Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

Common name: Largemouth bass, a.k.a. black bass, bigmouth, green bass, green trout, Florida bass, Oswego bass, southern largemouth, bucketmouth

Scientific name: Micropterus salmoides (Micropterus means “small fin”; salmoides means “trout-like” in gameness and food).

Appearance: Not a true bass, but rather the largest member of the sunfish family, Largemouth Bass are green to olive in color above the lateral line, yellow-green below. Pronounced wide, solid lateral band that extends from the snout to the tail, where it begins to break up into spots.It is distinguished from smallmouth bass by its upper jaw, whichprotrudes pastthe rear edge of the eye, and the deep depression between its first and second dorsal fins.

Distribution: North America’s most popular and widely distributed gamefish, the largemouth may be found from the Deep South up to Canada, and can survive in most any freshwater conditions, from deep, clear, lakes to shallow, murky streams. Yet, although as a species the largemouth has really gotten around (thanks to introduction by humans), individual largemouths are homebodies that seldom stray more than a few hundred yards from the spot where they hatched.

Spawning: Largemouth typically spawn in springtime at temperatures between 60°F and 70°F. When temperatures first reach the lower end of that range, males will construct large, round nests in the sand, mud, clay or gravel (atop roots or twigs if available), at depths between 2’ and 4’, often within 10’ of the shoreline (though, generally, the clearer the water, the farther out and deeper the nests). When temperatures reach 62-65º F, females will move in and deposit up to 30,000 eggs in a nest.

At this point, the female departs and leaves the male to fertilize the eggs and watch over the nest (if multiple breeding pairs use the same nest, only the dominant male will remain to defend it). For the first couple of days, the female will linger in the area and provide a first line of defense against predators, several feet away from the nest. During this time she will move farther and farther away until, upon reaching deep water or weed cover, she suspends, exhausted, for several days without feeding before recovering and resuming normal feeding behavior (though some older, weaker females will die before recovering).

The male remains with the nest and defends it against such persistent raiders as bluegills and salamanders (bluegills, in particular, have been known to attack a nest in large numbers until the male bass dies of exhaustion). He will continue his vigil for several days after the hatch before, like the female, heading out to deeper water to recuperate. The young school in shallow water near protective structure, feeding on plankton then gradually moving up to worms, minnows, and smaller fish as they grow to adult size.

Angling: “Structure” is the magic word when fishing for largemouths. From the day it hatches, a largemouth will stick to the weeds, rocks, roots, and debris, where they can take cover from larger predators and avoid the light that irritates their highly sensitive eyes. A fisherman looking for largemouths can pretty much take for granted that, if there’s no structure nearby, there aren’t any largemouths, either.

Though younger largemouth bass and pre-spawn largemouths of any age will go after anything, older largemouths will become increasingly set in their feeding habits during the rest of the year, only going after lures that closely resemble the local bait they are accustomed to in terms of color, movement, size, and vibrations. Given a variety of options, bass will go for smaller fish, crayfish, frogs, salamanders and insects – however, survivors that they are, they can readily adapt to other prey if those favorites are not available. Minnows, worms, plugs on a caster, poppers and streamers on a fly rod – all these could potentially work, depending on the local forage base.

It’s worth pointing out that bass have particularly poor eyesight (but, alas, not so poor that they won’t run at the sight of a fisherman above the water), and rely on their hearing and smell to locate prey at a distance. This makes it worth experimenting with different kinds of noise-producing baits as well. Still, you want to be careful, since a loud, unfamiliar sound (particularly that produced by rattlers) will only scare off largemouths.

The best place to cast would be along the edge of a weedbed, or else to use a diving bait to go under a floating weedbed (for obvious reasons, it’s good to go with a weedless bait). Largemouths prefer wounded prey, so do your best to mimic the movements of an injured, distressed baitfish, but don’t go too wild or you’ll scare the bass. The next best tactic is to still-fish, and let your bait slowly sink to the bottom and rest there for a few moments before retrieving it, slowly and steadily (since they’re reliant on sound, a lure’s movement must remain consistent for a bass to home in on it).

You’ll have to be very familiar with the normal action of your lure, since bass will strike different baits in different ways – sometimes producing a strong, distinct tug, other times barely producing any tug at all. But once you learn to recognize a strike, that’s where the fun begins. Bass are extremely agile, with enormous fins relative to their body size that allow for quick movement in any direction. A hooked bass will try everything to shake itself free: diving, running for cover, zig-zagging, and leaping specatularly out of the water.

There’s nothing quite like a fast, vigorous battle with a largemouth bass, especially in the warm months when the fish’s metabolism is at its peak. However, because spawning largemouth males must defend their nests against an onslaught of predators, the sheer energy expended during a fight may leave them too tired to do their job even if released. Hence, it’s best not to fish for largemouth at all during the spawn, lest it leave the next generation vulnerable.