Know your baitfish!

Any experienced angler will tell you it’s important to spend a lot of time studying what bass do and their seasonal patterns in different lakes and regions of the country.

Knowing those factors will help you narrow the search of where to find and catch them.

But equally important, and oftentimes a wild card to being a successful angler, is dictated by a knowledge of the forage - especially baitfish - in a given lake.

Much of what is discussed about baitfish is centered on shad and rightly so. Shad are a primary forage in most of our impoundments.

But in every given body of water there are other baitfish sources that can affect what bass do throughout the season. And not all baitfish have the same inherent characteristics or habits as shad.

For that reason, I strongly recommend anglers invest time learning what baitfish live in their favorite lakes and research each one’s seasonal patterns. That bonus knowledge can really make a difference in your bass fishing success.

It doesn’t matter whether a lake has gizzard or threadfin shad, bluegill, alewives, shiners, ciscoes or hitch, they all have different habits and spawn in different times of the year. Knowing the intricate details can really help you eliminate water and find a starting point on a lake based on the baitfish seasonal movements.

For example, bluegill are a big part of the Northern bass’ diet. However, bluegill can be found in just about every North American lake system and likely play a role in bass behavior at some point during the season.

A good example is during the bluegill spawn, which can occur several times a year. Although a lake may have a huge shad population, a segment of the bass population will take advantage of spawning bluegill and that becomes a great pattern to follow. It’s also an easy one to put together because the bluegills typically spawn shallow and the beds are easy to see because of how they dish out beds. They’ll spawn in many of the places that bass spawn, and usually spawn right after the bass are done. Look for them on the sides of secondary points, along seawalls and around overhanging trees near shore. Also, if the water is dirty, you can usually spot them with side imaging electronics.

Feeding bass will patrol ambush areas around those beds and pick off the smaller ‘gills as they wander away from the nests.

Another example of how different forage affects bass habits is the blueback herring that are found on some Southern lakes. Herrings' lifestyle is quite a bit different from shad; they spawn on shallow clay points and draw the bass extremely shallow.

However, the rest of the year they roam around open water. Whereas shad will go deep after the spawn, herring will hover in the upper water column. They may get close to structure but rarely right on top of it. For that reason, jerkbaits, swimbaits and topwaters that imitate the herring become a key pattern to catching offshore bass over deep water in those lakes.

Learning about the forage is easy thanks to the internet. You can use it to research the types of forage in a lake and google that baitfish’s name to find out about his life cycle. Once you understand the forage base in a body of water, learn what is most available to the bass, you’ll know what the fish are going to target throughout the season and become a more successful angler.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.