The optimal depth for fishing for bass is between 10 and 20 feet, depending on the time of year. In summer it is 20 feet, spring is 10-15 feet, fall is less than 10 feet, and winter is 15 feet. Bass are constantly on the move throughout the year, and knowing what depth to target them is key to being a successful angler.
In this article, we’ll answer why bass are found at certain depths in specific seasons and where you can expect to find them at any given time of the year.
This article is part of my Complete Guide to Bass Fishing series that you might be interested in.
Table of Contents
Why Bass Change Depth
The biggest factor in where you can expect largemouth bass to be located in the water column is usually the water temperature. This will obviously fluctuate throughout the year, and bass constantly adapt to the rising or falling temperature. They do this in an effort to remain more comfortable when conditions become less than desirable for them.
Unlike many other freshwater game fish species in North America, the depth at which bass can be found throughout the year will vary greatly. Species like crappie or catfish will rarely venture into shallow water that’s less than 5 feet in depth unless they are spawning or hunting prey at night. Bass, on the other hand, might move from deep water to shallow in less than 24 hours in some cases.
To answer the question “why bass change depth,” you’ll need to understand a bass’ relationship to oxygen and water temperature. In many cases, bass are very similar to humans regarding how they react to uncomfortable conditions. When the water temperature becomes extremely cold or hot, bass will go into deeper water to escape these conditions.
Oxygen Content and Water Temperature
Fish survive by breathing the extra oxygen content that’s in the water. Water consists of two parts hydrogen for each one part oxygen. Oxygen is pushed into the water when high barometric pressure is present and when the water’s surface is exposed to oxygen. This is why water that has more waves and movement is often more oxygen-rich and it’s also why some species of fish are found near the surface and others might be found farther towards the bottom.
Cold water can hold more oxygen than warm water, which is partially why bass are often found in deeper sections of lakes and reservoirs where the water is cooler. Certain plants and vegetation that grow in the shallow regions of lakes and rivers also help to provide extra oxygen for fish to breathe.
When the water temperature in some lakes warms to a certain degree, these lakes develop what’s known as a thermocline. This thermocline is a distinct line that divides cold water from warm and is usually found about 10 or 15 feet below the surface. There is usually high oxygen content above the thermocline during the warm spring and summer months.
When it comes to bass fishing, you should focus on targeting fish above the thermocline. There might be a handful of bass that can be found below the thermocline, but virtually all bass will be at or above this level from spring through the summer and fall. In the following sections, we’ll cover the basics of where you can expect fish to be during each season to better answer the question, “how deep should I fish for bass?”
As Old Man Winter loosens his grip and warm temperatures heat the water, bass will begin their annual migration upward toward shallow water. They do this in preparation for the spawn and early spring is when you might expect to find bass in both deep and moderately shallow water. Bass might sometimes go back and forth between deep and shallow water depending on cold weather systems moving through and pushing them back down.
In the spring, I usually try to target bass in about 10 to 15 feet of water in most cases. This will differ depending on the lake you’re fishing, but I generally expect to catch bass in this part of the water column during the spring by using lipless crankbaits, square-bill crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and virtually any lure that will reach this depth and remain there during my retrieve.
When the spawn comes around, bass will go up into the shallows and will create their beds in roughly 4 feet of water or less. It’s important to try and catch bass before they go on bed as they will stop feeding once they are in spawning mode and will remain locked on their bed, guarding their eggs and fry for days or weeks. A jerkbait is best to catch bass in the middle of the spring season as you can usually get bites from bass that are between 6 to 12 feet of water.
The summer season is tricky for bass anglers as the fish they target might be in very shallow water or depths of 20 feet below the surface. If you understand bass behavior during the warmest months of the year, you’ll be better equipped for success during this time. When the water temperature passes the 70-degree mark, you can generally expect bass to stay in deeper recesses of lakes to avoid the hot summer heat.
Bass are very much like humans when it comes to summer heat. They will seek out any type of cover or structure to avoid the blinding UV rays of the sun, but will also do this to remain in cooler, more comfortable water during the hottest times of the day. You can catch bass in the early morning and late evening in water less than 10 feet deep in most lakes. However, when the temperature climbs past 85 degrees outside, it’s time to use lures and bait that target bass in deep water.
My summer fishing strategy involves the use of a wide range of topwater lures, as well as soft plastics like weighted hooks and a Zoom Super Fluke to target bass at the depth where I expect them to be. In the hottest months of June, July and August, you can expect bass to start moving down into deep water by 10 a.m. and they often won’t return until about 7 p.m. when the sun begins to set. You can usually catch bass in shallow water throughout the night, but the best time for night fishing is usually from sunset until 1 a.m.
Once the temperatures drop in the fall season, bass will be looking to pack on much-needed weight in preparation for a long, cold winter ahead. They often do this by targeting schools of shad and other types of bait fish during the fall. Once the water temperature cools to roughly 55 degrees Fahrenheit, you can expect the bass to start feeding voraciously in open water and around primary and secondary points.
During the fall, you can expect lake turnover to occur in most bodies of water where bass thrive. Lake turnover happens when the warm water near the surface begins to cool, making it denser. As it becomes more dense, this newly-cooled water will sink down to the bottom, pushing the deep water up towards the surface. This massive shift is usually called a lake ‘turning over.’
Before the turn over, bass will be found in most shallow areas of less than 10 feet in depth. I like to use a chatterbait or spinnerbait to target bass in the shallows during the early fall season. Crankbaits and jerkbaits will also work very well during this time. Focus on fishing in less than 10 feet of water until the turnover happens and the bite shuts down in the shallows.
Once the turn over happens, you can expect bass to be tight-lipped and they will usually remain near cover until the water’s oxygen levels settle. You can often target bass near vegetation as this will provide them with a source of oxygen and cover during the fall.
The winter is by far the toughest season for bass fishing. The coldest months of the year are not as much of a code that anglers must crack, but a frustrating time in which bass are tucked away, in the deeper recesses of the lake. It’s hard to catch bass in the winter, but it’s important to remember that they still must eat to survive. Catching bass in the winter involves a solid understanding of the lake’s terrain.
Most bass will be staging at or near the bottom during winter. You shouldn’t expect bass to venture up more than 10 or 15 feet in depth, so focus your efforts on targeting bass in water that’s at least 15 feet or more. I usually try to find areas where ledges or shelves join deep water to moderately shallow water, anywhere from 10 to 15 feet in depth on the most shallow point.
Some of the best lures to use in these deep-water abodes are jigs, spoons, lipless cranks, and a range of different soft plastics that are rigged to fall to less than 15 feet deep. Be sure to slow your retrieve down to a crawl during the winter as bass will be very sluggish in their movements and not willing to chase down their prey as they would during the warmer season.
Every lake is different and a strategy that works in one body of water might not work in another. Based on the information we’ve provided in this article, you should have a good basic understanding of how to approach bass fishing during each season of the year. The best way to understand how deep you should fish for bass is to spend time on the water in every season and develop your own knowledge in this area.