a position within casting distance of the shore line and cover for the bass.
Large mouth bass—all bass for that matter—are cover fish. They like to hide, both from their enemies and so they may not be seen by their prey until they dash out to engulf the minnow, frog or insect they are after. Submerged vegetation, logs and cut-banks are probably the favorite hiding places of large mouth bass because the majority of their food stays close to these spots.
In 70°-75° water, bass bugs and dry flies are my favorite for stream large-mouths; be sure you fish them slow by the rest-and-twitch retrieve. A one minute or even two minute wait before moving the bass bug at all is very productive. Popper-bugs are effective here, as in most conditions where bass are feeding on the surface.
If you think you know just where a bass is, don’t cast directly to him. That would probably scare him away. Put your fly down lightly a little beyond that place and then, after a pause, work the bug gradually up to him, taking it slowly, just as if it were an aquatic insect that had fallen in the water and was struggling there.
Large mouth in 75°- 80° water in streams
In this range, large mouth bass will be in 2 ft. to 6 ft. water in the evening, early morning or at night in normal weather, and in 3 ft. to 10 ft. water in the daytime, in stormy weather or falling barometer conditions. The bass will seek out the cooler stretches of the river—in the shade, under overhanging foliage and under lily pads and weed beds.
If the fish are bottom feeding, use wet flies—bucktails, streamers or spinner-flies—fished by the action method. If you see any surface rises, use bass bugs. Bait casting with medium depth lures is also a good method in this water.
If the water is high and murky, live bait, drifted into the deeper current of the river, will take more bass than you will get in any other way. In fact, live bait will be the only way you are likely to get fish in these conditions.
80°- 90° water for large mouth in streams
Even large mouth bass, which tolerate warm water very well, do not prefer 80°-90° water; but they will live in it and feed in it—in fact, they grow very large and strong there. Also, if you fish in the right places and at the right times, you can catch plenty of river bass in water of this temperature.
There are several successful ways. First, you will often find bass feeding hungrily in the shallows at night. Once in a while they will feed in the very heavy shade under thick lily pads. In these locations you can get good results with a bass bug, fished slow, with two or even three minute pauses between twitches of the bug. Bait casting with a pork chunk or weed-less surface lure will also take bass.
Another successful method is to fish with live bait—minnows, frog, crawfish, fresh water shrimp or weed-worm. In this case go deep. A spring hole is always a bonanza for warm water bass, because the spring water will be cooler in summer than will the rest of the river.
River large mouth will give you lots of sport. They are the game fish of the common man—and worth any angler’s respect.
At the end of these fishing tactics for bass, let me stress one cardinal principle that has, I think, never been so fully formulated as in this book: Water temperature is the most important and dependable factor in determining the location and the feeding habits of fresh water game fish. If you know the temperature of the water you are fishing—and learn where the bass or trout or other game fish are at that temperature— you have the best guide there is on where to fish, what to use, and how to use it!