Oak Orchard River Bass Anglers

May 2019

 

The late Doug Hannon may have understood a lot about bass but he did not fully understand bass behavior.  Doug referred to activity level as bass behavior and, of course, activity level is not bass behavior.  Activity level is a reflection of the level of available energy, not bass behavior.  Activity level impacts how bass behavior is achieved, but it is not behavior. 

During feeding season, activity level directly influences bass position which in turn impacts how feeding behavior is achieved.   Again, it is not bass behavior.  During spawning season, the stage of the reproductive cycle impacts bass activity level and bass position.  Feeding behavior has nothing to do with either activity level or position during spawning season. 

The difference in activity level during spawning season as opposed to feeding season is that bass are never totally inactive during spawning season.  During feeding season, bass can not only be totally inactive, they can be completely dormant. 

Hannon claimed that largemouth bass behavior is different during each of man’s 4 seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter.  I concur that bass behavior is different according to season except that Doug was wrong when he assumed that bass have 4 seasons like man does.  Behaviorally, bass only have 2 seasons: spawning season and feeding season.   Spring is spawning season.  Summer, fall and winter are feeding season.   

During the spring spawning season, bass behavior is all about reproduction and species survival. During the summer, fall and winter feeding season, bass behavior is all about energy efficient feeding and self-survival.  Spawning season is all about species survival while feeding season is all about individual bass survival.  Bass have no other seasons or behaviors.

Whether engaged in feeding behavior or spawning behavior, all bass behavior is the same.  Older, bigger bass do not behave differently than smaller bass.  Older, bigger bass are simply more experienced.  As a result, older, bigger bass are the very best at achieving bass behavior.  If they weren’t, they would never get big to begin with.  Big bass don’t behave differently.  Big bass are just better at it.  As a result, older, bigger bass are always harder to catch on artificial lures.

When Hannon was talking about bass behavior, he was actually talking about activity level.  Hannon identified 4 different levels of activity (Doug referred to them as behaviors): aggressive, feeding, passive and inactive.  Hannon also assigned these activity levels (again, he called them behaviors) to different seasons.  In reality, bass activity level changes constantly, not just seasonally.  In my opinion, bass activity level is best understood when it is broken down into three different and distinct levels: active, neutral and inactive.

During feeding season, bass may be at any one of the three levels of activity at any given time and on any given day.  During spawning season, bass may be either active or neutral.  Spawning bass are never inactive.  Spawning behavior is just too important to the survival of the species to allow individual bass to ever be inactive during spawning season.  Without reproduction, the species cannot survive and reproduction is an active process. 

In addition, individual bass are expendable during reproduction.  The loss of an individual bass is not a threat to the continued survival of the species.  On the other hand, the total loss of spawning behavior and reproduction would be. 

During feeding season, the activity level of individual bass is determined solely by the existing level of stress.  This is true because bass have to always cope with stress first, before feeding behavior can occur.  In addition, bass have to burn energy to cope with stress.  Coping with stress always requires the use of energy and results in a lower level of energy.  This means that there is less energy available for physical activity, including feeding behavior. 

As the level of stress increases during feeding season, the level of energy decreases and bass have to decrease physical activity accordingly.  This decrease in physical activity forces bass to move to a different position where feeding can continue despite a lower level of available energy.  Individually, bass must always feed in an energy efficient manner to survive.  Bass must always take in more energy than they expend.  As a result, individual bass have to change how they feed to match the amount of energy they have available for feeding.  

In this way, during feeding season, activity level determines the existing level of physical activity and bass feeding position.  The lower the amount of energy available for feeding, the less physical activity bass can engage in while feeding and the smaller the strike zone will be.  It is a simple matter of energy efficiency.  Individual bass cannot survive any other way.  Individual bass must always feed in the most energy efficient manner possible.  To do that at different levels of energy, bass have to change how they feed and move to different positions where energy efficient feeding can continue at a lower level of physical activity.

Physiological change is a slow bio-chemical process that takes time.  It often takes hours, sometimes days, for bass to adapt physiologically.  Fortunately, physiological change can occur regardless of bass position.  That being the case, bass may as well move to a position where they can continue to feed efficiently while waiting for physiological change to occur.  

However, continuing to feed in an energy efficient manner is only possible if bass move to a position where they can feed efficiently at a lower level of physical activity.  It is a fact that the lower the level of energy, the lower the level of physical activity.   The lower the level of physical activity, the smaller the strike zone and the slower and more precisely an angler has to present a lure in order to be consistently successful.  

Since physiological change takes time, the only way that bass can adapt instantly is by moving.  In addition, moving (called behavioral mobility) is the only way that bass can control their body temperature.  Being cold-blooded, bass cannot physiologically regulate body temperature.  A bass is always the same temperature as the water it inhabits.  To control body temperature, a bass has to physically move from one water temperature to another and then wait for physiological change to occur. 

Behavioral mobility, moving from one position to another, allows bass to adapt instantly to changes in energy level and activity level.  Repositioning allows bass to continue to feed in an energy efficient manner while waiting for physiological change to occur.  Without behavioral mobility, feeding would cease until after physiological change has been completed.  Instead of continuing to feed, bass would be forced into a state of total inactivity making catching bass impossible. 

Big bass are so good at accomplishing bass behavior (spawning and feeding) that big bass are very seldom caught during feeding season.  Almost all truly big bass are caught during spawning season.  This is because during spawning season the instinct of individual survival is superseded by the instinct of species survival.  In nature, no single, individual is more important than the species.  During spawning season, all adult bass are put at risk to insure the continued survival of the species.  This makes big bass most vulnerable during spawning season. 

During spawning season, all adult bass are instinctively compelled to move to shallow nesting areas to reproduce.  In the shallow water, big bass are easy to find, easy to approach and easy to catch.  The instinct to reproduce compels big bass to move shallow and stay there until reproduction has been completed.  Instinct also requires bass to defend the nest, the eggs and the fry.  Individual survival is intentionally sacrificed to insure the survival of the species. 

All of these factors make spawning season the best time to catch a truly big bass.  In fact, spawning season is often the only time that truly giant bass are even vulnerable to being caught.  Unfortunately, during spawning season, almost anyone can catch these big bass.  No special skills are required. 

This is why big bass should be protected during spawning season.  Big bass are impossible to replace quickly.  On this point, Hannon and I agree.  Indiscriminate fishing during spawning season can quickly eliminate most of the big bass in any water body.  Please keep this in mind when you start fishing this spring.               

                                                                   

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