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What do bass eat in their day-to-day lives? Bass have a varied diet consisting of everything, including insects like nymphs, beetles and grasshoppers. They won’t pass up fish eggs, leeches, mollusks, crustaceans, and even larger prey like mice and other fish.
Table of Contents
- Fish Diet
- What Do Bass Eat?
- Bass Eat Crustaceans
- Bass Eat Mammals
- Bass Eat Amphibians
- Bass Eat Mollusks
- Bass Eat Worms
- Bass Eat Smaller Fish
- Bass Eat Terrestrials
- Bass Eat Nymphs
- Bass Eat Moss & Algae
- Bass Eat Stones & Rocks
- Bass Have a Seasonal Diet
- When Do Bass Feed?
- A Bass’s Diet Changes with Its Environment
- What Do Different Species of Bass Eat?
While bass are surprisingly selective eaters during different seasons and at certain periods of the day, they also tend to be very opportunistic and will gorge themselves when the getting is good.
Don’t miss our Complete Guide to Fly Fishing for Bass.
What Do Bass Eat?
What makes bass a challenging fish to target is their varied diet. They’re willing to eat anything they determine to be an enticing meal.
They shy away from very few things that live in freshwater lakes and rivers. They’re predatory feeders, so any time they have a chance to ambush a meal, they do.
Bass Eat Crustaceans
Depending on the type of bass you’re targeting, you’ll find that crustaceans are a favorite meal for them. Since all bass species are carnivores, they like to eat all types of crustaceans available to them.
No matter the time of year, you’ll find that crustaceans are a priority for bass! If it looks like an easy meal, the bass will ambush it.
Shrimp are often found in soft and acidic lakes and streams. They can live in water ranging from 30 to 80 degrees, but the colder the water, the better!
Areas like the Great Lakes are popular places for bass to feed on freshwater shrimp. You can even take some frozen shrimp and they’ll eat that as well. Meat is meat for bass.
The Avalon Shrimp is a great fly choice for anglers looking for an accurate representation of a freshwater shrimp.
Crayfish, crawfish and crawdads are one of the best baits for bass because they’re extremely hearty and live in many freshwater lakes and ponds.
They live on the bottom of the water regardless of the depth. They’re a perfect option for anglers fishing pre-spawn.
As the bass move shallow, they find the crayfish sneaking around on rocks and logs.
Scuds are a part of the amphipoda family. There are over 9,000 different types of amphipods in existence. Nearly 2,000 of them live in fresh water.
Bass regularly feed on these the entire season. Most scud flies are fairly universal, so any pattern you want to use, you can.
Something like the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear is a solid option. Be sure to use these flies in sizes 10-14.
Sowbugs work well in both the fall and spring. They resemble freshwater shrimp, so fish them shallow and bounce them along rocks and any logs.
They’re fairly common in most southern freshwater lakes and rivers, but make sure they’re in the water before you use them.
Turning over a log or rock near the water should give you an idea if they’re around.
Bass Eat Mammals
Mammals are a favorite food for bass. Any mammal that finds itself in the water is fair game for bass. Their large mouths and digestive systems make it easy for them to take on any larger prey that may have fallen or is swimming on the surface of the water.
Using mice to fish for bass is one of the most fun ways to target them. Mice often climb on reeds and other vegetation off the side of lakes and rivers. From there, they’ll slip or the plant breaks and they splash down near the bank.
As soon as a bass sees a mouse swimming or climbing near the shore, they’ll sit in waiting. Mice aren’t the best swimmers, so it doesn’t take long for bass to pounce!
Fish a mouse fly near the shore and see what happens.
Turtles are a lesser-known favorite of bass. When turtles hatch out of their shells and enter the water, the bass are common predators.
As long as the turtle fits in their mouth, they can break down the shells and have a great meal.
Bass Eat Amphibians
Amphibians are another food that bass actively seek out to eat. Amphibians are found all over different bodies of water that house bass. As long as you’re aware of the different types that are in the water you’re fishing, you’ll catch fish.
In terms of bass food, you’ll struggle to find one more appealing to them than frogs. Frogs live in heavily vegetated areas located near shore.
Lily pads are a favorite location since they allow them to sit in the water and hunt for insects. Bass wait underneath the pads and wait for the frogs to swim off of them.
The popper fly is a perfect representation of a frog swimming on the surface.
Salamanders are a perfect option for bedding bass. They’re up shallow, and salamanders often swim near the beds of bass. Any bass on a bed is aggressive, so if a salamander gets too close, it’s food.
They may sit under schools of shad, so keep that in mind. The amount of action a salamander creates is easy for bass to spot.
Bass Eat Mollusks
Mollusks are easy targets for bass. They aren’t able to escape easily, so bass instinctively feed on them whenever they find them. They’re almost always an easy meal. Look for them in the shallows.
Snails are easy targets for bass. If the bottom of the lake, stream or pond is muddy with some rocks, then you can assume snails are nearby.
They’re able to move around easily in the mud as well as the rocks. They mainly eat algae, so make sure the area you’re fishing has some.
Although zebra mussels negatively impact a lake, river or pond, bass will eat them. Many anglers attribute the fast growth of fish to the introduction of zebra mussels.
Crayfish will also feed on zebra mussels, so if you’re fishing with them, have some crayfish flies ready.
Bass Eat Worms
If you’ve spent any time targeting bass, you’re well aware of how effective worms are for bass. Similar to mollusks, they’re an easy target. While worms aren’t aquatic animals, they don’t last long in the presence of bass. The long and thin shape doesn’t look overly different from a baitfish.
The only time an earthworm will be found in the water is if it’s on the end of a hook or washed into the water due to a rainstorm.
These smaller worms will be eaten by bass, but it’s not a common food choice.
Leeches are a must when you’re bass fishing. If you’re fishing an area with heavy cover (rocks, logs, plants, etc.) then you can almost guarantee leeches are around.
Fish them during the pre-spawn if you have the chance.
Bass Eat Smaller Fish
Few things are more readily available for bass than smaller fish. Whether it’s minnows or panfish, bass will often eat them. They’re found at all levels of the water column in all parts of lakes, rivers and streams.
Same Species Minnows
Bass are also known to eat smaller bass! Anything that’s between three and five inches is fair game for them.
When fish eggs hatch within 10 days of being laid, they’re fair game. They’re an easy meal for bass.
Other smaller fish like shad are something you’ll find bass eating. They’re around three inches long and swim in large schools.
These fish are found all over the water, so if you find a school, you can guarantee bass are around and feeding!
The Clouser Minnow is a perfect fly for a shad representation.
Sculpin are bottom-feeding baitfish. Bullheads are a part of the sculpin family, and they’re found in many areas across the United States.
These fish rarely grow over 15 inches, so bass can feed on them for almost their entire life cycle. If you see bass feeding near the bottom, you can assume they’re eating sculpin.
Bass Eat Terrestrials
Insects aren’t always a priority for bass, but any larger terrestrial is something that’ll capture their attention. Again, they’re opportunistic feeders, so if a large, appetizing insect falls on the surface of the water, they won’t say no.
Come late summer, grasshoppers are a common food for many fish. Whether they get blown into the water or fall off of grasses near the shore, you can bet that bass will eat hoppers.
Find a calm section of water near some weeds and toss in a hopper. The GFA Hopper is a perfect representation.
Beetles are another one of those larger insects that bass will eat. Whether it’s a water beetle or a June bug, they’re large enough to capture the attention of bass. If you know the bass are interested in feeding topwater, try a beetle fly.
Large ants are one of the lesser common terrestrials that bass eat. More of their attention is dedicated to hoppers and beetles, but ants are definitely an option.
Again, windy days blow all sorts of insects onto the water, so anything is fair game.
The Chernobyl Ant is a large ant pattern that attracts bass.
Believe it or not, bass do eat mayflies. There are over 700 species of these flies in North America, and bass love them.
If you’re fishing an area with overhanging trees, you’ll find that many mayflies fall onto the water. The bass will happily pick these off when they’re on the surface.
The CDC Mayfly Emerger is an accurate representation.
Trout and panfish aren’t the only fish that target caddisflies. As with mayflies, bass will wait for caddis hatches and spend quite a bit of time feeding on the surface.
If there’s a hatch and they’re plentiful, you can guarantee the bass are feeding. Caddisflies are generally found in rivers and near the shores on lakes.
The Tactical CDC and Elk Caddis is a nice, larger caddis pattern.
If you’ve spent any time in the Midwest on a warm summer evening, you’re well aware of the high populations of moths.
Bass will feast on moths later in the day as dusk is hitting. Lights on docks are attractants for moths, and one gust of wind can blow them in the water.
Phantom and chironomid midges are favorites of all species of bass. Often, smaller panfish will be found feeding on these and you can guarantee bass are nearby.
They’ll eat their fair share of midges as well as those smaller fish in the same meal. Midges are a perfect attractant!
The Zebra Midge is a larger pattern that works.
Every few years, a massive cicada hatch occurs. Bass views these in similar ways to terrestrials. Large insects that move water when they fall on the surface are nearly impossible for them to resist.
If you hear cicadas near the water, go ahead and use a representation. They regularly fall off trees and plant life.
Dragonflies are common to see on lakes, rivers and ponds. They spend quite a bit of their time near the surface of the water, and if a bass can surprise one, it will.
You’ll find them in heavily vegetated areas like lily pad fields. A Damselfly Larva should be at the top of your list for a dragonfly patterns.
Stoneflies are an easy meal for bass. Whether it’s a nymph or adult stonefly, you can guarantee that they’re going to get eaten by all species of bass. They’re large and easy for bass to catch when they hit the water as adults.
Stonefly fishing is awesome.
Bass Eat Nymphs
Similar to trout, you’ll find that bass regularly feed on nymphs. They rarely discriminate in their diet, so if it’s available and they’ve seen it before, they’ll eat it. When you’re fishing with nymphs, present them low and slow in the water.
Caddis nymphs are rarely large, but they’re widely available. They’re especially common in rivers.
Turn over any rock or log and you’ll likely see dozens of these in the midst of their growing stages. They bounce along the bottom and bass will feast on them.
The Caddis Nymph is a nice choice for a fly.
Midge nymphs are in almost every body of water. As a result, you can almost guarantee that bass are going to eat them.
They aren’t overly active, and they often bounce along in moving water and float near the bottom in lakes and ponds. They don’t need much action to attract fish.
It’s hard to argue with a Zebra Midge!
Mayfly nymphs make bass go crazy. Similar to their obsession with dry flies, they’re equally as excited by nymphs. As they rise in the water column and move closer to their adult stage of life, bass feed on them more regularly.
Rivers and lakes have full populations of mayfly nymphs. Fish them near shore!
The WD-40 is a simple and effective pattern.
If you’re fishing rivers for bass, make sure you’re fully equipped with stonefly nymphs. Stonefly nymphs are large and easily spotted by bass.
Even in lakes, you’ll see stonefly nymphs scrambling out of the water to fully turn into adults. If you see any bass feeding near shore, be ready to throw these.
The Wooly Bugger is a fun fly to use, and it moves a nice amount of water.
Don’t underestimate the power of a dragonfly nymph when you’re targeting bass. They can’t get enough of them.
They’re a bit more challenging to catch when they’re on the surface, so bass eat them as they’re developing into adults.
Bass Eat Moss & Algae
Bass aren’t against consuming healthy portions of algae and moss. It can’t be emphasized enough that bass are truly not picky eaters. If there isn’t enough prey, they’ll resort to eating quite a bit of algae and other aquatic plant life.
Bass Eat Stones & Rocks
Bass will pick up stones and rocks to eat any algae or food that may be growing on or underneath the rocks. It’s not uncommon to see them suck up a stone and spit it back out once they’ve eaten the food off of it.
Bass Have a Seasonal Diet
The main reason for the seasonal diet of bass is the timing of the spawn. Bass eat quite a bit during the pre-spawn to prepare their bodies for this grueling season.
Another reason for the seasonal diet is the water temperature. As temperatures warm, bass get more aggressive, and as they cool, bass slow down their feeding.
What Do Bass Eat in Winter?
Bass have a slower metabolism in the winter, but they’re still actively feeding. Crayfish and smaller minnows are common options for bass in the winter since all aquatic life is moving a little slower in those colder temperatures. Also, if the lakes don’t freeze over, any precipitation in the winter can wash in worms.
What Do Bass Eat in Early Spring?
In the spring, the feeding frenzy begins. Both males and females need to put on weight to prepare to spawn. Sunfish, crayfish and anything else they can find near the spawning grounds become fast meals.
They’re high in calories and help sustain bass. Find where the bass are wanting to spawn and you’ll find that they’re fairly narrowly focused. Anything that floats by them during this phase is a meal.
What Do Bass Eat in Summer?
Bass come into their own in the summer. Their true hunting skills come out and everything is fair game. Ducks, bugs, frogs and smaller baitfish are favorites when the water is below 75 degrees. If it gets higher than that, you’ll find the bass get as deep as they can and feed on the bottom.
What Do Bass Eat in Early Fall?
Baitfish are the name of the game in the fall. With winter approaching, they know they need to stock up on as much food as possible. In the early fall, you’ll also find that crayfish and worms are still favorites for them. Water temperatures can still be a bit warm.
What Do Bass Eat in Fall?
As the fall progresses and winter approaches, you’ll find bass feeding on baitfish. Smaller bass and panfish are hunted throughout weed lines and near structure.
When Do Bass Feed?
Bass aren’t overly different from other fish in their feeding times. Morning and evening are the most common feeding times. They’ll also eat through the night and the heat of the day, but not as often.
What Do Bass Eat at Dawn?
At dawn, bass are looking for a larger meal. They’ll feast on frogs or ducklings that may not be able to detect bass as easily. If these aren’t possible, they’ll start hunting baitfish and panfish.
What Do Bass Eat Midday?
During midday, bass are likely in deeper water feeding on worms and crayfish. These are easy targets and can be found in cooler water. Bass digest and preserve energy throughout the day.
What Do Bass Eat at Sunset?
At sunset, the fish become more active. Larger prey is back on the table. Look for bass to feed on baitfish and frogs. If they can find a duckling or gosling, they’ll absolutely eat it.
What Do Bass Eat at Dusk?
At dusk, mice are a common target. Mice feed around the water at dusk and often fall in. Bass wait for this to happen. A slow moving mouse along the shoreline is a favorite for them.
What Do Bass Eat at Night?
At night, bass won’t eat as much, but if they sense something large hitting the surface of the water, they’ll feed. Mice, birds and snakes are common targets for bass once darkness falls. Bass can truly act as ambush predators at night.
A Bass’s Diet Changes with Its Environment
Depending on where you’re targeting bass, you’ll find their feeding habits change depending on where they live. Moving water makes them act differently than they would in still water.
What Do Bass Eat in Lakes?
In lakes, bass will feed on baitfish, panfish, birds, mussels and crustaceans. These are the most common things they’ll find since not as many things get washed into the water. Insects are also not uncommon for them to feed on in lakes.
What Do Bass Eat in Rivers?
When it comes to rivers, almost anything is fair game. Moving water constantly provides new food sources for bass. Amphibians, insects, snakes, baitfish, crustaceans and even birds are common forms of prey. Anything that floats in front of a bass will likely get eaten during feeding time.
What Do Bass Eat in Ponds?
In ponds, insects, worms and crustaceans are the most common forms of food. Snails, leeches and dragonflies are commonly found in ponds, so make sure you’re looking out for any of these when fishing for bass in ponds.
What Do Bass Eat in Small Creeks?
In small creeks, you never know what you’re going to find. Some guarantees are insects, smaller baitfish, worms and amphibians. Creeks gather these things, and bass will find the deeper portions of the water and wait behind cover to ambush their prey.
What Do Different Species of Bass Eat?
Depending on the type of bass you’re targeting, you’ll find that their diets vary. Generally, most bass eat the same things. The main factors that dictate what a bass eats are environments and size. Larger bass can handle larger prey.
Striped Bass Diet
Striped bass eat insects, small fish and invertebrates like crabs and squid. Bass are found in both salt and fresh water, and they keep their carnivorous diet in both places.
Sea Bass Diet
Sea bass aren’t overly picky, but some of their favorites include shrimp, clams, smaller fish, worms and crabs. They’re bottom feeders, so keep that in mind.
Peacock Bass Diet
Peacock bass are some of the most aggressive fish in the bass family. Crayfish, tadpoles, minnows and their own young are fair game. Live fish are pretty much their favorite food!
Smallmouth Bass Diet
Insects, small fish, amphibians and crayfish are some of the favorites for smallmouth bass. Obviously, their mouths aren’t as big as largemouth bass, so they’re a bit more limited in what they can eat.
Largemouth Bass Diet
Largemouth bass will eat fish, birds, crustaceans and amphibians. They’re known to eat fish that are upwards of 50 percent of their body length. As long as you catch them at the right time, they’ll eat!
Bass are opportunistic and aggressive. If they see a meal that looks appetizing, they won’t waste too much time analyzing it. They’ll ambush it without thinking twice. With their carnivorous instincts, you’ll find they’re eager and willing to eat at an aggressive rate.
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