What size forage do bass prefer?

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Bassmaster Marshal

Last week’s question about really big swimbaits led me to another issue that I think deserves some attention. What size forage do bass prefer?

I ask that question because I believe it’s a lot bigger than most anglers think. I don’t have any scientific evidence to support my thinking, but I’ve caught a few over the years. I’ve seen what they upchuck at the boat and in the livewell. It ain’t all that little.

Never, not until I die, will I forget the time I caught a 9 1/2-pound largemouth on a 13 inch crappie. I was bass fishing when it happened. The big crappie grabbed my bait. As I was winding it in the giant bass grabbed it. By the time I got the pair to the boat the bass had about three-quarters of the crappie down its throat and was still trying to eat the darn thing. Obviously, the bass didn’t realize she was caught. She thought she was fighting the crappie.

That was some time ago. But just recently — on Champlain — I caught a smallmouth that weighed just short of 5 pounds. When I brought it up to the boat it upchucked four perch that were about 6 inches long. Some of them were already turning white so I know the bass was feeding on them. She was not just chasing and killing them.

These experiences, along with hundreds of others over the years, have led me to the belief that bass feed on stuff that’s a lot bigger than we realize and a lot bigger than the lures we use to catch them.

If you look at a bass, all this makes sense. A 5-pound largemouth has a really big mouth. Nothing in nature is by accident. We have to assume it’s there for a reason. They don’t need it to breath and they don’t need it to drink or smell. What’s left? Eating big stuff is what’s left.

Smallmouth, as their name implies, have smaller mouths than largemouth, but they’re still pretty big. They might not be able to handle as big of forage as a largemouth, but they can still handle pretty big stuff. My story from Champlain isn’t out of the ordinary. Smallmouth specialists laugh when you say you need small lures to catch them.

Another thing I think supports my thinking is a bass’ need for food. All bass are coldblooded. That means that their metabolism is controlled by the water temperature. In places where the water gets warm early in the year and stays that way they need lots of food. 

I can’t see how any bass that weighs 5 pounds can possibly catch and eat enough 1-inch crayfish or 2-inch shad to survive in 80-degree water. Common sense tell me they’d burn more energy chasing the little critters down than they’d gain eating them.

I’m not suggesting that we all start buying giant lures. There are some good reasons why we throw smaller baits. Design, performance, cost and effort all matter. But, I also know that a Strike King KVD HC Shallow Squarebill 1.5 Crankbait isn’t as big as what a keeper bass typically targets. I simply do not believe it.

So, the next time you grab a lure and you think it’s too big think about what I’ve said. If it makes sense to you, tie it on and start chuckin’ and windin’.