Largemouth bass (Micropterus)
The largemouth bass is the largest and most popular member of the Centrarchidae family of sunfish and its subgroup known as black bass. Largemouth bass have bodies that are both elongated and thick, providing them with the ability to swim very quickly for short bursts.
Their coloring is mostly green, ranging from olive to dark green on the back and greenish yellow on the sides, with a white or cream-colored belly. A series of dark splotches form a horizontal stripe that extends down the length of the sides along the lateral line. In some circumstances, especially very muddy water, the largemouth may lose much of its coloring, appearing almost white or very light green.
Two ways to distinguish the largemouth bass from the smallmouth bass is that the largemouths upper jaw extends beyond the eye and there is a clear separation between the first and second dorsal fins. Neither is true of the smallmouth bass.
The bulk of the largemouth bass diet consists of other fish such as bluegill, shad, shiners and other minnow species, small catfish, and other sunfish, as well as large invertebrates, crayfish and frogs. In addition to their core diet, they are aggressive and opportunistic predators that may eat whatever creature they can ambush, including ducks, snakes and small turtles. The main limiting factor in prey for largemouth bass is size because they swallow food whole.
Largemouth bass mainly hunt by ambush, hiding under cover and waiting for prey to swim close by. Once the prey is decided upon, they advance upon it at startling speed, quickly opening their immense jaws creating a vacuum effect that helps suck in the prey. They will pursue schools of baitfish in open water if there are no ambush opportunities available, or when high or low water temperatures force them into deep water.
The largemouth bass is native only to North America, and its original range was generally the eastern half of the United States and southern Ontario and Quebec in Canada. The native range extended south from Iowa to Texas and northeastern Mexico, and east to the South Atlantic coast and western New York and Pennsylvania. Due to extensive stocking and the largemouths adaptable nature, it is now abundant throughout the Appalachian and Ozark Ranges, most of the northeastern U.S. from Maryland to Maine, and easternmost Canada.
Since the late 1800s, its range has been expanded to include major or minor portions of every state in the U.S. except Alaska, and most of the southern fringes of Canada, as well as several regions in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Largemouth bass inhabit lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and medium to large rivers primarily, yet because they are so adaptable they can also thrive in ditches, creeks, canals, and sloughs. Their adaptability is due in large part to the large temperature range in which they can live, which extends to waters above 90 F down through the mid-30s F. The ideal temperature for largemouth bass is between 65 and 85 F.
The water can be either murky, stained or clear, but they prefer non-flowing waters with abundant vegetation or flooded timber. They almost always seek out cover of some sort, such as lily pads, weeds, bushes, docks, stumps, rocks, or stonewalls, but can survive without cover.
In general, largemouth bass are more likely to be found in shallow water than in deep water. However, in waters that lack sufficient cover, they will be found in deep water near drop-offs, channels and rocky bluffs. Largemouth bass are not migratory by nature, preferring to stay in holding positions within a given area for extended periods of time.
However, they commonly relocate if the availability of food, spawning needs or comfort is reduced in their present location. Movements will generally occur according to season. As the spawn approaches in early spring, largemouth will move from winter holding patterns in deep water toward shallow spawning sites. They remain in the shallow water throughout the spawn, though sometimes retreat to deep water near the nests during and shortly after spring cold fronts. Once the spawn is complete, many largemouth will remain in shallow areas until water temperatures rise above 72 F. Then they often establish summer residence in deeper water, moving shallow to feed early and late in the day, or at night. Largemouth return to the shallows in fall before moving back to deep water during winter.
- The largest largemouth bass caught weighed 22 pounds, 4 ounces in Georgia in 1932. This is one of the oldest and most revered records in all of game fishing.
- The subspecies Florida largemouth bass has recently been stocked in California and Texas, as well as waters in several other temperate regions. They have adapted very well to these new locales, and many anglers believe that if the world record weight for largemouth bass is broken, it will occur in one of these two states.