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Freshwater Fish - Bass

Bass

For sport anglers, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass are two of the most prized quarries. Bass spend most of their time in lakes and rivers with plentiful fresh water. They tend to congregate in mossy, sheltered areas to prey on smaller fish, such as minnows.
 
The best time to fish for bass is May through July, using minnows, crayfish, night crawlers, jigs, crank baits and spinner baits. Both live bait and artificial lures will attract bass, but one may be more attractive to smallmouth bass as opposed to largemouth bass. Early morning and late evening are the best time to catch bass as they tend to take shelter from the sun during the day. They are more active when the climate is cooler and the sun is not as bright.
 

 

Bass Species 

 

Largemouth Bass

Micropterus salmoides
AKA: Black bass, green trout, bigmouth bass, lineside bass
This species is considered the most popular gamefish in the United States. Largemouth bass fishing tournaments have become very popular in recent years.
 
  • Distinguishing Markings:
Largemouth bass can be recognized by the lower jaw that extends past the back edge of the eye.
It is dark green above with silvery sides and belly and a dark stripe across its body. . The underside ranges in color from light green to almost white. They have a nearly divided dorsal fin with the anterior portion containing nine spines and the posterior portion containing 12 to 13 soft rays
 
  • Size:
Largemouth bass have been known to reach weights of over 20 pounds.
 
  • Distribution:
Find largemouth bass in the St. Lawrence, Great Lakes, Hudson Bay (Red River), and Mississippi River basins; Atlantic drainages from North Carolina to Florida and to northern Mexico. The species has been introduced widely as a game fish and is now cosmopolitan.
 
  • Habitat:
Largemouth bass are found in all waters from freshwater to brackish (a mix of fresh and saltwater) waters. They like large, slow moving rivers or streams with soft bottoms.
They especially like clear water. Immature largemouth bass may tend to congregate in schools, but adults are usually solitary. Sometimes several bass will gather in a very small area, but they do not interact. Largemouth bass seek protective cover such as logs, rock ledges, vegetation, and man-made structures. They prefer clear quiet water, but will survive quite well in a variety of habitats.
 
  • Food:
Greedy carnivores, largemouth bass feast on minnows, sunfish, gizzard shad, insects, frogs and occasionally snakes. Adult largemouth bass are the top predators in the aquatic ecosystem. Fry feed primarily on zooplankton and insect larvae. At about two inches in length they become active predators. Adults feed almost exclusively on other fish and large invertebrates such as crayfish. Larger fish prey upon smaller bass. Adult fish feed near water plants in shallow waters.
 
  • Spawning:
Largemouth bass spawn as early as March or as late as June.  The males build saucer shaped nests 20 to 30 inches in diameter and guard the nest and eggs from all intruders. Largemouth bass grow 4 to 6 inches during their first year, 8 to 12 inches in two years, and up to 16 inches in three years. Largemouth bass may live for 13 years.
 
  • Fishing Tips:
These fish are an extremely popular sport fish.  They are excellent fighters when caught on light spinning tackle.  Popular methods of fishing are fly-fishing, bait casting, or bottom fishing, and good baits include live minnows, night crawlers, and worms.
 
 
 
 

 

Smallmouth Bass

Micropterus dolomieu
AKA: Brown bass, brownie, bronze bass
 
  • Distinguishing Markings:
The smallmouth bass is generally green, brown, bronze, or tan in general color with dark vertical bands rather than a horizontal band along the side. There are 13 to 15 soft rays in the dorsal fin. The best characteristic to distinguish a smallmouth from a largemouth bass is the position of the maxillary, or large flap at the posterior end of the upper jaw. With the fish’s mouth closed, the maxillary will reach, but not obviously extend beyond the eye, and the upper jaw never extends beyond the eye. In largemouth bass the maxillary always extends past the back edge of the eye.
 
  • Size:
The usual smallmouth is 8 to 15 inches long, and weighs less than three pounds.
 
  • Distribution:
Smallmouth bass originally ranged north into Minnesota and southern Quebec, south to the Tennessee River in Alabama and west to eastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas. Today there are few states, east or west of the Rocky Mountains, where populations have not become established. Florida and Louisiana are apparently free of smallmouth bass.
 
  • Habitat:
Smallmouth bass prefer large clear-water lakes (greater than 100 acres, more than 30 feet deep) and cool, clear streams with moderate current. Their preferred habit has a gravel or rubble substrate, boulders, some shade and cover, along with deep pools.
 
  • Food:
In general, adult smallmouth bass feed on aquatic and terrestrial insects, crayfish, and fish. Because they feed on the water surface, in the water mass, and off the bottom, and consume such a wide variety of foods, they are considered “angler friendly”.
 
  • Spawning:
Spawning occurs in the spring when water temperatures approach 60°F. Males move into spawning areas with the nests usually located near shore in lakes; downstream from boulders or some other obstruction that offers protection against strong current in streams. Mature females may contain 2,000 to 15,000 golden yellow eggs. Males may spawn with several females on a single nest. On average each nest contains about 2,500 eggs, but nests may contain as many as 10,000 eggs. Eggs hatch in about 10 days if water temperatures are in the mid-50s, but can hatch in 2 to 3 days if temperatures are in the mid-70s. Males guard the nest from the time eggs are laid until fry begin to disperse, a period of up to a month. Fry begin feeding on zooplankton, switching to insect larvae and finally fish and crayfish as they grow.
 
  • Fishing Tips:
Smallmouth bass can be caught on a wide variety of live and artificial baits.  Many anglers prefer the less expensive soft, plastic artificials, grubs and tubes, because lure loss is a certainty when fishing prime smallmouth bass habitat.  Light spinning tackle is the most popular and least tiresome after casting and catching fish all day.  Fly fishing is next in popularity, followed by bait casting.
 
 

 

Bluegill

Lepomis macrochirus
AKA: Bream, sunfish, sunnies, brim, sunperch
The bluegill is a popular game fish with many fishermen. They are found throughout the continental United States in various lakes, streams and ponds. Bluegills are quite easy to catch and make a great first catch for beginning anglers. 
 
  • Distinguishing Markings:
Bluegills have small mouths and an oval shaped body deep and highly compressed.  The fish is olive green on the upper body and light yellow on its belly with blue and purple iridescence on its cheeks and dark bands running up and down from the back fading into the belly.  A dark blue or black "ear" appears on an extension of the gill cover, and a prominent dark blotch may show at the base of the dorsal fin, close to the tail. Breeding males may have more blue and orange coloration on their flanks
 
  • Size:
Typically about six inches, but can reach 12 inches.  In some areas, they may approach five pounds in weight.
 
  • Distribution:
Bluegills appear to have been native to the eastern half of the United States, southeastern Canada and northeastern Mexico, exclusive of the coastal plain north of Virginia. Today, however, bluegills range inshore from the Great Lakes to Florida.  Many times these fish will be stocked along with largemouth bass in ponds and lakes.
 
  • Habitat:
Bluegills are a freshwater fish, although they will venture into slightly salty water. They like quiet waters such as lakes, ponds and slow flowing rivers and streams and prefer to stay within calm pools within their residential bodies of water. This provides a sheltered area for them and protection from predators.
 
  • Food Preference:
They will eagerly eat spiders, insects, crayfish, fish eggs, and other small fish, while young bluegill often become food for larger fish, birds and water snakes.
 
  • Spawning:
Spawning takes place from April to September in fresh water. The male picks a good spot and makes a nest. After the female lays her eggs, the male guards the eggs and newly hatched young.  Bluegills like to build their nests around other bluegill nests. Sometimes there are so many nests that the nest beds touch and look like honeycombs.
 
  • Fishing Tips:
Easily caught, bluegills are often the first fish that a young angler catches. They will hit most small baits, rising eagerly to earthworms, dough balls, or even corn kernels.
 
 

 

Rock Bass

Ambloplites rupestris
AKA: Redeye, redeye bass, goggle eye, rock sunfish
 
This species of freshwater fish is not really a bass, but a member of the sunfish family, associated with bass because of its rocky habitat.
 
  • Distinguishing Markings:
Rock bass have a very deep and laterally compressed body. They usually have red to orange eyes, large, terminal mouth, body coloring from golden brown to olive, with white to silver belly, and 5 to 7 spines in the anal fin and 12 in the dorsal. Rock bass are less colorful than the bluegill, but have the ability to rapidly change its color to silver or blackish to match its surroundings.

  • Size:
About 6 to 8 inches and weighing less than a pound.
 
  • Distribution:
Rock bass can be found in all the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River system, Wisconsin, the upper and middle Mississippi River, and down to Missouri, northern Alabama and Georgia in the south, as well as from Québec to Saskatchewan in Canada.
 
  • Habitat:
Rock bass prefer clear, vegetated and rocky lake margins and stream pools. Their favorite habitat is clear, cool to warm waters, with gravel or rocky bottoms, and some vegetation. Rock Bass species are usually found near stone-armored shorelines and breakwaters.
 
  • Food:
Rock bass species are carnivorous, eating insects, crustaceans and smaller fish and crayfish. Adult Rock bass may eat heavily, particularly in the evening and early in the morning. Younger species become food for larger predatory fish such as northern pike, muskellunge and large bass.
 
  • Spawning:
Rock ass mature in three years can live as long as 10 years. Spawning occurs from April to early June in warm waters ranging from 55 to 60 degrees F., with females laying from 2,000 to 11,000 eggs. Males can become aggressive defending their territory while they attract and hold females.
 
  • Fishing Tips:
Rock Bass is frequently seen in groups, particularly near other sunfishes. Anglers take them using much the same methods that work for other bluegill species.
 
 

Striped bass

Morone saxatilis
AKA: Rockfish, rock, striper
 
  • Distinguishing Markings:
Striped bass is a silvery fish that gets its name from the seven or eight dark, continuous stripes along the side of its body.  The body is compressed with dorsal fins well separated and a forked, olive green, blue, or black caudal fin.
 
  • Size:
Striped bass can grow as long as 60 inches.
 
  • Distribution:
On the Atlantic coast, striped bass range from St. Lawrence River, Canada to St. Johns River, Florida, although they are most prevalent from Maine to North Carolina. Striped bass tend to move north to nearshore waters of the New England coast during the summer, and south to the North Carolina and Virginia Capes during the winter.  Striped bass have also been successfully stocked in freshwater reservoirs and lakes
 
  • Habitat:
Stripped bass inhabit coastal waters and are commonly found in bays but may enter rivers in the spring to spawn. Some populations are landlocked.
 
  • Food:
Larvae feed on zooplankton. Juveniles take in small shrimps and other crustaceans, annelid worms, and insects. Adults feed on a wide variety of fishes, crustaceans, squids, mussels, and worms.
 
  • Spawning:
Female striped bass can mature as early as age 4; however, it takes several years (age 8 or older) for spawning females to reach full productivity. Males can mature as early as age 2.  Spawning is triggered by an increase in water temperature and generally occurs in spring or early summer. Once a mature female deposits her eggs, they are fertilized by milt ejected from a mature male. The fertilized eggs drift downstream with currents and eventually hatch into larvae within 2 to 3 days.  
 
  • Fishing Tips:
Striped bass are strong, predatory fish that respond well to a range of lures and live baits fished in a variety of methods. Trolling can be particularly effective, but crank baits and even fly fishing can bring success. The best type of bait and best method are dependant on the specifics of the season and water being fished.

 

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