Answer- bass migration routes can be summarized as the short-term and short-distance movements bass make within their home range. When bass migrate, or temporarily adjust location from their sanctuaries, they do not simply fan out and disperse. Rather, they travel in an orchestrated fashion as a group or school, along types of underwater highways following structural variations that guide them on the way to their destinations. Bass generally participate in two major categories of migratory habits, namely Seasonal and Temporary.
Seasonal movements are the most significant and instinct driven migrations - these include the largest migration, namely pre-spawn, as well as winter and summer relocations. The distances bass travel within these movements can be rather impressive, but will always be governed by their environment and past habit.
Temporary movements, as the name suggests, are the more frequent, predictable migrations that bass make, sometimes on a daily basis. These movements are normally restricted to the bass’ home range and are predominantly attributed to changing conditions, feeding habits or biological instinct.
How does all of this affect the success of an angler? Well, understanding the migration of bass and locating the routes along which they follow will give you the edge when these fish are using these transition zones. Migrations tend not only to involve large numbers of fish but also to keep them reasonably congregated for long periods of time.
The first and most crucial step to finding these bass highways is having an intimate knowledge of your lakes’ topography. These highways are the paths that bass generally utilize when moving between shallow and deep water. To complicate this quest, the fish don't necessarily move on a predictable timetable. Furthermore there are the resting or staging factors to consider in which bass stop along their route to feed or adjust, and if the weather turns bad, they may actually retreat back the way they've come. The best part however, is that bass often use the same migration route coming and going, so once you locate and learn it, you can successfully fish it for a long time.
What you are looking for can be one or more of many structural variations - roadbeds, tree lines, creek or river channels, ledges and ditches are all classic examples of the types of routes bass will use when transitioning. The connection between two areas, be it one or more of these factors, makes it the subject of significance. For example a river channel that services a main lake area that is intersected by an adjoining creek channel, which in turn passes by the main and secondary points of a bay and ultimately dissects a spawning bay. This example could be an interpretation of a pre-spawn route a female bass would make throughout the staging and spawning process. Once concluding the spawn, the post spawner would follow the same route to assume her post spawn pattern. Although the intention of this route is rather apparent, we still need to understand what the fish do while en-route to their destination. They do not simply start swimming and stop swimming when they reach their venue, but actually use “pit-stops” along the way. Whether a bass is using this route as a pre-spawn staging or as a seasonal transition, they still need to eat and will therefore break their routine slightly to take advantage of this. They will not just randomly swim into the shallows to feed but instead use smaller break lines or structure changes as a “signpost” to move up and feed within their preferred cover. The same minor paths will be followed afterwards to filter back down to the “highways” before resuming their intentions. So study your maps, learn your lake and pattern bass’s movements. This will help you locate migration routes and help you to understand that the cover found along these same routes is the key to catching migratory fish. Also acknowledging where these fish are coming from and where they are going to will better prepare you for effectively targeting them.
When do Bass Migrate?
As mentioned before bass migrate for numerous reasons, with the pre-spawn migration being definitely the most significant and predictable. Driven by instinct, large schools of female bass leave the convenience of their winter habitat to partake in the staging and pre-spawn movements required to complete their annual spawn. Throughout this migration, points become an extremely focusable target as they play a vital role in the process. Bass will naturally use the channels that feed the spawning bays as their route in and will often use the primary and secondary points within these bays as staging and feeding zones. They will ultimately end up spawning on the banks between these points as well as the flats found in the back of the bays. But not all fish will spawn in the bays as the main lake will service plenty of spawners as well. This does not change the fact that the fish will still use a particular path or route to perform their spawn. When the females have concluded their spawn they very often return to similar areas from where they came. Once again, they will not swim in just any direction, but will systematically retreat the same way they came. The spawning migration is regarded as a seasonal migration and is definitely the best time of year to capitalize on giant bass as long as you know where they are going, and how they are getting there!
Providing that favourable conditions are present bass will also perform daily migrations from deeper to shallower water to suppress their hunger. This movement is more predictable in the warmer months and is normally easier to pattern. In these months bass will tend to migrate on a more horizontal plane, utilizing areas such as flats and shorelines. When conditions become unfavourable or the time of day dictates otherwise, bass will revert back to break lines to await the triggering of their biological clock. Although it may be an easier tactic to rather target the fish when they are on the banks or obvious cover, if the bass do not give you this option you do not always have it. Knowing where they live when they are not using the obvious areas will once again make you more successful. I have definitely not highlighted all the reasons and scenarios regarding bass migrations, but rather outlined the major migrations most anglers will experience on a regular basis.
Finding a migration route may not be an easy accomplishment, but time on the water, research, as well as paying attention to previous patterns will put you one step closer. The actual migration bass perform may not be as useful to anglers as the understanding that a migration route links two areas of importance together. We also tend to use America as an example in our research and even though we do not have as much diversity in our lakes and definition in our seasons, our bass do still migrate. Bass do not live in one spot, but do live in a serviceable area. Define what they service and what part of the environment services them and you will catch more bass all year round.
*Grant Hewitt is a seasoned tournament bass angler based in KZN and is the team winner of the 2008 and 2009 Inanda Bass Classic.