How To Catch Pressured Bass: Size Down and Slow Down

Fishing a lake or river which sees hundreds of boats and anglers on a daily basis can be extremely frustrating, especially if you’re a local. Bass are very sensitive and smart fish, and eventually, they’re going to start realizing that your lure isn’t actually food. Anglers often write-off dams as being ‘fished out’, when in fact the bass are still there - they’ve just become more educated and selective on what they eat. 

How To Catch Pressured Bass: Size Down and Slow Down

The Meaning of Fishing Pressure

Pressured bass can also be regarded as more educated or selective bass. These bass are based in popular lake or river systems which see plenty of anglers of several levels on a daily basis. Pressured bass see plenty of lures, and rather than going for every single one of them, they have learned over time that not every lure is a meal. 

For obvious reasons, these bass are harder to catch, and anglers need to adjust their techniques and presentations in order to get that aggressive feeding reaction that we all love so much.

Catching pressured bass
Early mornings will always see plenty of anglers

Two Types of Pressure

Lakes generally see two types of pressure. There is long-term pressure and short-term pressure. These will be discussed further. With bass fishing growing at a rapid rate, the fact is catching bass is going to get tougher and tougher as years go by and even highly skilled professionals have blank tournaments in some of the most well-respected bass water systems on the planet.

We need to accept that a lake is going to get fished heavily and take on the challenge of catching more educated bass. Having an open mind when fishing these pressured waters will go a long way in catching more bass, and it’ll also build confidence in learning different baits and techniques.

Long-Term Pressure

This type of pressure is experienced in systems that are based near metropolitan areas, where locals have easy access. An example of a lake like this would be Lake Chickamauga. 

These systems see hundreds, if not thousands of anglers of all levels on a daily basis. This results in bass slowly over time becoming more educated and selective on what they eat. Bass are extremely intelligent predators, and they’ll start picking up on a repetitive pattern that actually isn’t food.

They’ll slowly turn off certain patterns or colors, which makes lure selection an extremely dynamic process. What worked in summer last year, may not even get a bite this time round.

Anglers will figure out what lures are working in a system through word of mouth. This leads to hundreds of anglers throwing the same bait. Over time, bass will shake their heads at the lure, and there’ll be a need for a new pattern.

The positive about this situation is the process of experimentation. Better skilled anglers will use their experience of analyzing what worked in the past and make slight adjustments in their presentation in order to get those wary bass to bite again.

Short-Term Pressure

This type of pressure relates more to a weekend’s fishing, such as a tournament. Short-term pressure is created by highly skilled anglers who make a quick impact on the bass’s activity within certain areas or zones.

When it comes to competition fishing, the bite will generally get slower as the weekend passes. What worked the fish day in a spot, may not be in high demand the next day. Spots also become pressured, and often anglers can become too reliant on a spot when chasing a paycheck. 

Having several go-to spots is important, especially during a tournament. You may catch a few keepers on the first day in your favorite spot - but this may not be the result for the next day. Having another place to fish in a competitive environment is highly beneficial. 

Where a lake sees heavy pressure on a weekend tournament, bass may look to hug denser cover and structure. Pros or skilled anglers will often turn to heavy flipping tackle when the fishing quietens, as they are well aware of the bass’s behavior when they are pressured. 

Short-term pressure can also relate to fishing smaller systems for a weekend’s trip. I myself love going to smaller rivers for a weekend. The first day is always the best, but this is often followed by slower periods for the rest of the trip.

The key thing to remember is that the bass are probably still there. They’re just not that into your bait. 

“As their strike zones shrink, accurate presentations become paramount” - Kevin VanDam

Tips for Fishing Pressured Systems

  • Embrace the challenge: Whether you like it or not, the system you fish is always going to have hundreds of boats working it on a daily basis. Experiment with lure selection and find a new winning formula. Remember what worked in the past, and make minor adjustments to that presentation. 
  • Persistence is vital: Remember that spot of yours where you caught plenty of bass? The chances are, the bass are still there. Adjust your lure selection and remain patient.
  • Stealth: Pressured bass are also often more spooky. A slight noise can turn them off the bite, making the process of catching them even harder. Rather keep your distance from the cover and make a further cast.
  • Keep an open mind: This is a tip I got from John Murray, which I think is crucial. Be creative in your approach. Think about the structure you’re fishing, what the bass are eating and the operation of your lures. Who knows - maybe you’ll figure out a pattern that’ll drive them mad.
  • Downscale lure profile: Pressured bass will often prefer a smaller profile over a large profile. Downsizing can often lead to a bite, and this can be done across all types of baits, whether you’re throwing a frog or a Senko. 
  • Wind is good: Wind displaces water and sediment, which can help hide the imperfection of your lure. It also helps with nullifying any noise you may be making while fishing. 
  • Natural colors are best: In a pressured system, your best bet is to try and make your bait look as realistic as possible. Color selection that imitates the food within the lake/river as best as possible will definitely increase your chances of a bite. Shock colors may seem suspicious for educated bass. 
  • Change your retrieve: Stay away from the recommended method of retrieval, especially in a pressured system. Slowing down your retrieve may keep your bait in the strike zone for longer, or speeding it up may trigger a reaction bite. 
  • Notice where your bites are coming from: Take note of the areas where you’re getting bites or the kind of structure you’re fishing. These types of zones may be your best bet throughout the day. 
  • Hit dense cover: As mentioned earlier, bass may hug heavy cover when pressured. Having a heavy flipping setup will give you access to these areas. 
  • Casting accuracy: Crucial. As bass become more spooky, they may not enjoy your cast which you quickly retrieved because you didn’t hit your favored spot. You’ll also want to hit attractive spots as best as possible.
  • Finesse fishing works: Although this isn’t the most exciting method of catching bass, finesse techniques will often give off the most natural, life-like action. A light braid with a fluorocarbon leader is my favorite setup for most of my finesse presentations. The wacky rig is also my favorite finesse application.
How To Catch Pressured Bass
Making minor adjustments to your presentation is key in a pressured system.

Best Lures for Pressured Bass

The last tip I mentioned was finesse fishing. I’d like to elaborate on that because I really do feel that going finesse is your best option when you’re working pressured fisheries. 

Finesse can be defined as subtlety in action, which is exactly why finesse techniques work better with pressured bass. Bass will struggle to resist a lifelike, more natural presentation.

Often bass will prefer smaller profiles as well - which is often done when fishing finesse. Smaller line diameter also means less restriction on your bait, leading to a more subtle, but lifelike action. 

One of the beautiful things about finesse fishing, is that you can follow boats after they’ve worked certain spots. Often, these guys will miss out on fish because of their lure selection. Throwing a natural, lifelike presentation may get those fish that the previous guys missed. 

So when you’re out on your popular lake next time - start considering learning to master techniques such as the drop shot, ned rig, or the wacky rig - these are just a few. They may seem like slow methods at first - but man, they can catch you some big bass.

The wacky rig finesse fishing technique
The weightless wacky rig is one of the most effective finesse techniques

Wrapping Up

Personally, I can’t stand it when I see a fellow angler working my favorite spot. I get a feeling that it’s not even worth trying the spot out, which sucks. However, there are a few things that are guaranteed in life: Taxes, death and pressured bass.

Having an open mind is crucial when fishing these pressured systems. Having the confidence to try new techniques/presentations will also greatly increase your chances of finding successful patterns. One thing that hasn’t really been mentioned, but is pretty obvious, is the term patience. If you love bass fishing, you’ll be willing to test out many different methods. Many give up before they achieve success, but the ones that grind it out will reap the rewards of catching pressured bass.

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