What comes to mind when you picture a black bass? Odds are, you conjure up images of trophy-sized largemouth bass or unique spotted bass varieties. Anglers have long held a passion for fishing bass. Given that they are found in nearly every state in the US, it goes without saying that bass often reign supreme in the minds of many sportfish enthusiasts. While every angler is familiar with the largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass, what many don’t know is that there are a myriad of black bass species to choose from. In fact, you may be surprised to find that there are 9 scientifically recognized species in all.
With such a disparate smattering of black bass species in the US, how can a single angler properly identify each variety? Can you really know what you’re pulling out of the water? Below, we’ve outlined recognized species in the US, noting features and behaviors that make each unique and worthy of a spot on your fishing wall of fame.
The Various Species of Black Bass
Let’s face it, you probably don’t need much of a refresher course on identifying a smallmouth bass. It is one of the most routinely fished species in the US. Still, it is important to layout distinct differences, as these can help you to identify other types of bass in the future. So what makes a smallmouth bass different?
It all starts with the sidelong lateral markings. Smallmouth bass can have up to 16 distinctive bars as well as a protruding dorsal fin that boasts spiky spines along the top. A smallmouth will also have a singular bass-like jawline. The upper jaw is prominent, but when you line it up with the center of the eyeball, you’ll find that it does not protrude.
In terms of coloration, it bears the common light sage/olive green hue that many basses possess. Most will have ruddy or rust-colored eyes and distinctive splotch type markings along the side.
When one thinks of bass, the well-known largemouth bass is typically the species that comes to mind. As an angler, familiarity with these popular fish typically starts as soon as one is old enough to pick up a fishing rod. Not only are largemouth bass found in nearly every US state, but they prove a satisfying catch. Given their size, many view this species as a true prize-variety.
Familiar with this species but not sure about identifying markers? Well, largemouth varieties tend to carry the exact same characteristic dorsal fins as their contemporaries. The only true difference is that their fins are affixed by a deep-notch. They also possess a dark mid-lateral ribbon and distinctive blots that start at the mouth and go all the way to the tail. In terms of the jawline, the upper portion will extend well past the eye. Proving a tell-tale sign of what you’ve reeled in.
Never heard of a Suwannee bass? That’s because they’re not overly common in much of the United States. Generally, you’ll only find them in a few disparate river systems in Florida and Georgia, despite attempts to introduce them into other areas. This is a near-threatened species that tend to be very small when compared to other types of bass. They have a very large and almost comical mouth with a jawline that stops just beneath the eye. One thing you’ll take note of right away is the distinctive patch of teeth that sits right on the tongue of the fish. The teeth form an almost perfect circle.
In terms of hue, Suwaneee bass is a generally brown color but do bear some rather distinctive green spots on their hindquarters. During mating seasons, many will also display a teal or turquoise hue on their belly,
With a long lifespan, Florida bass tends to far outpace their peers in terms of size. Given that they live so long, they have plenty of time to grow well beyond the average size of bass. This makes them one of the most prized bass species for anglers looking for that perfect trophy mount. Though the Florida bass is still generally recognized as a subspecies of the largemouth bass, there are many differences that make each type unique.
In terms of looks, Florida bass looks quite similar to largemouth bass. Much like their counterparts, their upper jaw protrudes well past the eye, providing them with a rather comical look. They also boast dorsal fins that are quite spacious and rayed, mostly with a deep notch in between. They tend to be a deep olive green color in hue and can have distinct vertical markings.
If you’re lucky enough to call Texas home or pass through on occasion, you may be able to spot a Guadalupe bass. This is a fish that acclimated to tiny minor streams early on. Because of this, they tend to be very slight in size. Despite this, many anglers enjoy fishing for Guadalupe bass as they love to make their way into swift waters, creating a more challenging catch.
Identifying a Guadalupe bass starts with the upper jaw. Like many basses, it does not extend past the center of the eye. With a very narrow size, these bass do exhibit dorsal fins that are soft and rayed, meeting via a very soft notch. Unlike most bass, the Guadalupe do have a singular tooth strip on the palette.
Once only native to the Mobile River drainage area of the Southern US, Alabama bass have since made their way throughout the United States being brought in to diversified lakes and rivers in regions such as California. They can typically be located in streaming pools or breaks in smaller rivers.
Classifying an Alabama bass can prove problematic as they often carry identical attributes to the spotted bass. With that in mind, the overall growth of Alabama bass far eclipses that of the spotted bass. Commonly, an Alabama bass will top out at 20 inches in length.
The most observable Alabama bass bear are patches right above the lateral sidelong band that does not approach the primary dorsal fin. Alabama bass bears pliable yet pointy dorsal fins that are attached by a slight notch. Generally, you can expect to find between up to 84 unique lateral line scales.
The spotted bass is quite common and dates well back into the early 1800s. Unlike many basses that solely make their homes in the Southern reaches of the US, spotted bass tends to be found throughout the Ohio river basin and well into the lower Mississippi river basin. This means they can be found throughout many regions of the eastern half of the US.
Identifying this type of bass is relatively straight forward. There are lower lateral scales that form inky horizontal bands along with the fish itself. There are also dorsal and anal fins with small scales. When it comes to the jawline, Spotted bass does not have an upper jaw that protrudes past the pupil of the eye.
Though highly desirable to anglers, Redeye bass tends to be quite slight in overall size. In fact, it is uncommon to find a Redeye that is larger than 16 inches. Generally, expect a catch to be closer to 8 inches on average. Some can be as small as 5 inches. What makes a Redeye special and in-demand is their coloration.
They have very pale almost white bellies, yet tend to be a very sage green color along the sides and near the top. They also boast dusky blotches that pepper their sides and wane as time goes on. Their fins also boast a very brick-red coloration with an outline in white. In contrast to many bass species, these bass do have a continuous dorsal fin.
Tips for Identifying Species of Black Bass
Even seasoned anglers can grapple with classifying one species of bass or another. After all, as a division of the bass family, each does carry some strikingly analogous attributes. There are a few key tips to bear in mind when you want to determine a species. Here’s what to look for.
Length of Jaw
One unmistakable feature of most black bass species is the span of the upper jaw, specifically its placement in coordination with the eye. Always look for this trademark characteristic first.
The Appearance of Stripes or Blotches
When watching to classify a group of bass, observe the region or presence of any lateral sidelong stripes or broad blotches. Once those have been noticed, be mindful of the proportion of these markings as well as the number of the present.
Rays and Dorsal Fins
One trademark peculiarity that can be a dead giveaway for a specific black bass species is the presentation of rays or ridges on any dorsal or anal fins.
Region of Capture
Finally, you’re going to want to take note of your region, be it a certain country or state. Not every species is found in every region of the world. Simply knowing which species can be found in a given area can help you to narrow down your options and identify your black bass.
With so many species of black bass to get to know, the options for learning and expanding your knowledge on these fish are limitless. As an angler, the more you learn about the fish you desire to catch, the easier your and more rewarding your job will be. The next time you haul in bass and you’re not sure of its species or origin, let this helpful guide prove an invaluable resource.
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