When to Hit the Water? Your Guide to the Bass Fishing Season

by | Published on: May 1, 2024 | Frequently Asked Questions

While every angler would love to have that one secret lure or spot that guarantees fish, the fact is that there are no ‘easy outs’ in bass fishing.

To be a successful bass angler, you must also be part biologist. Hundreds of environmental factors affect where bass are, their activity levels, and what they eat in a given moment. Yet, the time of year remains the most influential factor on bass behavior.

Official Bass Fishing Seasons

When Does Bass Fishing Season Start?

Bass must consume calories throughout the year and therefore can be caught year-round. Most anglers agree, though, that spring marks the beginning of the bass fishing season – as this is when the fish emerge from their winter dormancy.

Official fishing seasons are governed by the state fish and game or DNR agencies. For black bass fishing specifically, while most US states permit it throughout the year, there are exceptions (see the table below). To complicate things further, many private and individual waterways have their own rules that set out when fishing is allowed. Therefore, it’s crucial to review both your local state regulations and the specific guidelines for the body of water you intend to fish, before heading out.

StateOfficial Black Bass Fishing SeasonSource
AlabamaOpen Seasonhttps://www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater-fishing-creel-and-size-limits
AlaskaN/ABass are not native to Alaska, and it is illegal to transport live fish anywhere in the state.
ArizonaOpen Seasonhttps://azgfd-portal-wordpress-pantheon.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/archive/2023-24-Fishing-Regulations_230203.pdf
ArkansasOpen Seasonhttps://www.agfc.com/en/fishing/general-fishing-regulations/
CaliforniaOpen Seasonhttps://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Inland#freshwaterfishing
ColoradoOpen Seasonhttps://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/FishingSeasonDatesFees.aspx
ConnecticutOpen Seasonhttps://portal.ct.gov/-/media/DEEP/fishing/anglers_guide/2023-Fishing-Pocket-Guide.pdf
DelawareOpen Seasonhttps://www.eregulations.com/delaware/fishing/non-tidal-season-size-creel-limits
FloridaOpen Seasonhttps://myfwc.com/media/20984/fwregulations.pdf
GeorgiaOpen Seasonhttps://www.eregulations.com/assets/docs/guides/23GAFW.pdf
HawaiiOpen Seasonhttps://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dar/files/2022/06/fishing_regs_Jul_2022.pdf
IdahoOpen Seasonhttps://idfg.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/seasons-rules-fish-2022-2024.pdf
IllinoisOpen Seasonhttps://www.ifishillinois.org/regulations/FishingDigest.pdf
IndianaOpen Seasonhttps://www.eregulations.com/assets/docs/resources/IN/23INFW_LR4.pdf
IowaOpen Seasonhttps://www.iowadnr.gov/Portals/idnr/uploads/fish/regs_fish2024.pdf
KansasOpen Seasonhttps://ksoutdoors.com/Fishing/Fishing-Regulations
KentuckyOpen Seasonhttps://fw.ky.gov/Fish/Pages/Recreational-Fishing.aspx
LouisianaOpen Seasonhttps://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/seasons-and-regulations
MaineVariable: Certain regions are only open April 1st – September 30thhttps://www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing-boating/fishing/laws-rules/statewide-laws.html
MarylandOpen Seasonhttps://www.eregulations.com/maryland/fishing/freshwater-seasons-sizes-limits
MassachusettsOpen Seasonhttps://www.mass.gov/info-details/freshwater-fishing-regulations
MichiganOpen Seasonhttps://www.michigan.gov/dnr/-/media/Project/Websites/dnr/Documents/LED/digests/2023_fishing_guide.pdf?rev=a30122a38b5743f68231e58a32ad9c6b
MinnesotaMay 13th – February 25thhttps://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/seasons.html
MississippiOpen Seasonhttps://www.mdwfp.com/law-enforcement/fishing-rules-regs/
MissouriOpen Seasonhttps://mdc.mo.gov/fishing/seasons
MontanaMostly Open Season.

Certain regions are only open from the third Saturday in May – November 30
NebraskaOpen Seasonhttp://digital.outdoornebraska.gov/i/1489243-fishing-guide-2023-web/11
NevadaOpen Seasonhttps://www.ndow.org/rules-regulations/
New HampshireRivers and Streams: January 1 - October 15

Trout Ponds: 4th Saturday in April - October 15

All other waters: Open Season
New JerseyOpen Seasonhttps://dep.nj.gov/wp-content/uploads/njfw/digest-freshwater-fishing-2023-size-season-creel-limits.pdf
New MexicoOpen Seasonhttps://www.eregulations.com/newmexico/fishing/warm-water-regulations
New YorkOpen Seasonhttps://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/124969.html
North CarolinaOpen Seasonhttps://www.ncwildlife.org/Fishing/Black-Bass-in-North-Carolina
North DakotaOpen Seasonhttps://gf.nd.gov/fishing/regulations-guide/2022-24
OhioMany water-specific regulations. Refer to source.https://www.eregulations.com/ohio/fishing/fishing-regulations
OklahomaOpen Seasonhttps://www.wildlifedepartment.com/fishing/regs
OregonOpen Seasonhttps://www.eregulations.com/assets/docs/guides/23ORFW.pdf
PennsylvaniaOpen Seasonhttps://www.fishandboat.com/Fishing/Regulations/Pages/default.aspx
Rhode IslandOpen Seasonhttps://dem.ri.gov/natural-resources-bureau/fish-wildlife/rules-regulations/freshwater-sizes-and-limits
South CarolinaOpen Seasonhttps://www.dnr.sc.gov/regs/fishing.html
South DakotaOpen Seasonhttps://gfp.sd.gov/userdocs/docs/2023fishinghandbook_online.pdf
TennesseeOpen Seasonhttps://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/twra/documents/guide/Fishing-Guide.pdf
TexasOpen Seasonhttps://tpwd.texas.gov/regulations/outdoor-annual/fishing/
UtahOpen Seasonhttps://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks/2022_fishing_guidebook.pdf
VermontOpen Seasonhttps://vtfishandwildlife.com/fish/fishing-regulations/fishing-regulations-simplification/2022-fishing-regulations-faqs
VirginiaOpen Seasonhttps://dwr.virginia.gov/fishing/regulations/general/
WashingtonOpen Seasonhttps://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations
West VirginiaOpen Seasonhttps://wvdnr.gov/fishing/fishing-regulations/
WisconsinRefer to table in sourcehttps://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/Fishing/seasons/bass.html
WyomingOpen Seasonhttps://wgfd.wyo.gov/Regulations/Fish/Fishing-Regulation
The information in the table above is accurate as of May 2024 and relates only to catch and release, hook and line black bass fishing in public waters across different states. Anglers are responsible for verifying the regulations of the specific body of water they are fishing, especially in waters with shared state borders, private waters, special regions, or during tournaments. Bag lengths, limits, and regulations for other fishing practices or commercial fishing vary widely and should be reviewed separately through the provided reference or relevant authorities.

What About Striped Bass?

Striped bass see much more varied regulations and tightly defined seasons. While many states have no closed season for striped bass, others enact catch-and-release seasons or total bans on targeting them during certain times of the year. If you are angling for striped bass along the Atlantic Coast, consult local regulations for the area you will be fishing. Oftentimes, seasons will vary down to specific tributaries.

For a look at the best time to fish for striped bass specifically, check out our dedicated guide!

Water Temperature & Bass Activity

The best water temperature for bass fishing is generally between 50 and 80 degrees. Within this temperature range, bass tend to be highly active and engage in normal and predictable feeding patterns. This means they can be effectively targeted, best done by adhering to other seasonal trends.

Sluggish Behavior

Below 50 degrees, the fish’s metabolism decelerates to conserve energy. In such temperatures, bass minimize their movement as they wait for warmer conditions. This results in the characteristically sluggish behavior often seen during winter.

On the other end of the spectrum, 85 degrees marks the rough upper threshold of what bass can tolerate. Warm water holds less oxygen, affecting bass behavior and again making them sluggish and less likely to feed. In these high temperatures, bass seek out cooler water, typically found in deep areas.

A river smallmouth caught in the high temperatures of summer

While a valuable rule of thumb, water temperatures aren’t the only factor to consider, and there are notable exceptions. Bass are complex creatures that are sensitive to sunlight and highly responsive to their broader environment.

Temperatures are helpful but vary wildly based on the weather and time of year. An unseasonably warm spell in late winter won’t pull bass into summer patterns, just as a spontaneous cold front won’t return them to their winter haunts.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass caught back-to-back during an unseasonably late snowfall

Seasonal Bass Fishing

Given that both water temperature and hours of sunlight significantly influence bass behavior, bass fishing is often broken down by season.


At the start of the year, most regions see bass in their winter patterns of deeper water, energy conservation, and low-effort feeding.

Bass will try to save energy by only feeding on the most accessible, lowest-effort food sources available. This means that finesse presentations reign supreme. Ned rigs, drop shots, and twitch baits are available in small sizes and can quickly reach deep water. They exhibit slow movement and linger in the strike zone for an extended period, appearing as an easy target, making them great for winter fishing.


  • Finesse Presentations Work Well
  • Predictable Patterns
  • Less Fishing Pressure
  • Clearer Water


  • Reduced Activity Levels in the fish
  • Challenging Weather Conditions
  • Shorter Days
  • Potential for Ice


As spring approaches, the natural urge of bass to spawn dramatically affects how they act. Initially, they will gather around drop-offs and structures near shallow flats. This period is also when crawfish come out of hibernation, and bass will gorge on them for easy calories. During this time, anglers see success with deep diving or lipless crankbaits, typically in standard reddish crawfish patterns.

Over time, bass will move from their staging areas into shallower water, where they are drawn to cover. Spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, or shallow diving crankbaits all cover lots of water and will maximize the number of bites in a day.

Explore our comprehensive guide to fishing lures for more!

What Is a Staging Area?

The term “staging area” refers to a specific location where bass congregate after the cold water period, before migrating to sheltered bays or coves for spawning.

As the spawn arrives, bass transition to nest guarding. The presence of these visible nests makes it easier for fishermen to identify where fish are going to be. Wary bass will aggressively confront almost anything that approaches them, both to safeguard their offspring and due to hunger, as they don’t actively feed as much during the spawn. Often, a soft plastic bait twitched right in the middle of a nest is a killer technique to trigger defensive bites.

Following the spawn, bass are much more willing to feed to make up for lost calories. Finesse baits that hold in the strike zone are great options, as these types of lures appear as an easy meal for the recovering fish.

An aggressive pre-spawn bass caught on a spinnerbait

A Note on Striped Bass

While much of this discussion has focused on largemouth and smallmouth bass, it should be noted that striped bass also see life cycle events occurring around similar temperatures. Though not exclusively a freshwater species and thus capable of migrating to seek optimal water temperatures, striped bass also engage in spawning during the spring.

This time of year sees striped bass migrating up the Atlantic coast into estuaries, where they spawn and lay their eggs. Unlike black bass, stripers do not stay with their eggs, and will continue their migration soon after they are deposited. This means they can actively feed at the same time. Their schooling nature makes them a highly visible target when they gather to spawn, and inshore anglers can see great catches this time of year.

Discover more about the striped bass in our detailed species overview


  • A Variety of Techniques Will Be Effective
  • Increased Fish Activity Levels
  • Aggressive Behaviour
  • High Visibility Areas


  • Short Windows
  • Overfishing Concerns
  • Variable Conditions
  • Selective Feeding (after the spawn, bass can sometimes be finicky and selective about what they take)


As temperatures rise, comfort levels begin to matter more. Bass will seek out heavy cover in the shallows or deeper structures depending on the availability of food sources and oxygen levels. Early mornings and late evenings see increased activity, as they are generally the cooler parts of the day, and provide prime fishing opportunities.

Feeding preferences will change depending on the weather and time of day. Good summer baits include everything from topwaters, frogs, jigs, crankbaits, and all sorts of soft plastics.


  • Versatile Lure Options
  • Cover Fishing (heavy cover in the shallows can be a hot spot)
  • Longer Days
  • Stable Behavioral Patterns


  • Intense Heat Can Lead to Stressed Fish
  • Oxygen Depletion in the Water
  • Increased Fishing Pressure
  • Changing Food Sources

A true 10 lb Florida largemouth caught on one of my favorite lures – a Texas-rigged speedworm in the junebug color


Fall sees the reverse of spring. Bass sense the approaching cold and ramp up feeding in anticipation of winter. During this period, bass will move out of their deep summer refuges and back towards shallower waters, seeking baitfish. This transition is triggered by the baitfish, which generally move to shallow water first in search of food.

Golden Hours

As a result, lures that imitate baitfish, like swimbaits, spinnerbaits and jerkbaits, can be particularly effective. Additionally, the clear and often calm waters of fall make it easier for anglers to spot and target schooling bass, especially during the “golden hours” of dawn and dusk.

As fall progresses and water temperatures drop, the fish’s metabolism slows down, making them less aggressive. This is when the finesse-style presentations come into play, allowing for a more subtle approach to entice bites. Drop shots and Ned rigs can be highly effective during these cooler days.


  • Aggressive Feeding
  • Shallow Water Movement
  • Slowing Fishing Pressure


  • Variable Weather Conditions
  • Shortening Days
  • Reducing Activity Levels

A Florida-strain largemouth caught “in the salad”

The Best Time of Year to Fish for Bass

Ultimately, the best bass fishing season boils down to your individual preference. While I’ve outlined the advantages and disadvantages of each season above, the best season will largely hinge on the fishing techniques and strategies you most enjoy using.

Few fishermen prefer the slow bite of winter, and the periods from spring through fall generally offer consistent fishing. Within this timeframe, many anglers have their favored time of year. For me, early spring is the best time of year to fish for bass, as this is when the fish start to stir. Nothing quite beats a deep-diving crankbait and the damage it can cause when used correctly during this time of year.

Situational Feeding Windows

Bass fishing can vary daily or even hour to hour. Situational feeding windows, caused by weather events or (potentially) moon phases, create small periods where bass may feed heavily or shut down completely.

Harder to Catch

Bass rely on their swim bladder to move up and down the water column. This organ is highly sensitive to changes in air pressure. Both warm and cold fronts affect air pressure and therefore impact fish behavior. Rising air pressure compresses the gas within the swim bladder. This compression makes fish less active and more sedentary, leading to reduced feeding and making them harder to catch.

Conversely, falling air pressure, which signals that weather conditions are about to worsen, expands the gas in the fish’s swim bladder. This expansion drives the fish to balance out the pressure by consuming food, thereby increasing their activity levels. This partially explains why fishermen often experience a burst in bites just before a storm.

The actual time of day to fish for bass changes across seasons. Dive into our guide for the best times of day to fish for bass!

Smallmouth are notoriously aggressive, and small jerkbaits often trigger explosive strikes

Once air pressure stabilizes, the bass’s swim bladder returns to a more balanced state, leading to more predictable behavior.

Rain also plays a pivotal role in influencing the behavior and movement of bass. Rain generates runoff from the surrounding landscape, carrying a cocktail of nutrients that flows into the water system. This nutrient-rich water promotes the activity of smaller baitfish and draws in predatory bass.

While light to moderate rain can invigorate the water, excessive rain brings challenges. Intense or prolonged rain leads to substantial runoff or even flooding. Both situations introduce a massive amount of silt and debris into the water, causing it to turn murky and leading to reduced visibility.

Even Harder

Bass primarily hunt using sight and, therefore, find it challenging to locate their prey in these murky conditions. Similarly, fishermen find it tough to spot bass or predict their movement, making the circumstances even harder.

Less important but worth a mention are lunar phases. The moon’s effect is debated, but in general, full and new moons are believed to impact fish activity.

If nothing else, the illumination level impacts the night-time behavior of the fish. Under the darkness of a new moon, bass find it challenging to feed, leading them to feed more during daylight hours. Conversely, on brightly lit, full moon nights, bass can more easily feed and move around. As a result, anglers frequently observe a surge of new fish in an area the next day, having migrated there overnight.

Bass often feed at night and respond well to noisy topwater lures

A Note on Striped Bass

When it comes to ocean fishing, moon phases are arguably the most important factor, due to their direct influence on tides. A strong tide through an inlet can flush water with such force that baitfish are simply swept along. During these intense tidal periods, striped bass fishing is at its best, as the fish lie in ambush, waiting for the steady stream of food to pass by.

Fishing conditions, particularly at sea, are ever-changing. Many anglers keep a log to monitor how different shifts in conditions influence bass behavior in their local area.


Predicting bass behavior across seasons and conditions requires a continuously evolving understanding of the factors discussed here. This intricate dance between understanding natural patterns and devising strategic approaches makes bass fishing the gratifying pastime that it is. This challenge is also why different fishermen offer differing opinions on the best time of year to fish for bass. Get yourself out there and immersed in the diverse seasons, conditions, and more!