Bass Behavior and Habits

By: Chris Bell


Everyone loves fishing for stripers. There is something about them that appeals to everyone who fishes saltwater in Rhode Island. The Ocean state is blessed with very good fishing overall and many people come here from Mass, Conn, NY, NJ, and Penn to fish and vacation here. Knowing a little about the habits of these fish can help you catch more of them.

Bass are not high speed swimmers. They are good at short bursts during which they can go very fast, but cannot maintain those speeds over any distance. Like many migratory species, they will use tidal currents to help them get where they want to go. During the spring when they first arrive in our waters, they are full of energy and will chase large schools of bait for miles, feeding as they go. These are good times when pretty much anything you put in the water will catch them, and they are very abundent and aggressive. Once the bait settles in and finds places to hide out or moves on, so too do the bass settle in. Then it becomes more difficult to find them during the daylight hours. Bass have very large eyes and no eyelids, their eyes are not exaclty like ours in that they cannot adjust as well to the bright full-day sunlight. Striper eyes are very good for seeing in low light and night conditions. They also feed more actively during the day when its foggy or overcast, since this reduces the light level available. So if itís a bright sunny July day and around 11:00am, probably not a good time to choose to get out there and catch stripers. If its going to be overcast and gloomy all morning, this is a great time to get out there and target them. Nighttime is also another good time to fish for stripers, but the low visibility also brings danger to the boater and fisherman from rocks, bouys, other boats, etc.

Striped Bass, like many Saltwater fish species, have a lateral line organ which they use to sense vibrations in the water. They can sense vibrations out to a good distance, because water transmits these vibrations much farther than air would. This is how they first zero in on a prospective meal. Contrary to what most anglers may think, the last sense they use to decide to make a strike is visual. When in an area of extremely strong current, the current itself causes so much vibration that the bass will be forced to use visual acquisition or smell only, making it much harder to catch them. I can hear some of you naysaying, but for those of us who dive in New England waters, we can attest to the very poor visibility, especially as you go deeper. At 40í depth, a good day and very clear water will give you around 10í of visibility. If itís not clear, this can easily drop to 3í. If we consider the average around 6í, you can see it might be very difficult to get your offering within visual range of a striper. Rattles, violent movement, hefty jigging with a parachute jig, these all send out waves of vibrations that bass can detect and zero in on. Virtually any plug designed for bass fishing has rattles in it, so there must be something to it.

In the early morning light does not penetrate very far into the water and bass can be found chasing what bait there may be in very shallow water. The bait seeks the shallow water in an attempt to avoid the predators. As the sun gets higher in the sky, bass will move into deeper water to avoid the bright light. So when you first start fishing, fish shallow water and as the sun gets higher you move into deeper water.

Where will you find bass? Usually around structure, such as drop offs, high points, boulders, rocks, and reefs, especially where there is a good tidal current that runs past. The bait that bass feed on also use current to aid them when they travel and will also use reefs and rocks to hide from predators. Bass can be very aggressive and chase bait, but much of the time they will wait in ambush for a bait to sweep by or come out of hiding so they can pounce on it. This is why current can be so important to feeding, and why when the tide runs out fishing can turn off like a light switch. Stripers will often cruise the shallow edge of the beach in the early morning, following the direction of the tide looking for bait. Donít forget that a sharp eye should be kept for bass feeding on bait at the surface, since this happens very often and can hard to spot at a distance. You should always have an 8x50 or 10x50 pair of binoculars on board your boat for long-range searching. Anything stronger is very hard to use on a boat unless it is internally stabilized.

In shallow waters, engine noise is something to consider as it can spook the bass and drive them off. Very loud engines can still drive them away in deeper water. If your drifting and plugging or jigging, its best to turn the motor off and fish that way.

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Chris Bell has fished Rhode Island waters for 11 years. Before that he was a writer and PC administrator.   He now guides Adventure Fishing Charters in Rhode Island from Jerusalem and in the winter writes on various aspects of fishing for stripers, flounder, and other species and fishing techniques.

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