The Five Senses of a Bass
Bass find food in five ways or to clarify, using five senses. The information on this can get very in-depth, so here’s my personal spin. Let’s look at each one and factor in how important each is to us as anglers.
Bass are primarily sight feeders. They do not sleep, they do not stop. Like a running machine, they need to refuel as they burn energy swimming. When they are hungry, they look for food with sight first. The clearer the water, the easier it is to find food, even from a distance. A bass will set up ambush points, using objects and current to attack its prey. They still rely on sight as the water gets stained or even dirty, but this is when they turn to additional senses.
The Lateral Line
Running along each side of the bass is a sensory area called the Lateral Line. The lateral line picks up the slightest of vibrations out of the line of sight. When the water becomes stained or muddy, the bass can not see clearly and therefore, relies on nearby vibrations to find food. After the vibration is detected, the bass can turn and see its target and decide to ambush or let it pass.
Yes, bass do hear sound through a small opening and the use of an inner ear. All creatures, even ones we can not hear give off sound. Crayfish clicking on rocks, bait fish feeding, splashing of creatures swimming on the surface of the water and so on. Sound travels much faster under water than in the air. Normally, bass will hear a noise and move to locate the sound so that, yet again, their sight can help them identify food or danger.
Now, some will argue that smell is more important than taste. I disagree. When I present an offering to a bass, I ask myself, what would keep a fish holding on longer?
Taste. If my bait has a neutral or live taste, the bass will keep it in their mouth for a few seconds longer so that I may get a good feel and a solid hook set. When it comes to taste, I recommend using realistic offerings. Match the hatch comes into play. If they are feeding on shad, and your bait tastes like a blue herring, the bass may strike and realize the error of its ways and release your bait leaving you heart broken. The taste of the bait is something every angler needs to consider.
Ok bass fishing fans, here is the big one. Yes, a fish can smell but it is the last sense they will be using. When I think of smell, I think of negative odors that are present in everything we do to go fishing. Think for a minute. You stop at the gas station and fill up, you touch the gas pump. You put oil in the boat and use a rag to wipe the overflow (yes we all have that happen). You have that morning cigarette on your way to the ramp. Everything you touch has a negative odor associated with it. As we touch our lures, we pass that odor on to the lures.
To eliminate this, there are products on the market to use similar to a hand sanitizer type of bottle. Instead of using that, I usually try to keep my hands washed and clean as I head to the boat ramp. Eliminating everyday odors that we are accustomed to is key when trying to trick those finicky bass.
Factor in How to Take Advantage of These Senses
To take taste and smell, which are the last two senses a bass uses and put them out of my worries, I use lots of fish scent or attractants. For me, the formulas only do one thing, and that is why I use them. Hide any negative odors, including rubber or plastic smells and taste from manufacturing. Most any brand will work, but out of all I have used, I found KicknBass Fish Attractants to be the strongest for my purposes.
Next trip out, as you look over the water, consider the structure and other factors to locate the bass, then take time to think about the senses the bass will be using to find his food. Look for the cover or ambush point that he will be using, and catch’em!
As a final note, I would like to say to all those reading this Back to Basics series, Thank you. My goal is to be as simple and basic as possible to find fish. Also, I have to remind all of us to enjoy fishing for what it is, an escape and a passion.