“Match the hatch” is a term that you’ll see thrown around a lot when it comes to bass fishing. What it means is that you should choose a lure or pattern that closely resembles what the bass are naturally feeding on.
In order to effectively do that, you need to have a reasonable understanding of what that is, and because there are so many diverse fisheries in this country, “matching the hatch” can be very seasonally and locational dependent.
To help, we’ve put together a list of the 7 most common bass forage species across the country, where they’re found, how to best imitate them, and what time of the year the bass key on them.
Where: Crayfish are little lobster-like freshwater crustaceans found in pretty much every waterbody across the country. There are over 330 species found in the United States alone – they are especially common in rocky areas and in aquatic vegetation.
When: Crayfish imitators work extremely well in all seasons but are especially deadly during the prespawn period (March – May), when big female bass gorge on them for the minerals their hard shells provide.
Match the hatch: The two best crayfish imitators are crankbaits in reds, browns, and greens, and skirted jigs. Depending on the season and region, crayfish come in various shades of brown, green, red, and even blue. To get a good idea what the crayfish in your area look like, flip over some rocks or take a net full of weeds before you start fishing and choose your color patterns based on what you see.
Where: Bluegills are just one of a host of sunfish species native to almost every waterbody in the country. They are generally deep-bodied, average 5-8 inches in length, and inhabit pretty much any shoreline cover.
When: Like crayfish, there really isn’t a bad time to be fishing a bluegill imitator – as long as you’re doing it in areas the bluegills inhabit. Bass are especially fond of bluegills while they are spawning, which occurs in the month after the bass spawn.
Match the hatch: Look for the telltale “dimples on a golf ball” on the lake bottom to indicate a mass of bluegill beds. Bluegill pattern square bills, green pumpkin vibrating jigs or swim-jigs, and even swimbaits do an excellent job of fooling bluegill-crazy bass.
Where: Shad are silvery, 2 to 12 inches in length, and travel in large schools predominantly in the pelagic areas of most river systems and reservoirs. They are seldom found in natural lakes, and are less common in the north.
When: Again, shad are a predominant food source for bass in many reservoirs and rivers. Peak times that bass feed on shad are the shad spawn (April – May) and in the winter, when they periodically die off en-masse due to plummeting water temperatures.
Match the hatch: Shad pattern minnow baits and crankbaits, white bucktail jigs, soft plastic jerkbaits, and walking topwaters like the Heddon Zara Spook and Yamamoto Tate do an excellent job of drawing strikes from shad chasers. Shad vary tremendously in size, so if you see some flicking around, try to choose baits that are similar sized to maximize your success.
Where: Yellow Perch are the “shad of the north” – in that they are the predominant baitfish in most northern natural lakes. They are typically 3 – 8 inches long, have a cigar shape, and feature a classic green/yellow/orange color pattern.
When: In lakes that have them, yellow perch are a good food source for bass all year long, but bass become especially fond of them from midsummer through the fall, when they form massive schools and roam along the outside edges of deep weeds.
Match the hatch: Like shad, many crankbaits, and minnow baits come in yellow perch patterns. Swimbaits, grubs, and tubes popped along the bottom also make excellent perch imitators. If you suspect the bass in your area are feeding on yellow perch but don’t have any perch imitators, try painting an orange throat and green bars on the side of any shad colored bait – instant perch.
Where: Mayflies are small, winged insects that inhabit most rivers, ponds, and reservoirs. They are known for their spectacular hatches during which millions of larvae hatch over a few days, mate, and die – Cluttering the water with dead insects.
When: Mayfly hatches can occur from April throughout the summer depending on the species. Many species do not hatch every year, and thus hatches are not necessarily predictable.
Match the hatch: Mayfly hatches are notorious for bringing extremely poor fishing. Oftentimes, the bigger the hatch, the poorer the bite will be. The reason for that is that all species of fish gorge on the mayflies to the point where they are no longer feeding on anything else. Don’t get discouraged though, you can still catch bass when they are not feeding, you’ve just got to trigger reaction strikes. To do so, the name of the game is speed. Flipping and pitching with a heavy weight, or burning a crankbait or spinnerbait is a great way to capitalize during a mayfly hatch.
Where: These little web-footed amphibians inhabit all shoreline habitat, but prefer areas of vegetation, like lily pad fields, and marshy areas.
When: A hungry bass will seldom turn down a frog swimming lazily over their heads, but the peak time to capitalize on the frog bite is from midsummer through the early fall, when the frog population is at its seasonal highest and vegetation growth allows them to be most comfortable in the water.
Match the hatch: Obviously, there is a whole segment of the tackle industry dedicated to frog imitation. Both hollow-bodied and soft plastic buzz toads do an excellent job of drawing strikes from Kermit-chasing bass.
Where: Originally from the Caspian Sea, the round goby was introduced as an invasive species to the Great Lakes in the late 1980’s, and it has quickly taken over as the predominant bottom fish species throughout the system, and it has even begun to creep up tributaries into other parts of the Great Lakes watershed.
When: Gobies are a main food source for all Great Lakes game fish species, and can be effectively used from ice-out all the way through the season.
Match the hatch: Because they are bottom feeders, gobies do not have swim bladders and thus cannot swim above the bottom for very long. Primary presentations for mimicking the goby include a drop shot paired to a goby or round headed plastic, a green pumpkin or copper tube jig, and a football jig. Because they don’t have a swim bladder, they are always darting up off the bottom to feed, then falling back down. Rapidly hopping or stroking your bait a foot of the bottom and then letting it fall is a great way to recreate this natural action and can result in some violent strikes.
Using these tips and techniques will help you catch more fish and have more fun the next time you’re on the water!