The forage connection

underwater bass
Eric Engbretson

Todd Driscoll, a district fisheries biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, competes in nearly three dozen bass tournaments a year. Driscoll has learned that performing well at the scales is dependent on his ability to find the big bite — and that the big bite is often directly connected to the life cycles of the forage bass feed on. Because location and behavior of forage species varies with changes in their life cycle and habitat, the more significant big bite patterns differ throughout the year.

“This predator-prey phenomenon is probably in play in most lakes and reservoirs around the country,” Driscoll says. “A big bass is an opportunistic feeder, and if you exclude the spawning period, its behavior and distribution in a particular fishery is always based on habitat and what the forage species are doing. And so, a good knowledge of the forage base is important when you’re trying to maximize your time and the fish you catch.”

Few fisheries demonstrate this forage-bass dynamic as well as Texas’ legendary Lake Fork. Experienced guides like Mark Pack and John Tanner also recognize this connection. In order to consistently catch quality bass, the two guides adjust their angling strategies to match the changing seasonal patterns, concentrating their efforts on the most productive big fish pattern at the time.

When Spring Has Sprung

The first big fish forage pattern of the year on Lake Fork is well established and occurs on most east Texas fisheries. In January, when bass are in their prespawn stage, an important forage of big fish is crawfish. The bass are starting to move up creeks, working their way into spawning areas. They’re holding along points and flats, adjacent to channel swings.

“When the bass are staging for the spawn in east Texas, the lipless crankbait bite is unbelievable,” Driscoll says. “It’s probably the most productive pattern during this period and there’s a good reason for that. This pattern is associated with hydrilla, and crawfish really like to occupy aquatic vegetation.”

According to Driscoll, crawfish construct burrows in late spring and summer, to rear their young. The young crawfish remain with the female until they begin emerging from their burrows in the fall.

“You have all these juvenile crawfish out and about on their own, without the protection of the burrow, beginning in fall and continuing through early spring,” Driscoll explains. “These juvenile crawfish are very active, they’re growing and molting. It only makes sense that largemouth associated with aquatic vegetation are going to be preying on those vulnerable crustaceans at that time.”