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What Do Bass Eat?

All smallmouth bass are opportunistic feeders. This means that they will eat – or at least try to eat – almost anything that moves in the water or on the surface. When a grouper is in the mood for food, it will aggressively hunt and attack minnows, allis shad, bluegill, grouper, trout and even other groupers, as well as crabs, aquatic insects, land insects, snakes, lizards, frogs, mice, and the odd duckling. A bass will happily attempt to devour meals that are the same size or even larger than itself. But what determines all of this is the “mood” the bass has to feed? As an angler, on your way to answering what do bass eat, you must first address this question.

When bass eats and why

Of course, perch have to eat to survive. But because they are cold-blooded, there are times when they need to feed aggressively and times when they need to barely eat, and it all depends on water temperature and metabolism. In colder water, a bass’ metabolism and other systems slow down. They accelerate in warmer water. This generally means bass need more energy and will eat more in warmer water and less in colder water.

In particular, perch are more active and ready to hunt bait when water temperatures are between 60 and 80 degrees. This is the window when covering the water with moving baits like spinnerbaits and buzzbaits works well. If the water temperatures are below 60 degrees, you may need to slow down your presentation by crawling a wobbler, spinnerbait or jig. This is especially the case when water temperatures drop below 52 degrees.

Photo of bass eating bait fish
In general, perch eat more aggressively as the water temperature increases. Adobe Stock

When surface water temps are hotter than 80 degrees the bass will either seek shelter in the shade where they can be caught on crazy rigs and hollow bodied frogs or they will move to deep water where water temps are far cooler and much more likely in the ideal Range from 60 to 80 degrees. Because of this, the bass are more active and you can return to moving baits like deep crankbaits and swimbaits while mixing in worms and jigs with Texas rigging.

Perch are also very sensitive to changes in air pressure. As a result, they often eat less in high-pressure situations and more heavily in times of low air pressure, such as at the leading edge of a cold front. So water temperature and barometric pressure are two of the main factors that determine when and why perch feed, or as many anglers colloquially call it when perch want to feed. Once you understand that, you can ask yourself, “What do bass eat?” – or more importantly, “What is the bass I’m fishing for eating?”

What do bass eat most often?

Again, perch are opportunistic feeders and will eat almost anything that gets in their way, even other perch when conditions are optimal. For example, female bass fresh from the spawning grounds often attack and eat their young (known as juveniles). The male bass, often referred to as the ‘brood guard’ during this time, will actually attempt to get between the small school of juveniles to drive away the hungry mother.

Photo showing what bass will eat
Evidence that when bass are feeding aggressively, they will attempt to eat things the same size or larger than themselves. Shaye Baker

This cannibalistic behavior seems a little barbaric, but it shows how opportunistic bass really are when it comes to feeding. If they have a meal ahead of them and they are hungry, beware. This means that the predominant food in a fishing area is likely to be what bass in that area feed on the most. Here is a short list of their favorites and the best bass baits and lures to mimic them with:


Photo of shad bait
The Berkley Flicker Shad Shallow Crankbait is just one of many lures designed to mimic baitfish. Bass pro shops

These included various minnows, allice shad, porpoises, squid, gobies, porpoises and others, some of which are more common in different parts of the country. You can mimic them with live baits, crank baits, jerkbaits and various soft plastic baits.

sunfish and crappies

Photo of Sunfish Swimbait for what bass eat
LiveTarget’s Sunfish Swimbait looks very similar to the original. Bass pro shops

Although small bass will readily attack a bluegill or crappie when aggressively feeding, these feeder species are rightly associated with trophy bass. A live bream is great big bass bait (if legal; check the regulations), but there are also many artificial baits, including crank baits, swim baits and spinner baits designed to mimic these.


Photo of a crab bait
The YUM CrawBug is one of the most realistic crab baits on the market. Bass pro shops

The perch eat crabs all year round, but this forage species is particularly vulnerable in the spring when they breed. A live crab can be deadly bait, but again there are many great artificial options, particularly crank baits and creature baits.


Photo of a frog bait
The LunkerHunt Lunker Frog.

Most bass anglers are aware that bass will smash a frog if given the chance – and that frog fishing is some of the most entertaining topwater action of the year. Again, live bait can certainly work, but there are so many great hollow bodied and soft plastic imitation frogs on the market that there’s almost no reason to hook up a live bait.

What perch eat varies from region to region

If you are a serious bass angler you need to know what types of bait are available specifically in your area. As mentioned above, bluegills and gourami are more commonly eaten by perch in the southern fisheries, while gobies, perch and smelt are the more typical diet in the north. Although there are some types of food that are more likely to be found on shorelines, such as crab and other saltwater species of small prey found in brackish water, the variance in the prey that bass feed on usually changes more drastically when coming from the south south goes north as east goes west.

This is because temperatures and other conditions suitable for the survival of these baitfish and other food sources vary more from north to south. So a bass in South Florida will hunt a goldshimmer, and a smallmouth bass in one of the Great Lakes will feed on gobies simply because one of these fish can thrive in one environment while the other is better suited to the other.

More importantly, you must be able to answer the question, “What do bass eat?” Not just regionally, but for the specific body of water you are fishing in. If your lake has a rocky bottom teeming with crabs, or one that’s covered in lily pads and teeming with frogs and dragonflies, you’ll probably want to mimic that feed when choosing and presenting your bait.

How to choose baits based on the diet of the perch

Photo showing what bass eat
A perch with a mouthful of allis shad took a bait designed to imitate the feed. Shaye Baker

When trying to find the best bass baits for a specific fishing area or lake, it’s best to do a little research. For example, with a quick internet search you can determine that a lake is full of gouramis and then select a jerkbait, lipless crank bait or spinnerbait to try to mimic the prey the perch is going for or to adjust the hatch .

Note, however, that this may also depend on the time of year. You may find that in a summer blueback herring fishing area you can target herring-related bass with topwater baits. But in winter, the perch may feed more on flat crabs as the herring migrate offshore in a nomadic manner. This type of shift can even occur on the same day depending on the leg of a large fishery, with bass further down the lake feeding on spawning bluegills and bass further up the creek feeding mainly on allice shad and crayfish.

Finally, you should always remember that bass are opportunistic feeders who will try to eat anything that comes their way when they feel like eating. This mood typically depends on short-term or long-term weather conditions. This determines the level of aggressiveness of the fish, but whatever prey is present determines what they eat.

In a fishery full of allis shad, use bait that mimics the allis shad. If you are in an area where bluegill species are widespread, make a selection based on this knowledge. If gobies are the main food source, you get the point, and so on. The key is not to overcomplicate things. Choose the bait that best mimics the prey that the perch sees most often. In most cases, this is the best approach.

See also: Bowfin vs Snakehead: How to ID, Hook, and Land Both Overlooked Species.

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