Often mistaken by anglers for the largemouth bass, the spotted bass is a lesser-known member of the black bass group of the Centrarchidae family than either the largemouth or the smallmouth, but this is a spunky and distinguished-looking species that no angler is unhappy about catching, even if most are encountered by accident.
The general term “spotted bass” really incorporates three recognized subspecies: the northern spotted bass (M. p. punctulatus), the Alabama spotted bass (M. p. henshalli), and the Wichita spotted bass (M. p. wichitae); the last was previously thought to be extinct and is still rarely encountered.
Spotted bass are scrappy fish whose fight is often compared to that of the smallmouth, although they jump less frequently. Their average and maximum sizes are smaller than those of the largemouth, and they are more likely to utilize and suspend in deep water, even moving about in deep water in loose groups, rather than in schools.
The spotted bass has a moderately compressed, elongate body, with coloration and markings that are similar to those of the largemouth bass; both have a light green to light brown hue on the backs and the upper sides, white lower sides and bellies, and a broad stripe of diamond-shaped blotches along the midlines of their bodies.
Like all black bass except the largemouth, the spotted bass has scales on the base portion of the second dorsal fin, its first and second dorsal fin are clearly connected, and its upper jawbone does not extend back to or beyond the rear edge of the eyes. The spotted bass has a distinct patch of teeth on the tongue, which the largemouth does not, and there is a large spot on the point of the gill cover.
The spotted bass differs from the smallmouth bass in that it lacks the vertical bars that are present on the sides of the body in the smallmouth. It also has small black spots in alternate rows below the lateral line (the rear edges of certain scales are black), unlike either the largemouth or the smallmouth. Reportedly, spotted bass and smallmouth bass have hybridized in nature, which could make identification of some specimens where both species are known to occur even more difficult.
The Alabama spotted bass has a dark spot at the base of the tail and on the rear of the gill cover and 68 to 75 scales along the lateral line. The northern spotted bass also has a spot on the tail, but the spot on the gill cover is not as distinct, and there are only 60 to 68 scales along the lateral line.
Size/AgeSpotted bass seldom exceed 4 to 5 pounds and are rarely encountered up to 8 pounds. The all-tackle world record is a 10-pound, 4-ounce fish taken in California in 2001. Because of the difficulty in recognizing the species, it is probable that larger record-size specimens of spotted bass have gone unnoticed. The life span of about 7 years is much shorter than that of the smallmouth or the largemouth, and the growth rate is intermediate between the two.
Life history/BehaviorSpotted bass spawn in the spring at water temperatures of about 63° to 68°F. Males sweepaway silt from a gravel or rock bottom to make the nests, generally near brush, logs, or other heavy cover. The males guard the eggs and then guard the fry after they leave the nests. Fry are extremely active, much more than those of either the largemouth or the smallmouth.
These fish tend to school more than does any other member of the black bass family and are often encountered chasing shad in open water.
Food and feeding habitsJuveniles feed on small crustaceans and midge larvae, whereas adults eat insects, larger crustaceans, minnows, frogs, worms, grubs, and small fish. Crayfish are usually the most important item in the diet, followed by small fish and larval and adult insects.
Other NamesAlabama spotted bass, black bass, Kentucky bass, Kentucky spotted bass, lineside, northern spotted bass, redeye, spot, Wichita spotted bass.
DistributionSpotted bass were once primarily found in the lower to central Mississippi River drainages of North America, but their range has expanded greatly. They are now found throughout the central and lower Mississippi basin, from southern Ohio and West Virginia to southeastern Kansas and south to the Gulf of Mexico (from Texas to the Florida Panhandle), including the Chattahoochee drainage in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and other nearby states, where they occur naturally or have been introduced.
Spotted bass have been introduced as far west as California, where some of the larger specimens are now found, and outside North America, including South Africa, where the species has become established in several bodies of water.
The infrequently encountered Wichita spotted bass appears to be limited to West Cache Creek, Oklahoma. The Alabama spotted bass is native to Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.
HabitatThe natural habitats of spotted bass are clear, gravelly, ﬂowing pools and runs of creeks and small to medium rivers, and they also tolerate the slower, warmer, and more turbid sections that are unlikely to host smallmouth bass. They are seldom found in natural lakes but have adapted well to deep impoundments, which were created by damming some of their natural rivers and streams.
In reservoirs they prefer water temperatures in the mid-70s Fahrenheit. The typical habitat is similar to that of the largemouth bass, although the spotted bass prefers rocky areas and is much more likely to inhabit and suspend in open waters; it may hold in great depths (between 60 and more than 100 feet) in some waters. Rocky bluffs, deep rockpiles, and submerged humps are among its haunts.