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BASS SPECIES

Jim Porter

Most anglers recognize only one species of black bass, the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). Our premier freshwater sport fish, the largemouth bass inhabits lakes, streams and canals throughout the Country. Biologists generally recognize six other bass species: the, smallmouth, spotted, Roanoke, shoal, redeye and Suwannee basses. In addition, the largemouth bass can be separated into three subspecies or genetic races and mixtures of both.
  • The basic largemouth strain.
  • The Florida form (M. s. floridanus), is native to the southern peninsular portion of the Sunshine state.
  • Largemouth bass which represent genetic mixtures of the Florida and Northern largemouth bass (M. s. salmoides) are found elsewhere, principally in streams of the northwestern Florida panhandle and lower Georgia.
Largemouth bass grow to impressive sizes. The record is 22 pounds, 4 ounces, by George Perry in 1932. It was recorded as coming from Montgomery Lake. Some possibly larger have been rumored, but never documented properly. California, Mexico, Cuba and other Central American countries appear to be the best bets to produce a new record at some point.

Redeye bass (Micropterus coosae), a bass species primarily occurring in Alabama and Georgia, are occasionally observed in the Apalachicola River. However, this species is rare is not usually considered a resident fish.

Suwannee bass (Micropterus notius) are restricted to the Suwannee and Ochlockonee River systems of Florida and adjacent Georgia. This attractive and scrappy game fish is most abundant in the spring-fed lower reaches of the Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee River. Suwannee bass have an affinity for limestone shoals but are not restricted to these areas. Crayfish make up the principal food source, though fish and aquatic insects are also eaten. Most Suwannee bass are small and a two-pounder is considered a significant catch. The record is a 3 lb, 14.25 oz fish caught in Florida's Suwannee River in March 1985. Legally, Suwannee bass are designated a "Species of Special Concern". However, the Suwannee/Santa Fe population has been relatively stable over the past 20 years and no prohibition on harvest by anglers is necessary. Degradation of habitat or water quality in this drainage or the Ochlockonee watershed would threaten the existence of this species. The new size limit for bass will effectively reduce the take of Suwannee bass as they typically are smaller than 12 inches in length. Good locales for fishermen seeking Suwannee bass are the lower Santa Fe River and the upper Ochlockonee River. The Roanoke bass (Ambioplites cavifrons) is found only in the North Carolina area, primarily the Tar River system. It is somewhat like the Suwannee bass and the largest recorded is 2.7 pounds.

The spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus) is widely distributed in the eastern regions of the United States, ranging northward to Ohio and westward to Texas. They thrive in deep, clear lakes with lots of clean gravel and rock. Lewis Smith Lake, in northern Alabama, and Lake Lanier, Georgia, are two major habitats for the spotted bass. Crayfish, fish and aquatic insects are primary food items. Most spotted bass fish weigh less than three pounds. The record is a 8 pounds 15 oz fish caught in Lewis Smith Lake in 1978. The spotted bass has a very distinctive rough wart on the tip of its tongue, making is easy to identify.

Shoal bass represent a low density species of black bass and are closely related to the redeye bass. This strikingly marked fish occurs only in Florida's Apalachicola River watershed. In Florida it is most abundant in the spring-fed Chipola River. As its name infers, it is closely associated with limestone shoals. Former populations in the Apalachicola River may have been reduced by removal of rock shoals for navigation enhancement. Within the Chipola River its future may now be endangered by pollution. Like the Suwannee bass, it is legally classified as a "Species of Special Concern". Shoal bass in Florida rarely exceed two pounds in weight. The size limit reduce harvest of shoal bass, as most are under 12 inches in length. Crayfish provide the bulk of their prey, though fish are also eaten.

The smallmouth bass (micropterus dolomieu) is a highly sought-after game fish. It ranges from Georgia and Alabama, north into Canada and to the northwestern states. Many anglers think smallmouth bass occur in Florida, but it does not. Suwannee, redeye, shoal and spotted bass are indeed "small-mouthed", but none of these are the true small-mouth. The smallmouth habitat is very similar to the spotted bass, in that it likes clear, clean water and lots of rock and gravel. Smallmouths also appear to like current flow and will gather in the areas of stream flow and below dams in good numbers. The smallmouth is a bronze-to-brown color, with vertical black stripes. It has a 'dirty' white belly that sports black flecks on it. He is a very strong fighter, with much more speed and stamina that the largemouth family. As indicated by the name, he has a smaller mouth than the black bass and feeds on small minnows and crustaceans.


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