Bass season brings on summertime angling

With the opening of bass season Saturday, all species of fish are once again fair game in Pennsylvania.

Although bass fishing is tremendously popular here in our region, the start of the season simply doesn’t evoke all the hoopla the first day of trout season brings. That’s probably because bass aren’t stocked by the thousands as trout are in so many waters. Therefore, fishing pressure for bass tends to be spread throughout the summer rather than concentrated to the first few days or weeks of the season.

Nationwide, the largemouth bass tops the list as our most popular freshwater game fish. Largemouths are now found in all the lower 48 states and southern Canada and have been transplanted well into Mexico, central America and most other continents as well.

Largemouths do well in a wide range of habitats, from small farm ponds to the largest manmade reservoirs. Smallmouth bass were originally native to the eastern half of the United States and southeastern Canada from Manitoba and Quebec and south to Tennessee and eastern Oklahoma. Smallmouths have also been introduced into almost every other state but are not as widespread as the largemouth. Smallmouth bass are not as adaptable as their largemouth cousins, preferring lakes with mostly clear water and gravel, rocks and other hard bottom structure.

Smallmouth bass thrive in rivers, while largemouths are rarely found in flowing water in the northern part of their range. In Pennsylvania, all our major river systems are well known for their smallmouth fisheries, even though smallmouths are only native to the Allegheny and Ohio River watersheds. Those great gamefish were introduced to the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers during the late nineteenth century.

Locally, the Juniata River and its Raystown and Frankstown branches serve up many miles of great smallmouth fishing. Most stretches of the Juniata are easily waded, and float-fishing from a small boat or kayak is also a popular way to fish the river.

Along with their widespread availability, bass tend to be popular with anglers because they are strong fighters when hooked and can reach respectable average size in most waters where they are found.

The world record largemouth weighed 22 pounds 4 ounces and was caught from Montgomery Lake in Georgia in 1932. That long-standing record was tied in 2009 by a monster bass taken in Lake Biwa in Japan. The Pennsylvania state record largemouth bass weighed 11 pounds 3 ounces and was caught from Birch Run Reservoir in Adams County in 1983.

The world record smallmouth bass came from Dale Hollow Lake in Tennessee in 1955 and tipped the scales at 11 pounds 15 ounces. Pennsylvania’s record smallmouth weighed 8 pounds, 8 ounces and was caught from Scotts Run Lake in Berks County in 1997.

Both species of bass are highly adapted predators, capable of preying on virtually any creature they can swallow and happens to be found in, on or around the water they inhabit. This extremely varied diet means bass are likely to attack a wide variety of lures, a trait that endears these fish to both fishermen and tackle companies.

Probably more lures have been produced specifically to catch largemouth bass than every other of species combined. And I freely confess to having spent most of my fishing career attempting to accumulate as many of them as possible.

I’ll offer a short list of favorite bass lures that I consider my mainstays for tempting both species of bass on most waters in Pennsylvania. I wouldn’t think about going fishing for largemouths without a selection of Texas-rigged plastic worms. I had some of my earliest success with these versatile baits, and they produce bass as well today as they did 50 years ago.

I also am never without soft-plastic tube jigs for river smallmouths. From early spring until late fall, tubes always put their share of bass in the boat. Spinnerbaits can be both effective and fun to fish, not to mention the vicious strikes these lures can provoke. Crankbaits are go-to baits for covering lots of water. Square-bills and shallow divers work well for summertime river fishing, while medium and deep divers can locate largemouths hanging on deeper structure.

Of course, few moments in angling are as exciting as seeing a bass crash a surface lure. For open water, I like using topwaters that have a “walk the dog” action such as a Zara Spook or a Lucky Craft Sammy. Around heavily matted weeds, it’s hard to beat one of the hollow-bodied soft-plastic frogs. And for sheer topwater fun, I absolutely love throwing a buzzbait.


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