Many people who want to become better bass anglers just the baits that work in their season or area they are in or watch a professional tournament and think if they have the gear the pros do, they’d catch the same fish.
This is just flatly wrong.
There are many things you can do to become a better fisherman that don’t involve copying the latest and greatest bait, buying fancy gear, or living on the lake everyday.
Below, I’ll go through 7 tips that helped me become a better bass angler that will hopefully help you too!
1. Notice the little things
The biggest reason I didn’t become a good bass fisherman until later in life was I didn’t pay much attention when out on the water. Just by looking for the little things that no one else notices, you can greatly enhance your ability to catch bass.
For example, if you’re in a new lake and don’t know if there are even fish in the area – you can tell by watching the top of the water for little bait fish ticking the surface. You could look for herons or other natural predators in the area.
Similarly, you could look and see if you are surrounded by water bugs that aren’t being eaten at all. Or if your cove looks like a wasteland of water with no movement. These are all signs you need to move somewhere else.
But this applies to many things you need to know for bass fishing. If you catch a bass off one boat dock but not another, what was special about that dock that made the bass be there? Could it be a different type of wood, the way it casts shade, the water depth it’s in?
When you start noticing all these little things as you fish you’ll start to put them together in your head to understand where bass are and how to better catch them. You’ll pick the one dock in an entire cove and catch a fish from it. And you’ll leave the other fisherman scratching their heads as to how you did it.
2. Always pay attention to the weather
Most bass anglers know that weather is an extremely important factor when fishing, but most don’t take it into account enough.
Let’s say you have been fishing a texas rig all day in tree laydowns and catching great bass. But then a little later in the day the bite just stops all of a sudden. But you just keep prodding along flipping into trees and never catch a thing.
Could you just have run out of luck? Maybe. But the reason is likely more complicated than that.
Oftentimes, this could be as simple as cloud cover coming into your fishery. The bass were right in the thickest parts of tree laydowns because they were providing shade from the sun. But as the clouds blocked the sun the fish may have moved 5 feet out and started chasing baitfish. So you should have switched to a spinnerbait and started fishing down the bank.
Weather can instantaneously change the way bass are reacting and anglers are very often far too slow in changing their tactics to match this. So pay attention to any slight change, even something like a change in wind speed can affect bass fishing.
But fisherman are also often slaves to whatever the weather is that day without considering what it may have been like for the week prior. Maybe it’s early spring and you get a nice warm day so decide to go fish the shallows for bass, thinking you’ll find them actively feeding. But you end up getting skunked. Why?
Simply put, one day of warm weather is not going to drastically change a bass’s pattern. Usually it takes consecutive days of constant conditions to make bass move completely shallow, deep, or start feeding heavily.
So don’t just take the day’s weather and go just by it. Take at least the last week of data and use it to form the pattern that the bass should be adhering to. This is much more likely to bring you good results than focusing on the one day you are fishing.
3. Learn how to use your electronics
The main reason that professional anglers catch fish and you don’t is because they’re much better at using their electronics to locate fish than you are.
Notice what I didn’t say – that their electronics are better. While their electronics are more advanced, the reason they are catching more fish is mostly because they are just utilizing them better than the average fisherman.
For example, do you try to find fish using your fishfinder? Then you’re doing it wrong. Most professional anglers are using electronics to find depth, structure, cover, and bait schools. They aren’t using their electronics to actually find bass.
Learning all the tips and tricks to how electronics can give you information is a very in-depth topic that I can’t cover in this one article. Instead, below is a video made by Fish The Moment, who in my opinion has the best fishing electronic guides online.
But I will give you some very brief advice for what to look for when you are using electronics. First, when trying to decide what area of the lake you even want to fish, idle around and see if you see big balls of bait fish. If you cruise around and don’t see anything, just go to a different part of the lake. If the bait isn’t there, the bass aren’t either.
Once you find the areas that do have balls of bait, you can start looking for the cover and structure that normally hold bass. This includes channel swings, points, and the many types of structure that bass relate to. Then once you have those, use electronics to find rock, brush, or any bass holding cover on that structure.
There is an old saying that 90% of success is in preparation. Fishing is a lot like that. Idling around in your boat and using electronics to find the best places to fish instead of just blindly beating the bank is going to make you a much more successful fisherman.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Experiment
I used to only use green pumpkin soft plastics because it’s what I saw other people catching fish on. Then one day I switched to junebug because I accidentally pulled the wrong bag out of a bargain bin. To my surprise, I caught more fish on the lake than I ever had.
Fishing can be a very confusing mix of abiding by the rules of fishing and knowing when to break them. You need to know how weather affects fishing patterns to know the best areas to fish. Or how bass spawn and their life cycles to know what part of the lake they’ll be moving towards and from. These things never change.
But then there are other things that seem to change constantly and don’t always have a best answer. Lure color is a great example – there is no one best lure color. Dark colors work best in muddy water, and more natural in clear. But I’ve caught bass on green pumpkin in muddy water and bass on black lures in clear water. It’s a guideline, not a rule.
So if you’ve followed all the rules of bass fishing and still haven’t been able to catch a fish – start experimenting. Start small with different lures, different colors, or different retrieves. Then if that doesn’t work, try new areas or new lakes all together.
The constant experimentation might lead you onto something that just works for your fishery. There may or may not even be a reason behind it – that’s just part of fishing. Sometimes you have to make small experiments just to find something different that works.
5. Practice Your Casting Accuracy
When you go fishing down a bank, are you able to get a lure into those places that no other fisherman can? If not, then practicing your casting is going to make you a much better fisherman.
Most every fishery gets some fishing pressure. If you find a juicy looking bank with fallen trees and lots of cover, you aren’t going to be the first fisherman that ever thought to fish it. In fact, you probably won’t be the only fisherman to even fish it that day.
So you can just be lucky enough to be there at the right time or have the right color tied on to get the bass to bite. But there is one thing you can do which requires no luck at all, and that’s put the lure into those tight places no one else is getting to.
Bass are finicky creatures at times – particularly when they aren’t particularly hungry. They might be in the very thickest part of brush and unwilling to come out to bite unless the bait is right on their nose. Or they might just have a very particular place they want a bait to chomp on it. If you’re able to get the lure into those positions, you’ll be catching bass that no other fisherman has a chance at.
If you’re tournament fishing especially, this is absolutely key. The higher the fishing pressure, the more important being able to pinpoint casts is. Then, once you can pinpoint every cast, you can start working on limiting the splash you make for a nice, quiet entry into the water. Having both will greatly increase your success in bass fishing.
6. Look for Patterns
I used to always listen to Kevin Van Dam or other professional fisherman after their tournament wins and they would say something like “I just stuck to my pattern and it paid off.”
But I never really understood what a pattern actually meant. I knew all the techniques the pros knew and hundreds of ways to catch bass. So i would read up on what should work based on all the conditions I had and make a plan for the fishing day. That plan was my pattern. And the two are actually very different.
A plan is what you go in thinking you’re going to do. A pattern is what is developed as you actually start catching fish. Both are important, and many people are good at the planning part. But building a pattern on the water? Not so much.
Once you start fishing you should follow advice #1 (notice little things) all the time, but especially when you catch a fish. You want to know the water depth, temp, features, cover, structure, everything you possibly could about where it was caught. Also look at how the bass ate the lure – did it swipe at it? Get hooked deep? Was it aggressive or passive?
All these things help you build a pattern that will keep you catching fish all day. But not all will actually be important. Instead, you’ll have to wait until you catch the next fish. And maybe the one after that.
Then you can take all those little things and try to find the similarities between all the bass you caught. Maybe they were all in different water depths but each one happened to be from a rock pile at the mouth of a creek? In that case you don’t need to care about water depth the rest of the day – just fish rock piles at the mouths of creeks.
So when you go out fishing next time, keep your plan but be mindful of patterns that are emerging. Once a pattern shows itself – don’t be afraid to throw out the plan and follow the pattern until it dries up.
7. Have a Confidence Bait
Sometimes I just feel like I can’t catch a fish, no matter how much I improve at fishing. So when I’m feeling helpless and can’t put a bass in the boat – I tie on a wacky rigged senko and start skipping it under boat docks.
For me – it’s a confidence bait. That one thing that I’ve fished a ton and had a good amount of success doing. So when nothing else seems to be working, I have belief that I can catch a fish doing it.
If you don’t have a bait like that – you should really work on developing it. It can save an awful day of fishing. Just having a lure that you know by heart, or even an area or type of fishing that you just have confidence in, can get a few fish in the boat and not ruin an entire day.
Or maybe it will even remind you that you know how to catch a bass, and make you keep struggling through to getting those better bites later in the day.
If you don’t have a confidence bait, the easiest way to get one is to take one fishing pole with you on your next fishing trip. Tie on one bait, something that you think will work well in a lot of conditions or something you really love using. And just fish with it all day. Don’t ever switch.
If you do this a couple times (and of course, catch some bass) you’ll soon find that you just have a familiarity and confidence in it that you won’t with any other lure. So when you do hit those bad days where nothing works, you can tie it on and avoid the skunk.
For a few suggestions of a good confidence bait – sticking with a finesse presentation is usually good because they receive bites when nothing else will. A shaky head worm is a great bait to gain confidence in because it can catch fish in a variety of situations. If you want to go with a moving bait, try something like a chatterbait that works in multiple conditions.
Fishing can be a very frustrating hobby. You can catch fish every cast one day and then get a big goose egg the next. Sometimes it does come down to luck, conditions, and things out of your control. But following the tips above will make you become a better fisherman and I guarantee it will make those good days much more common. And more importantly, make the bad ones rare.
Now that you’ve read my 7 tips to become a better angler, what’s yours? Do you have something that a wise fisherman once told you that improved your fishing? Or just something you had to learn the hard way? Leave a comment below for anyone else interested in improving at the pastime we all enjoy.