SMALL- AND LARGEMOUTH BASS
For inquiries contact Karen Kellogg, Darwin
Fellow, Biology Department, University of Massachusetts Amherst
SMALL- AND LARGEMOUTH BASS
The black basses (genus Micropterus) are the largest
of the centrarchids, and
because of their importance as game fish, they are also the most
well studied. There are seven
living species within this genus, although for more than a
century only two species,
dolomieu) (Thompson, 1980)
Largemouth bass (Micropterus
recognized (Jenkins & Burkhead 1994). The native range of
smallmouth bass includes much of
central United States, whereas largemouth are native to central
as well as southeastern states.
Both species have subsequently been introduced over most of the
U.S. and Canada (Page & Burr
1991). Large- and smallmouth bass were introduced as game
species to Massachusetts and are
now widespread and common (Hartel 1992).
Smallmouth bass have characteristics that are typical of
carnivorous fish predators: cryptic
coloration, a streamlined body, and a large mouth
Smallmouth bass in the
Connecticut River (photo taken
by Ed Klekowski, University
of Massachusetts Amherst).
fingerling smallmouth exhibit a carnivorous appetite by feeding
on small crustaceans, insects,
and small fishes. Juveniles graduate to crayfishes and fishes,
and this food preference continues
in adults. Smallmouth bass attain lengths of up to 430 mm (about
17 inches) total length (Page
& Burr 1991).
Smallmouth inhabit cool and warm, generally clear, large
streams and rivers with gravely
and rocky substrates. They are most often found in runs and
pools, and a frequent succession of
riffles, runs, and pools is an indicator of a good smallmouth
site. Often they become the
dominant species in reservoirs that impound streams with the
above attributes, and are prolific in
many natural northern lakes (Jenkins & Burkhead 1994).
Both sexes of smallmouth mature in about three to four
years and the maximum age is
fifteen. Spawning occurs in the spring, usually early May to
early June depending on the
latitude. Males construct nests near shore in 30-60 cm depth, on
firm bottoms in slow currents
and often adjacent to cover. Females have been found with 27,000
mature ova, and up to 4,000
eggs have been observed on a single male's nest. Males
vigorously defend nests having eggs and
remain aggressive for several days after the eggs hatch (Jenkins
& Burkhead 1994).
The smallmouth bass is indeed one of the most valued and
studied fish in North
America. Before the turn of the century, J. A. Henshall declared
that "inch for inch and pound
for pound [smallmouth are] the gamest fish that swims", and this
statement is still very accurate
today. In fact, a magazine entitled "Smallmouth" was recently
started (Jenkins & Burkhead
1994). Recommended readings for smallmouth patrons include
Robbins & MacCrimmon (1974)
and Stroud & Clepper (1975).
Largemouth bass are similar in anatomy to smallmouth,
although they have striped sides,
an even larger mouth, and adults attain lengths of up to 650 mm
(about 26 inches) total
A seven pound largemouth bass
from Lake Hamilton,
Arkansas (Sternberg, 1987)
smallmouth, largemouth juveniles feed on insects and small
fishes, and adults feed on larger
insects, larger fishes, and crayfishes. Adult largemouth,
however, are even more piscivorous
than smallmouth (Jenkins & Burkhead 1994).
Largemouth bass inhabit marshes, swamps, ponds, lakes,
reservoirs, and creeks to large
rivers. In river systems, largemouth can be found in pools and
backwaters. It prefers warm,
generally clear water, and is less tolerant of turbidity than
other black basses (Jenkins &
Burkhead 1994). Largemouth can tolerate a range of salinities
and is often found in estuaries.
Maturation in largemouth is correlated with length of growing
season, and ranges from
maturity at age one in southern latitudes to age three or four in
northern areas. Survival is
typically eight to ten years, although specimens of age sixteen
have been found. Spawning
occurs in the spring from early May to early June. Typically,
the male fans out and guards a
nest, although spawning sometimes occurs on unprepared bottom.
Nests are made of a variety of
substrates in pools and backwaters of streams. In ponds and
reservoirs, nests can be found along
the shores, typically at depths of 0.3-0.6 m, but sometimes as
deep as 8.2 m. Nests are located in
either open areas or in association with some type of cover.
Females have been observed with up
to 21,000 ova (Jenkins & Burkhead 1994).
Largemouth bass fishing generates millions of dollars
annually. It is the most important
species of black bass in forty-two states and the most important
gamefish in eleven of them.
Largemouth bass was probably the first fish to be raised in
culture ponds which attests to its
table-fare quality and economic value (Jenkins & Burkhead 1994).
Again, for those interested in
additional reading, both Robbins & MacCrimmon (1974) and Stroud &
Clepper (1975) provide a
wealth of information.
Hartel, K. E. 1992. Non-native fishes known from Massachusetts
freshwaters. Occasionalreports of the MCA Fish Department, 2:1-9.
Jenkins, R. E. and Burkhead, N. M. 1994. Freshwater fishes of
Virginia. American Fisheries
Society, Bethesda, MD.
Page, L. P. and Burr, B. M. 1991. Freshwater fishes. Houghton
Mifflin Co, Boston, MA.
Robbins, W. H. and MacCrimmon, H. R. 1974. The black-bass in
America and overseas.
Biomanagement Research Enterprises, Sault Ste. Marie,
Sternberg, D. 1987. Freshwater gamefish of North America. Cy
DeCosse, Inc., Minnetonka,
Stroud, R. H. and Clepper, H., eds. 1975. Black bass biology
and management. Sport Fishing
Institute, Washington, D.C.
Thompson, P. 1980. The game fishes of New England and
southeastern Canada. Down East,