Inside the Mind of a Predator Bass

News & Tips: Inside the Mind of a Predator Bass

A Dive Into the Myopic Mnd of a Bass Fish.

Imagine that you're a little shad, just a few inches long, swimming along with your school down at the lake, gulping up a bit of delicious zooplankton here and there, basically enjoying the morning.

fishing shop allYour school zips and spins in the water column, happy-go-lucky as the water begins to warm—and then faster than you can react, the school makes a left turn and you make a right! The hive mind is gone, and all of a sudden you're facing an immense wall of brush, extending farther down and farther up than you can see.

Your tiny brain isn't really equipped to deal with new things, so you pause for a second or two, bubbles rising all around, when you see it. A green-black shadow in the limbs, as big as a whale, as big as the biggest thing you've ever seen, and the fear response sets in.

But as you pivot to dash away, a cavernous mouth drops open and you are sucked down, along with everything in your vicinity, into a cold, dark, toothy death even before you realize what is happening.

Congratulations! You've just been eaten by Micropterus salmoides, the apex predator of most North American fresh water lakes and rivers. If you, dear reader, were the size of a shad, an average largemouth bass would be the size of a city bus, and would devour you as quickly and thoughtlessly as you would flip a piece of popcorn into your mouth. She is a vicious predator (not to mention a cannibal!), and will eat anything that moves.

Though we can't know what a bass is actually thinking, we can tell by their behavior that they are single-minded—eat, then eat some more, then wait until it's time to eat again, then eat, eat again, and eat more.

Now to the mechanics of a feeding bass. Bass have two basic feeding modes—ambush mode and attack mode. In ambush feeding mode, the largemouth lies in wait for its prey, which it inhales simply by opening its mouth. In attack feeding mode, the bass will charge at its prey with short bursts of speed, inhale it, and turn to zip away.

In both cases, the suction draws in the small baitfish and all of the water surrounding it, and the bass then expels the water through its gills while deciding whether or not to swallow it's prisoner. If the bass detects that the object is edible, down the hatch it goes; if it feels that it has inhaled something that is not food, it can spit it back out just as fast.

xps lazer eye crankbait
Bass Pro Shops XPS Lazer Eye Crankbait 

And as to how a bass decides what to swallow and what to ignore, it's pretty much universally agreed that eyesight and vibration are the two initial triggers. Smell and taste are not as well understood. And though bass are opportunistic feeders, known to eat shad, crawfish, panfish, frogs, lizards, mice, birds, and even their own kind, every bass angler knows that a bass does not automatically eat anything he puts in front of it.

Tests have shown that bass do have color vision, and that it is the most important sense that bass use when deciding what to eat. So here's the most obvious thing that so many fishermen ignore: when visibility is good underwater, use a lure that looks like the forage the fish eats. Whether that's a shad-colored crankbait like the Bass Pro Shops XPS Lazer Eye hard bait or a crawfish-colored soft plastic fishing lure, it gives you the most chance of success. In muddy water or overcast weather, use a bait that emphasizes high-visibility: chartreuse, white, or even a very dark color with a pronounced silhouette.

Vibration is sensed through the bass's lateral line, a network of specialized nerves along the center of it's torso, extending into the gills and head. When the bass is within a couple of feet of it's prey, it can sense changes in water pressure and movement, and may even be able to discern the shape of an object nearby.

With these senses combined, the bass decides whether or not it's dinner time.

So if you're a hapless, tasty little shad, separated from the school, darting blithely along in blissful ignorance, and you sense a looming leviathan charging toward you from the murky depths—it's too late. You are dinner.