Fishing a Pattern

How often have you heard read somewhere that a bass tournament winner used a particular pattern for winning the tournament? What are they talking about? What is a pattern? A pattern is the method, how, what, sometimes when, and where in a given lake you are catching bass consistently.  Many professional tournament anglers have days of practice before the tournament to establish and find a pattern for a particular lake.  But what about the weekend warriors and recreational anglers; how can they successfully figure and fish a pattern when you only have a few hours on the lake? 

The first key to fishing a pattern is recognizing the general tendencies of bass during the different seasons of the year.  While fish in each body of water will be affected by different conditions unique to a particular lake or reservoir, there are several rules of thumb to take into consideration when fishing a pattern as the seasons change.

Spring Pattern

In bass fishing, spring is characterized by three stages, pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn.  During pre-spawn, bass will be foraging for food and will be very aggressive as they are trying to feed as much as possible to get them through the spawning period.  Pre-spawn usually begins when the water temperature hits the mid to upper 50’s.  During this period, males will be on the move, frequenting potential bedding sites in order to find and build nests.  Bass will be moving from deep water back into the shallows, usually traveling along adjacent creek channels that run into coves off the main lake.  Good starting points to patterning fish during the pre-spawn would be main lake humps, points off the mouth of a spawning cove, and areas between deep water and the spawning area, such as creek channels.

During the spawn, you will find the both male and female bass have moved into the shallows to their nests.  During this time the males will be very aggressive in protecting the

Fishing a Pattern During spawn

Bedding female bass caught off a bed.

female’s nest.  This is my favorite times of year to fish as you will most likely be fishing shallow pockets looking for beds that hold fish.  Often, when you find a bed you will be able to pull a male off the bed pretty easily.  There function is to protect the bed and anything that comes by is considered a threat and the male will most likely strike on the first cast.  Once the male is off the bed, the female is there to protect the nest.  While not as aggressive as the males, the females will strike at baits that come in contact with the nest.  I have spent hours trying to get a female off the nest by throwing creature baits, jigs, wacky worms, and even shaky heads onto the nest.  Sometimes the females will just bat the bait off the nest and other times they will strike the bait.  The key is patience and being quiet while you are flipping or pitching a nest.  Believe me, being patient will pay off as some of the largest bass I have caught have be the females coming off a nest.

The post-spawn is much like the pre-spawn except the movement will be the opposite.  Bass will begin to leave the spawning area and head from the shallows back out to deeper water.  Most bass will hold on the first available deep water access point.  Again, you should be targeting points, ledges, and creek channels that have some structure.  Post spawn bass are going to be looking for a quick and easy meal as they haven’t eaten during the spawning period.  They won’t be as aggressive and I have found them to lethargic and thin.  The key to catching post-spawn fish is to be slow and methodical.

Summer Pattern

Pattern Fishing Summer

Summer Pattern Bass Caught in 25′

Summer is often characterized as the dog days of fishing.  Fish have moved to deeper water and are usually out around main lake structure.  During the summer, bass will become more aggressive than the post-spawn and will begin schooling to chase bait fish.  Most of the bass you find will be in 15’ – 30’ of water.  You will most likely be fishing for suspended fish in open water that have structure nearby.  While they call it the dog days of summer, I have had pretty good success fishing deep water structure.  This bass was caught in late July in 90 degree weather in about 25’ of water off a submerged roadbed.  Your best bet for success in summer is to fish early.  Be out on the lake well before sunrise and personally I try to get off the lake before noon so I don’t have to deal with all the recreational boaters.

Fall Pattern

Fall is an absolute blast and a great time to be out on the lake.  Fall is a time of frenzied feed activity as bass are trying to get as much food in their stomachs before the really cold weather hits.  The fall fishing pattern usually begins when the water hits the low 70’s to 60’s.  During this time, fish will normally be very active and will move towards flats near the main lake channels.  Try to find small pockets near these flats as fish will be moving back and forth feeding throughout the day.  Fall can be tricky as Brandon Johnson wrote about last week, but this time of year can be a great time to catch quality fish in numbers.

Winter Pattern

To be honest, I don’t do that much winter fishing.  I’m not a big fan of cold weather and it seems like being on the water makes to air temperature 10 degrees cooler.  During winter, bass are the most lethargic and tend to stay put, not moving far or fast to eat.  If you happen to be a winter fisher, fish can be caught in numbers as they will tend to school.  If you can find a school of bass, you should be able to catch multiple fish.  Just remember to fish slowly as during this time of year bass are not going to chasing a crankbait zipping by.

Establishing and Fishing a Pattern

Now that you have a brief overview of fish movements and patterns during the different seasons, how do you go about establishing and fishing a pattern?  Ever since I can remember, I have kept a journal of every fish that I have caught.  I used to keep a pad and pen hand in my boat or tackle bag and every time I landed a fish, I took down some important details about that catch.  With each passing year, my knowledge has grown about how to fish certain lake under certain conditions.  This makes establishing and fishing a pattern much easier when you have a history of catches to reference.  By having this handy, you won’t necessarily need to spend the first few hours on the water trying to figure out a pattern, you already have a good starting point.  If you decide to start logging your catches, I would recommend that at a minimum, you included the following:

  • Date
  • Body of Water
  • Weather Conditions
  • Wind Direction and Strength
  • Temperature (air and water)
  • Time
  • Size (weight and length)
  • Water Depth and Clarity
  • Cover / Structure Fished
  • Lure or Bait Size and Color
  • Retrieve
  • Additional Notes if you notice something significant in your catch

I would then take this information from my notebook and add them to and Excel spreadsheet.  This spreadsheet contains over a thousand records of fish that I have caught and the exact details that were used to catch the fish.  As you can see, having this data readily available, you are already ahead of the game at establishing and fishing a pattern before you even launch your boat.  While I still keep a master spreadsheet of all my catches, I recently replaced my one the boat record keeping from a pen and paper to my iPhone.  There are several apps out there that allow you to log and record your catches.  I have recently come to love the iFish series of apps.  They have a U.S. version that covers most popular lakes and state by state versions.  The data is backed up in the cloud so if you ever lose your phone or get a new one, you are able to sync up the data on your new phone.  I still transfer this data to my spreadsheet so I have a historical log.  If you aren’t into apps, the old pen & paper way is still a great method.  I used a Rite in Rain notebook.  They are waterproof, and as the name says, it allows you to write in rain or wet conditions without smearing the ink and making your notes unreadable.

I hope this information helps your out on the water.  Being able to quickly establish a pattern and then begin fishing a pattern will give you an advantage whether you’re a weekend warrior on the club level, an aspiring professional angler or even just a recreational angler looking to be confident in being able to consistently catch fish no matter the body or water or conditions your facing.

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