Bass fishing is often held on a pedestal as non-stop action in the fishing world. Besides something such as bluegill that will bite literally anything at most times during the day, that is mostly true. Bass fishing is usually far more productive and engaging than something such as catfishing or targeting musky.
Unfortunately, despite bass being plentiful across the US and extremely aggressive fish, you will have days when they just refuse to bite. You can have your favorite time-tested lure out there, the weather can be perfect, and all the conditions can be right, and you still just cannot get a bite.
Well, that’s just part of fishing. You’re going to get skunked sometimes, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
However, there are things you can try to get a bass to bite. It’s not always a matter of the fish not being active. Sometimes, you’re just not enticing them with the right presentation. You can also be fishing in a spot where the fish simply are not at for the moment.
We’re going to go over 6 things that you can try when the fish aren’t biting to try to get at least a few catches in before you head home for the day.
1: Change Your Retrieval Pattern
This is a big one, and it’s where fishermen mess up the most. So, you have your bass fishing lures tied on, you know exactly how to retrieve it to get the bass excited, and to your dismay, nothing happens for an hour straight. What’s wrong?
Well, fishermen have a habit of thinking the same thing that worked before will work every time after that. Sometimes, that’s usually true. After all, lures are typically meant to be used a certain way. However, sometimes, the fish just decide they don’t think your normal presentation is very attractive. It’s like having a favorite burger spot that you go to every day and getting the exact same thing. Eventually, you don’t want it.
This happens a lot, and the solution is simple. Just switch up your retrieval pattern a bit.
It’s recommended not to make drastic changes. For example, if you’re using an inline spinner, you probably shouldn’t shift from a straight retrieve at a high speed to just letting it sink to the bottom and sit. It’s not designed to work like that. However, you can change it up a bit by slowing your retrieval down, adding short, sporadic pauses, and making other small adjustments.
Little tweaks can be just enough to turn your bad day into a productive one.
2: Change Your Lures
This is another big problem that usually affects beginners more than it does seasoned pros. Tying on lures is somewhat annoying, and sometimes, you fall into the trap of just wanting to use one lure. That’s a horrible idea unless the fish are actually biting that lure reliably.
Bass like to strike at a lot of different lures, and sometimes, your go-to option just isn’t on the menu. You need to mix things up a bit.
Any time you’re not getting bites, or at least getting a few half-enthusiastic attempts, for a while, you need to switch your lure out and try something new. The change doesn’t even have to be a big one.
Let’s say you’re using a classic trick worm, and you’re using the watermelon seed variety that everyone knows and loves. You’ve been fishing with it for a while, tried different retrievals and spots, and you’re just not getting anything to go for it. Take a minute to string up a red one. Maybe you have some blue ones with metal flakes you have never even opened? Try those. For any number of reasons, just the color of your lure might be throwing off the fish, and they might not be interested.
This can also be a visibility problem. Depending on water clarity and the overcast, some colors are very difficult to see sometimes. This obviously lowers your chances of getting a bass to bite after it.
If changing the color of the lure isn’t working, it’s likely time to try a whole new type of lure. That trick worm that has caught more bass than anything else in your tacklebox might not be on the menu today, and you might want to switch to a jerk bait with a slow retrieval and frequent pops. You might even want to toss a jig out and see if the bass is feeding on the bottom for some reason.
Of course, you don’t want to change your lure every time you cast and don’t get a bite. That would be a complete waste of time. However, we feel a good rule of thumb is that, if you go more than fifteen minutes without any activity, and you’ve tried changing up your retrieval patterns, it’s time to switch lures. Start with a color change, and if that still doesn’t work, switch to a new type of lure entirely on the next attempt.
You can also use your own experience as a fisherman to analyze the water conditions and determine what might be the problem. Maybe a recent storm knocked up a bunch of dirt, and now the water is murky? Try chartreuse lures. They tend to be highly visible in muddy water. You’ll have to rely on your own knowledge or read our other guides to determine what you should try for all the different situations that are possible.
As a bonus tip, we have a way for you to cut back on your time spent tying on lures with this method, too. We know that the main problem people have with switching lures is that it’s time-consuming, and every second spent without a lure in the water is time spent not actually catching anything.
First, pre-tie your most commonly used hard lures and worm hooks to leaders. Instead of fiddling with the hook's eye or the lure's tie-on eye, you can just tie a double-fisherman knot and connect the leader to your line.
If you’re using soft-plastic lures, try to have a large variety of lures that use the same size as worm hooks. If you do, all you have to do is slide the old lure off and pop the new one on. If your box is organized well, this will only take a few seconds, and you don’t have to worry about tying anything until you use a soft-plastic lure that uses a different hook size.
3: Change Your Position in the Water Column
Bass tend to hunt within specific parts of the water column. Sometimes, they’ll swim toward the middle, but they’ll look up to the surface for prey and explode on topwater lures. Other times, they’ll hang around the bottom looking for crawfish and other bottom dwellers.
If you’re fishing on the top while the bass is all eating crawfish, you won’t catch much of anything.
As you fish, if you’re not catching anything, adjust where you’re fishing in the water column. Switch from topwater to bottom jigs and inline spinners. Whatever it is you’re not using, try it. You might not be getting bites because, while the fish are in the area and active, you’re zipping lures over their heads instead of getting them in front of the fish.
Some rigs actually excel at this. For example, Kentucky rigs utilize soft-plastic baits on setups similar to your traditional bobber rig with split shot weights and a hook on the bottom. If you take this route, you can adjust where you’re at in the water column just by sliding the bobber around.
While that isn’t the best way to catch massive bass, and even larger soft-plastic lures will weigh most bobbers down too much, this can be a great way to determine where you should be fishing before you switch to more substantial rigs and target bigger fish. It’s just a lot faster than re-tying new lures for different parts of the column nonstop.
4: Change Your Location
This is another one of those things that tend to affect every fisherman thanks to bad habits forming. So, you love your fishing spot, and you always cast just past a certain stump. It’s always productive; until today.
Yeah, that’s because fish move around, and if you caught everything in the same spot several times before, you got lucky.
Sure, certain spots are more friendly to fish. You can usually find fish under piers or near boat ramps if the boats are particularly busy, but that doesn’t mean they’re always there.
Start your fishing trip by going to your favorite spot, but if nothing bites for a while, and you’ve tried our lure-based tips, get moving. The fish have likely moved around the lake to feed or find better conditions for the day, and you’re more or less dragging a lure through empty water.
You should be moving around fairly frequently, too. This is a big part of bass fishing productively. If you’re not getting bites, try for about 20 minutes, and then move a bit. This is easier for boat fishermen. You can just turn your trolling motor on, slowly creep up to a new spot, and get your lure back in the water. Bank fishermen should try just moving down the bank a bit, and if there are any nearby spots that look good for fishing, go ahead and cast into them. Don’t sit in an unproductive spot all day and expect the situation to magically change.
Even if you’re catching fish you should be moving around. Let’s say you catch five good bass back-to-back, but then you go ten or fifteen minutes without getting so much as a nibble. It’s time to move. The fish did, already.
5: Invest in Sonar
Whether you’re a bank fisherman or just don’t have a boat equipped with sonar, you have options.
Like we said earlier, fish move around. They don’t just sit in one predictable spot. With sonar, you can pinpoint exactly where the fish are and cut out all the searching you have to do otherwise.
How do you do that when you’re not equipped or you’re on the bank, though? Well, you have two options.
First, if you’re in a jon boat or another very simple fishing boat without electronics, you can invest in a third-party mount and attach one of the fancy sonar systems bass boats use to your boat. It’s fairly expensive, but you’ll get some amazing performance benefits added to your otherwise inexpensive boat. So, you get the best of both worlds. Consider the thousands of dollars you saved not buying a big bass boat with all the best bells and whistles and use that to justify the new purchase. You shouldn’t spend more than one grand for a very solid system.
Bank fishermen, or even those of you without electronics built into your boat, can make use of relatively new technology.
Nowadays, you can buy castable sonar units. These are essentially high-tech bobbers that you tie onto your line and cast like any other rig. Then, the “bobber” sends out sonar signals, develops an image of the water and what’s in it, and sends that image to your smartphone.
Most of these units cost about $100, but you do need to have a smartphone to use most of them. Others come with their own phone-like receivers, but they usually cost more.
The problem with these is that you can potentially lose them if you cast into a bunch of trees or your line snaps mid-cast. Luckily, that shouldn’t be a problem for anglers with even minimal experience.
6: Use BassForecast
Not knowing what a fishing spot is like will usually cause you to get skunked unless you’re lucky. If you’re not used to a certain lake, you don’t know where the fish tend to go, what they like to eat, or how they tend to react to different presentations.
BassForecast can help.
The BassForecast app provides in-depth information on every waterway in the US from coast to coast, and it even provides real-time data for weather, barometric pressure, and more. If you’re new to a fishing spot, you can use the BassForecast fishing app to get to know it ahead of time.