Fishing For Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass
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Location: Statewide; common
Average size: 1-2 lbs.
Trophy size: Any bass greater than 5 pounds is considered a "big one" by New York standards. Check the Current State Records.
Identifying characteristics: Largemouth bass have a dark horizontal band across its body & an upper jaw that extends past the eye; on smallmouth bass the upper jaw does not extend past the eye.
Preferred habitat: Largemouth bass prefer shallow, weedy areas of lakes, ponds, and rivers and around cover, such as downed trees; smallmouth bass prefer rocky areas of lakes and rivers in a wide range of depths from 5-35 feet deep.
Interesting facts: Largemouth bass will pretty much eat anything they can fit in their oversized mouths, including fish, frogs, snakes, and mice; smallmouth bass are considered one of the hardest fighting freshwater fish.
When to Fish
Anytime during the open season, with the best fishing from mid-June through the end of August when water temperatures are in the 60-75°F range. During this time, they often setup in predictable patterns and if you catch them in a spot on one day you can usually repeat it the next trip.
How to Catch
Try fishing for largemouth bass around the outside edge of weed beds, then work deeper or shallower if not catching fish. Smallmouth bass are usually found around rocks in 5-35 feet of water. Start shallow and work deeper. Look for irregularities or a mixture of habitat/structure like points on a weed edge, deep drop offs, or a downed tree along a bare bank. There's usually a good chance you'll get something to hit in those areas.
Gear and Techniques
When it comes to bass fishing there are a lot of options for setups, but for an effective "go-to" try a 6 ½ -7-foot medium action spinning rod with 8-to-10-lb. monofilament line. If you're interested in a more advanced bass fishing option, consider trying a baitcasting rod with fluorocarbon or braided line. For more information on different setups refer to the Intermediate Fishing chapter (PDF) in the I FISH NY Beginners' Guide to Freshwater Fishing (PDF).
|Tips & Techniques
Try: 3-4-inch end of rubber stickworm (colors: natural colors like watermelon or green pumpkin); 1/8-1/4-oz. mushroom jig head
|Deep, clear water around rocks
|Cast it out, let it sink to the bottom and let it sit there for 2-5 seconds. Drag it a few feet, let it sit again, and repeat.
Try: 1/4-1/2-oz. spinnerbait (color: white)
|Shallow water, either over or on edge of vegetation
|Reel fast enough to keep bait above the vegetation. Occasionally add a pause to your retrieve and let the bait fall.
Try: 4-inch rubber stickworm, o-ring, size 1/0 circle or octopus hook (colors: natural colors like green pumpkin or watermelon)
|Both shallow and deep water
|Let it slowly sink, after it hits bottom raise it up and let it fall again. Watch your line: sometimes you can see a hit/tap (line moves) before you feel it. Get more info in the I FISH NY Guide to Wacky Rigging for Bass brochure (PDF)
Try: 1/4-1/2-oz. worm weight, 2/0 to 4/0 worm hook; 6-10-inch ribbon tail rubber worm (colors: June bug, plum, or green pumpkin)
|In or around vegetation
|Let it sink to the bottom and slowly drag it back, or move it a few feet, let it sit for a few seconds and then move it again.
Try: 2-1/0 octopus hook; 1/8-1/2-oz. drop shot weight; 4-6-inch straight tail worm (colors: natural colors like green pumpkin or watermelon)
|Deep clear water
|When bait hits the bottom, let it sit a few seconds then shake the rod tip. Move it a few feet and repeat.
Try: Choose a bait that runs at the depth you're fishing. Example: if fishing in 12 ft. of water, choose a bait that has a running depth of 10-15 foot (colors: crawfish or shad).
|Shallow to deep water
|Straight retrieve, with occasional pauses.
Try: 3-4-inch tube with 1/8-1/4-oz. jig head (colors: natural colors like green pumpkin or watermelon).
|Shallow to deep water, around rocks or outside of vegetation
|Let sink to bottom and either slowly reel it in or jig it by raising and lowering the rod.
Waters to Fish
Bass can be found around the state in most waters including rivers, ponds, and lakes but top waters include: Oneida Lake, St. Lawrence River, Cayuga Lake, Lake Champlain, Lake Erie, and Chautauqua Lake.
Fishing & Boating Access: Find boat ramps and fishing access sites around the state.
Preparing Your Catch
How to Fillet Bass
Bass aren't typically considered for table fare, but some anglers do choose to harvest them for consumption. You can fillet and cook bass just like you would sunfish or crappie. Refer to the basic fillet steps 1-7 on page 31 of the Care of Your Catch chapter (PDF).
Ensure the fish you catch are safe to eat by reviewing the fish consumption advisories (leaves DEC website) recommended by the NYS Department of Health.
Additional Getting Started Resources
Free Fishing Opportunities
Free fishing days, free learn to fish clinics, and the rod loaner program all offer ways to help you get started in fishing.
Fishing Guides and Brochures
Created by DEC to help you learn the basics and get started fishing.
YouTube Channel: Beginners' Guide to Fishing
A "how to" video series that provides basic information for anyone interested in getting started in freshwater fishing.
Fishing Tips and Skills
Links to numerous informational resources on learning how to fish.