Bass are the most popular game fish in the United States. They can be found in many freshwater environments throughout the country. Powerful predators, it’s easy to tell when one is on the hook. The fierceness with which they attack lures and tug on lines is legendary. But being able to tell the difference between two of them once caught- the spotted bass and largemouth bass- can be a little difficult to the untrained eye.
Spotted bass compared to largemouth bass: physical appearance
Their names make it sound easy to tell them apart. Just look for spots on one, and a large mouth on the other. While these are the two defining features distinguishing a spotted bass from largemouth bass, they don’t always show up so well in the wild, and no two individuals are exactly alike in appearance.
Generally, one is known by the black spots on its scales beneath the lateral line, and the other by a jawline that extends past the rear part of its eyeball. But both are olive green with black blotches on their bodies. And because of age or environment, those colors can blend in ways to make these features hard to confirm.
A better way to identify them is the dorsal fin and tongue. Dorsal fins give fish better stability in water, and both of our species have two: a spiny front segment and a soft posterior segment. The spotted bass contrasts with the largemouth bass in that its dorsal fin segments are more obviously connected.
The largemouth has a much deeper groove between them and looks almost divided. When you catch either fish, rub its tongue with your finger for another clue. The spotted bass has a rough patch there that feels like sandpaper. If the tongue is smooth, it’s a largemouth.
Both fish are native to the eastern United States, southern Canada, and Mexico. Because of their popularity, they are stocked for recreational fishing all over the world. Cooler water and a little more current are preferred by spotted bass compared with their largemouth cousins, so you are more likely to see them in rocky rivers and streams around the eastern part of the U.S.
The largemouth gets along better where the water is calm. Clear lakes with lots of plants and submerged logs to ambush prey from are ideal. They grow bigger where it’s warmer, too. Texas and Florida are known for largemouth bass well over 10 pounds.
Since many dams have been built across America to control flooding, you can find spotted bass in some man-made reservoirs. They will spend more time at deeper depths than the largemouth, below 30 feet near the bottom where the crayfish that they love to eat are, and the water temperature stays in the low 70’s or lower. Spotted bass are not adapted to survive in lakes or ponds where the water can reach temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Popular fishing techniques
Artificial lures are by far the most popular way anglers catch bass. Live bait like golden shiners and nightcrawlers works well, too. Although they don’t typically get to the same size, a spotted bass up against largemouth bass are still voracious hunters. Using smaller lures to match the type of prey found in rivers and streams will entice a spotted bass to pounce.
Dragging plastic worms, tubes, and crawfish along the bottom, or jigging them around sunken logs and rocks work for catching both species. So does swimming cranks, Rat-L-Traps, and swimbaits through the water column, or walking spooks, frogs, and buzz baits on the surface.
The best fishing rods for these techniques are made out of graphite and have a fast action tip. The graphite gives the rod a lot of strength and sensitivity, while the fast action tip gives the lifting power needed to control these feisty fish during a fight, and wrench them out of the dense cover that they will try retreating to.
A fishing line with an 8-pound test and up is recommended. The lighter the line, the less visible it will be to the fish. Fluorocarbon line is almost invisible in water even at a high test and has become very popular with bass fishermen. Braided fishing line is the strongest, and for bass, anywhere from 20 to 80-pound test is used. Bass can see and hear through the water about as good as a human can, so your own senses can be a guide. If the water is dark, you can get away with using stronger braid. When the water is clear, you will be better off with fluoro or a light mono line.
Introduction into other parts of the world
Bass fishing is a growing sport on almost every continent in the world. Spotted bass are not as well known outside of the United States, although they have been introduced into streams in South Africa.
Largemouth bass fishing tournaments are now held regularly in Africa and have become popular game fish in parts of Central and South America, Europe, and Asia.
In Japan, there are many bass fishermen as well as companies that make products for the sport. Daiwa, Okuma, and Shimano make very good rods and reels. Gary Yamamoto, Owner, Sunline, Seaguar, as well as many others make some of the most popular lures and tackle on the market today.
The story goes that this boom in Japan started in 1925. A businessman from there smuggled some largemouth bass fry from the U.S. into the country to stock his private lake. Eventually they spread, and now they thrive in most of the lakes and streams on the island.
Record fish caught
Keeping track of the biggest, heaviest spotted, and largemouth bass ever caught is something that attracts a lot of attention among avid fishermen. Conservation groups such as the International Game Fish Association set rules for valid giant fish catches and document them. So do most fish and wildlife departments in the United States. Records are often kept for individual lakes, as well as for the state, national, and international levels.
According to the International Game Fish Association, the heaviest largemouth bass ever caught is tied between George Perry, in Georgia, and Manabu Kurita, in Japan. Both of their fish weighed in at 22 pounds 4 ounces. The IGFA lists the heaviest spotted bass on record at 10 pounds 4 ounces, caught by Bryan Shishido, in California. Because of the difficulty in identifying how the spotted bass contrasts with largemouth bass, however, it is possible that someone has caught a bigger spotted bass but mistook it for a largemouth.
When it comes time to spawn, spotted bass differ from largemouth bass a bit. Both of them feed heavily around the spawn, so it is a good time to catch a big one. The males build the nest, and spotted bass will look for an area with rocks that are away from the current. Any rock pilings beneath main-lake docks are a good place to look. They will often be deeper than largemouth nests, sometimes at 20 feet or more.
Largemouth bass tend to like a smooth surface. Their nests will be in mud or loose gravel. They like a little bit of sunlight, but not too much. Somewhere shallow, near a log or grass, is a likely spot to find them. The males of both species use their tails to dig a small bed and sweep away any debris. This will often cause little red sores to form, and is a sign fishermen can look for to tell when the spawning season has begun.
Spotted bass will spawn when the water temperature is around 57 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Largemouth bass only begin once the water gets above 60 degrees. Once they have attracted a female, she will drop her eggs for the male to fertilize. For spotted bass, this can be from 1,000 to 47,000 eggs. Female largemouths can lay up to 7,000 eggs for every pound she weighs. She then leaves, and the male bass pulls guard duty until the fry are big enough to be on their own. The whole spawn process for spotted bass is a month to a month and a half. The largemouth spawn is a lot longer, and can last over 60 days.
Both species will defend their nests very aggressively. Small fry are prey for many other fish, so putting your lure into a nest is a sure way to get a bite. These fry will feed on plankton and tiny insects until they are two inches long, at which time they turn into full-fledged predators. This process of spawning is repeated quite fast by the new largemouth bass young. They begin at just a year old. Spotted bass take a while longer, until about 4 years old, before they mate and create the next generation.