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Black Bass Myths --- Test and Answers
by Ralph Manns

Quickly note whether you think the following 22 statements are true or false.

1. Bass prefer 72o F water
2. Bass are most active in 72o F water
3. Bass go deep in summer to avoid warm water
4. Warm water doesn't hold enough oxygen for bass
5. Bass are irresistible, voracious predators that kill prey just for fun
6. Bass seek optimum oxygen, pH, temperature, cover, and food concentrations
7. Bass move from deep water sanctuaries to the shallows to feed
8. Bass are AMBUSH predators
9. Bass use only their lateral lines to feed in the dark
10. Water weeds shade and cool water
11. Reservoir bassing inevitably declines
12. Bass hover in deep-water shade
13. 90% of the bass are caught by 10% of the anglers.
14. 90% of the bass are behind shoreline bassers
15. Bass are homebodies
16. Old Lunkers are loners
17. Bass fear and avoid human smells, particularly L-serine
18. Sun hurts their eyes, so bass must stay in shade
19. Bass hear anglers talking
20. Bass follow baitfish schools for long distances
21. Baitfish are blown to downwind shores
22. Bass can't remember anything for more than about 15 minutes


The 22 statements involve myths about bass, which, in my opinion, make them all false. Each statement is either totally wrong or misleading enough to conceal the real truth. In many cases, anglers could reject these myths simply by referring to their own fishing experiences. I have covered many of these questions in various threads and articles on the BFHPs, so in effect this may be "teaching" to the choir.
Now let's look at each statement in detail to see what's wrong IMO.

1. Do Bass Prefer 72o F water? This is the most persistent, most repeated, most misleading myth in bass literature. Numerous scientific tests show that bass, given a choice of temperature with no other conflicting options, choose to live in water between about 76o F and 86o F, and tolerate temperatures up to 95o F.
Black bass require about 15 days to fully digest a small fish in 45 degree water, but can digest the same food in a day at 76-86 degrees F. They also swim faster, grow faster, and catch more prey in water in this temperature range. That's why they select (prefer) it if given a clear choice.
Smallmouth, largemouth, spotted, Guadalupe and the other minor black bass species all apparently have similar metabolisms and temperature preferences. When any of these are found deeper or cooler it is because smaller mouths, different feeding abilities, clearer water, competition with largemouths, pike, stripers, etc. or the absence of adequate prey supplies or warm water force them away from optimum temperatures. Bass in typical waters easily modify temperature needs as necessary to find food within a range of about 60-95o F.

2. Are bass most active in 72o F water? Spring and Fall traditionally provide the easiest (best?) bassing. Then, bass seem most active. Most bassing lakes routinely pass through 72o F in each season, so many anglers have given temperature the credit. But the season and condition then, not the specific temperature, create the activity
SPRING -- Bass have used up their reserves of fat over the winter. They are hungry and need maximum food before, during, and immediately following the spawn. But few small prey are readily available. Preyfish have yet to spawn and most of the easy-to-catch ones have already been eaten. The result is that feeding bass must remain active for longer periods to get enough food. Only 20-40% usually have food in their stomachs. Longer active periods mean they are more likely to encounter an angler and be hooked.
SUMMER -- Now prey are abundant and of catchable and edible sizes. Feeding is easier and faster. 50-70% contain food even though digestion takes less than a day. Bass are very active when feeding, but harder to catch throughout a day because they are inactive more of the time. In addition, light and water clarity tend to limit shallow-water feeding to dawn, dusk, and nighttime making it harder for some bass anglers to locate fish.
FALL –––– Increased rain, inflows, nutrients, and murkier water combine with a reduced prey supply to change the bass environment. The small, easy-to-catch preyfish are mostly eaten or have grown to faster, more-elusive sizes. Once again, only 20-40% of the bass have food in their stomachs and bass are active for longer periods and more likely to feed in shallow while anglers are there.
These apparent shifts in "activity," a better word is catchability, make it seem bass are more active at 72o F, but increased catchability is really a response to seasonal factors rather than just temperature.

3. Do bass go deep in summer to avoid warm water? When bass go deep in summer, they do so for three reasons: (1.) they are returning to their home ranges, (2.) they seek better light and visibility conditions for predation, or (3.) they are following preyfish that move deeper to find more zooplankton.
Low light favors predators. Bright light favors prey. It's hard to sneak up on something that sees you more clearly. In many lakes and reservoirs, water clears in mid-summer. Shallow fish hunt mainly when light is dim or dark. Bass have less reason to swim up a few feet when they feed in summer.
We've all experienced catching bass in the hottest part of August within inches of the surface in murky water. Obviously, water clarity, not temperature, determines bass depth. Power-plant lakes, with surface temps over 90o F often have surface feeders if and when abundant prey stay near the top.
Avoiding warmth isn't a big factor with bass, They will even swim briefly into water hot enough to cook them if necessary to easily catch prey.

4. Does warm water hold too little oxygen for bass? This idea may not be a myth yet, but it continues to be promoted by some pro-anglers so may become one. In fact, 95o F water still holds 7 ppm dissolved oxygen. And bass show no ill effects in 5 ppm and don't move away until oxygen drops below 3 ppm.
Moreover, oxygen gets into water at the surface and from vegetation that needs to be near the surface to get light. If low oxygen is a problem at the surface, conditions are usually worse deeper. Bass usually don't go deep to get more oxygen.

5. Are bass irresistible, voracious predators that kill prey for fun? Writers like to glorify and make bass tough and challenging. But bass merely typical predators. They catch food when they can. Often, as noted earlier, they go without eating. Prey are good at eluding them, and life isn't easy.
If food is plentiful and easy to catch, bass get fat and chunky but still 30% to 50% go a day or more without food, depending upon season. Some miss meals. Bass are not consummate eating machines. There meals are not guaranteed. As a result the use life strategies that conserve energy, usually actively feeding only at times when they are likely to be successful. They wait in inactive status until feeding chances are good.
In rare times when prey are overly abundant and vulnerable, bass may seem to gorge, but it's likely only because they have evolved no mechanism to tell them they're full and turn off the feeding urge as soon as they are full. Creatures only develop instinctive behaviors when circumstances are routine. Too much food is rare for bass.

6. Do bass seek places with optimum temperature, pH, oxygen conditions and maximum numbers of prey? I've covered this in a BFHP article. People selling meters, gauges, and gadgets like to make it seem that bass can be found by locating some ideal or "preferred" set of conditions. And sometimes they can be.
But there is no evidence bass are psychic. They only know what they have experienced and can remember. They have no way of knowing that things are better somewhere else unless they go there. Wandering fish may stop if they encounter better conditions, but most bass don't go looking for better conditions until or unless things go sour where they are.
Bass move when conditions go out of tolerance: the pH becomes too acid, oxygen drops below 3 ppm, water warms over 95o F, or so few prey remain in their local area that the bass are starving. Bass stop searching as soon as condition meet their minimum requirements. It's part of their need to conserve energy. If they didn't do this, they'd move continuously, always searching for someplace better.
Optimum conditions concentrate bass already in that area that encounter the conditions during normal local movements. Shad and fresh water inflows only attract fish already nearby. Bass at the dam stay near the dam, unless they are starving.
Oxygen, pH, light, and other meters may be useful to identify conditions too extreme to let bass stay in an area, but they usually won't find fish for you.
However, a wall of bad conditions concentrates fish by blocking movement and forcing bass away from poor conditions. Thus water clarity-clines, bad-pH clines, and thermoclines can sometimes concentrate local fish.

7. Do bass routinely move from deep water sanctuaries to the shallows to feed? Tracking and diving studies have repeatedly shown bass tend to stay at the same depth hour after hour and day after day. Moreover, some bass are found at almost all habitable depths at the same time.
Movements are basically horizontal, not vertical. Bass do make small up and down depth shifts and will dash briefly upward for several feet to attack prey. but changing pressure in the gas bladder prevents daily movement from 15 feet or more to the shallows and back. Bass stop vertical movements short of the point they feel pain or lose control of their buoyancy.
A bass at 10 feet can feed continuously at and near the surface. A bass at twenty feet can only dash up and back to the surface, while bass deeper than about 20 feet can't move to and stay near the surface without bladder problems.
When some bass are caught in the 5-10 foot range and later more are taken at a depth of 30 feet, it is more likely that two groups of bass have been located than that one group has shifted depth. Bass migrations from deep water to shallows and back are seasonal, not daily, events.

8. Are Bass "Ambush" Predators? The word ambush is used to describe bass feeding to the exclusion of most other terms in almost every fishing magazine and TV show. Nevertheless, ambush is a poor description of the way active bass feed. Bass move when they feed actively. They don't hide and wait for prey. You can see this for yourself over and over again in most underwater bass videos.
Scientists (Dr. Edmund Hobson and others) describe five different tactics used by predator fish and provide examples:
1. Ambush –––– sculpin, halibut
2. Stalking –––– barracuda
3. Habituation –––– Grouper
4. Run-down –––– Tuna
5. Generalist (use all tactics as appropriate) -- pike and black bass

Bass best match the GENERALIST CATEGORY, bass bodies and colors are designed to hunt by moving in search of prey and are poorly designed to ambush. The are not camouflaged in great detail, don't look like vegetation or the bottom, and are good swimmers (unlike true ambush specialists -halibut, anglerfish, or sculpin).
Bass in large active schools or aggregations use the run-down tactic. Smaller groups move in stops and starts along or under cover edges, actively stalking, flushing, and running-down prey. Neutral bass suspend or slowly drift about in the open near concentration of preyfish, habituating the prey to their presence until one carelessly lets the bass get too close. Finally, inactive, digesting bass hover or suspend in cave-like cover or under cover looking out into open area. cover feeding on prey that blunder too close. This is the only time bass actually my be considered to use ambush tactics.
Several studies have shown bass inside cover are ineffective hunters. Cover gets in their way, shortens their strike range, and hides targets. If forced by inescapable, thick cover to hunt using only the ambush tactic, most bass would starve to death. Cover is called "cover" because it is a good place for preyfish to hide and escape from larger fish like bass.
The belief that bass ambush confuses the issue. Feeding bass move back and forth from cover item to cover item, pausing briefly and moving on. Think of times you've anchored, caught a few, then none, later a few more, etc. The idea that bass moved in and out is more logical explanation than that they stayed in place and turned on and off.

9. Do bass use only their lateral lines to feed in the dark? This idea is a wrong conclusion drawn from the Miller Janzow study. But it has been repeated until it gained myth status. The study actually proved bass were ineffective feeders using only their lateral lines.
They can do so, but it isn't easy. In the test tank, hooded juvenile bass that could not see, trapped minnows in the square tank corners where the preyfish vibrated vigorously. Yet, the hooded bass still missed several times before they got the prey into their mouths.
Preyfish also have lateral lines. In open water, prey would sense or see the approaching bass and evade.
Bass eyes see adequately in low light. They aim visually at night. The lateral line is just an aid to getting close enough to see targets.

10. Do water weeds provide cool shade? Weeds provide shade, true, but its not particularly cool. Weeds collect the sun's heat the same way a dark surface collects heat. Plants appear green because the chlorophyll in them absorbs most of the warmest red and orange light rays. This heat is then passed to the water around the weeds. Unless currents wash away the accumulated heat, water under shallow weed beds is often several degrees warmer that water at similar depths away from the beds.
Moreover, the value of shade underwater is exaggerated. The warm parts of the suns rays are absorbed within the top few inches of water. Bass a few feet down feel less sun warming than you can in a clear swimming pool. Stained water absorbs solar heat faster than clear water, and. 90% of the sun's heat is gone below 3 feet of pure water (45% in top 1½ ft.)

11. Does reservoir bassing inevitably decline? Yes and no. The super-large bass population created when reservoirs are new (or refilled) inevitably declines to a lower level as other species claim a share of the food and habitat. But decline to a ruined bass fishery isn't inevitable. Silt and rotting habitat decrease a reservoirs capacity to hold bass. But silt can be stopped before it enters reservoirs and lost wood habitat can be replaced by artificial reefs or vegetation. The most important thing is to prevent overharvest of bass before it occurs.

12. Do bass hover in deep-water shade? There is no shade in deep water, except in caves. Direct sunlight scatters as it penetrates water. Eventually as much is going up and sidewise as is going down. The effect on shadows is the same as that of a heavy overcast at the surface. Shadows disappear as you go deeper.

13. Are 90% of the bass caught by 10% of the anglers? Perhaps this oversimplification was true once, when only a few people knew how to bass fish effectively. It is not true now. I've collected statistics on various TX bass club. The top 10 usually do outfish other members, and newbies often go fishless. The top six of a typical TX club likely catches between 30 and 40 % of the total catch, the top 10 brings that share up to about 60%, with all of the remaining members taking 40%.
90% is a gross exaggeration. That's why C&R by the best anglers isn't enough. The average anglers who don't practice C&R can keep enough of bass to fish down a fishery.

14. Are 90% of the bass behind shoreline anglers? This statement is possibly true for new reservoirs with capacity bass populations. Excess bass are forced to marginal deep-water habitats, and without competitive open-water predators like stripers, some bass in new reservoirs can stay deep and thrive. They will remain deep-water fish until fished down, but may not be replaced unless there is another big year class to again force downward migration.
The deep-water excess is rare in many natural lakes, where weeds and shoreline cover abound but the deep areas are relatively cover and structure free. Bass naturally are shallow water creatures.

15. Are bass homebodies? Yes and no. Most tracking and tagging studies show bass tend to stay in relatively small home ranges, often returning to the same pieces of cover day after day.
However, as noted before, they leave unacceptable conditions. They may go deeper in winter if waters drop into the 40s. They also leave to go to spawning grounds, likely to the places they were spawned, if those areas are not within their home range. Otherwise they prefer to stay in place as this conserves energy.
When there are excess bass, however, all good home ranges become occupied. Some extra bass become wanderers. These fish may travel long distances in one direction or back and forth. Bass that acquire wandering habits may continue to wander, even if suitable home base areas become available.

16. Are all lunkers loners? Bass start off as schooling fry, and will remain in small aggregations until they die if possible. We don't see many aggregations of larger bass because most of our lakes don't have enough large bass left. They've all been caught, eaten, or mounted.
When numerous big bass are located, they often are in small groups. Where do those giant stringer reports come from? The bass likely weren't taken from widely separated spots.
To school, bass must find several other fish of nearly identical size. Lunkers are loners only because they can't find others of similar size. Group hunting stalking, flushing is usually more effective than individual movement or habituation.

17. Do bass fear and avoid human smells, particularly L-serine? L-serine has been demonstrated scientifically to cause an avoidance response in salmonid fishes. They have an inherited instinct to avoid the scent of bears and wolves that prey heavily on Salmonids in shallow streams. But, no tests have shown bass react negatively to L-serine or other natural human odors. In-fact, bass may consider human scents a combination of tasty amino-acids. Bass have liked L-serine in some taste tests.
Bass have little evolutionary experience with a sweaty mammalian attackers and thus have had no reason to develop any avoidance instincts. They might, however, individually learn to fear human scents and tastes through exposure to anglers during catch and release experiences.

18. Does the sun hurt the eyes of bass and force them to hide in shade? If you went out to a clear lake today you likely would see some bass cruising in clear water and direct sunlight. Bass don't need eyelids to keep their eyes wet, and move their rods and cones in and out of pigments to adapt to different light levels. Moreover, water itself is a good light filter, which cuts light levels rapidly with depth. Bass, in effect, are constantly wearing the equivalent of sun glasses.
Bass apparently hunt through shaded areas and hold in shade because low light hides them from preyfish, not because light hurts them.

19. Can bass hear anglers talking? Sound travels well in air but five time louder and faster in water. But, sounds generated in air are poorly transferred to water. Talking doesn't created enough underwater noise to bother fish. But banging any hard surface touching the water creates strong underwater noises that alert fish. Fish that have learned to associate the noises of anglers with danger may stop feeding or flee. But, if you routinely fish with someone who is too talkative, you may want to keep this myth alive.

20. Do bass follow baitfish schools across lakes? Bass have only white muscle and cruise relatively slowly, like a trolling motor on low. This speed is much slower than that of cruising stripers that have red muscle that allows faster cruising for long periods. Bass may hover and feed near shad schools that idle into the bass’’’’ home ranges, but bass usually won't follow shad very far if the shad swim at full speed. This is the shad school's escape maneuver. The multiple surface attacks seen as shad make long daily migrations are more likely made by several bass schools than by one following school.

21. Are baitfish "blown" to downwind shores? No way. Baitfish are strong enough to swim against strong river currents. Wind currents are very weak and fairly shallow. If preyfish congregate on windward shores, it is because floating plankton, which can't swim away, is pushed by there by the weak current

22. Do bass remember things more than a few minutes? You bet. That's how they function. They repeat behaviors and form habits. They go back to places where they remember that they caught prey to try again. They return a year later to where they spawned. They can find springs or sanctuaries in hot ponds every summer. They even seem to learn to avoid specific lures and lure colors.
But, bass only learn and remember things of immediate importance to them. They apparently can't learn abstract relationships. They learn to eat things they catch and that taste good. They learn to flee things that lunge at them, or loom near them suddenly. We know this is learning, because they can learn to ignore things that make sudden noises but that are not really threats, like people swimming, stomping, or hammering in marinas.
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