The black bass is the most popular freshwater fish to catch and can be found across the United States. From the dazzling redeye in the quiet rivers of central Georgia to the enormous Florida black bass that have made their way across the country, there is something for any angler in this family of fish.
After studying plenty of biologist documents, reports, and pictures of black bass, including their habitats, scale count, and colorings, paired with some incredible fishing stories and experience, I’ve put together a guide on the different types of bass and how to find them.
What is a Black Bass?
Part of the sunfish family, black bass are a famous group of fish known for being tasty and fun to catch. Native to the Eastern United States, these game fish have been introduced all around the world and are the focus of many international tournaments in search of the biggest bass.
According to the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, black bass are the most fished species in the US. 9.6 million anglers catch them per year and spend 117 million days out on freshwater lakes.
The two most common types of black bass fishing are for largemouth and smallmouth, although there are numerous other varieties. Although these fish have a single dorsal fin like other sunfish, they can be distinguished from their relatives by their elongated body and more subtle coloring.
Their weight also sets them apart, though. The largest bass ever caught in the US is George Perry’s 22 pound, 4-ounce largemouth in Lake Montgomery, Georgia. While some fish of this species can grow up to 31 inches in length, it is much more common to find them under two feet in length.
All these bass belong to the Micropterus species. But, there is a bit of variety within this category. Let’s walk through all the different types, where to find them, and what makes each one of them work seeking out on your next fishing excursion.
Different Types of Black Bass Species
To figure out what type of bass you have, you’ll need to know a bit of fish anatomy. Each species differs on its coloring, facial structure, number of fins, and habitat. Of course, sometimes fish cross species lines and create crossovers that are hard to identify.
Unsurprisingly, the Alabama bass, or Micropetrus henshallii, originated in the south in Alabama and Georgia. The Mobile River, where they were first seen, also carried them through Mississippi. However, they have been brought to California, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and others over the years.
Alabama bass were historically classified as spotted bass, but received their own species designation in 2008. Alabama bass have distinctly separate lateral blotches that do not extend to the dorsal fin, whereas spotted bass spots will touch the dorsal fin.
The jaws of an Alabama bass end straight down from the center of their eye, distinguishing them from the larger-jawed largemouth. Additionally, a tooth patch is usually found on the tongue of an Alabama bass.
Alabama bass are considered an invasive species in some areas, including Virginia. They are detrimental to areas where largemouth and smallmouth bass are, as they are aggressive and out-compete them for food. Also, they tend to breed with smallmouth and spotted bass, dwindling those populations as well.
The aptly named Florida bass originated in the Suwannee River, making their home in both Florida and Georgia. They have been around for ages but were only given a distinct species name in 2002, although the American Fisheries Society still lumps them into the largemouth black bass category.
These Florida black bass have been introduced nearly everywhere in the world – Antarctica excluded – because of their enormous size. These trophy-winning bass have longer life spans than largemouth, making them grow just a bit more. In many spots, largemouth and Florida bass are encouraged to breed to help produce more substantial fish.
Florida bass are incredibly difficult to differentiate from largemouth bass, so a genetic analysis is recommended if you truly need to find out what you caught.
The greenish-gray of the Guadalupe Bass is a Texas sweetheart. One of the most centralized species of black bass, they hail from the Brazos, Guadalupe, San Antonio, and Colorado rivers. These fish are small to fit in with their enjoyment of smaller, fast-flowing rivers. These agile fish are known for hiding out in rocks and brush and being unafraid of rapids.
Guadalupe bass, also known as Micropterus treculii, do have a tooth patch on their tongue, and their upper jaw stops before the center of the eye. Their dorsal fins are softer than many other species, and their color continues to their underbelly. A distinct diamond pattern along the sides makes it stand out.
Guadalupe bass have been caught up to 3 pounds, 11-ounces in weight, but that is rare. The population is currently at risk due to smallmouth black bass stocking in their rivers. However, there are no minimum length limits on this fish. If you’re interested in some of the most specialized Texas bass fishing, a trip to a small river on the Edwards Plateau may be calling your name.
Perhaps the most sought after bass, the largemouth, or Micropterus salmoides, usually lives between 8 and 14 years, allowing it to grow over 35 inches in length, although that is quite rare.
Largemouth bass are found from the St. Lawrence River in the Northern US, all the way down through the great lakes, and Mississippi. Lakes throughout the east coast and midwest have largemouth in them as well.
These bass tend to spend their time in clearer lakes and ponds than many other varieties of black bass. They will eat fish, crayfish, and frogs when fully grown, making a wide variety of black bass bait and black bass lures work. Anglers love the pull and intelligence of a largemouth, in part making fishing them a multi-billion dollar industry.
Native to the southeastern US, Redeye bass are clearly distinguished by their – you guessed it – red eyes. In addition, though, they have red colorings on their fins and a dark spot on the gill cover to further separate them from other bass species.
Redeye bass, or Micropterus coosae, like to elude anglers, often putting up quite a fight if they are found. Enjoying calmer waters, they often tuck into shadier spots along cliffs, banks, inlets, or sunken objects.
These fish will nip at worms and minnows, but primarily feed on insects. They are usually between six and twelve inches, and anything over a foot is a prized fish.
The olive-bronze shimmer of a Shoal bass can be found originally in the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers of Alabama and Georgia, as well as the Chipola and Apalachicola Rivers of Florida.
Averaging between one and two feet long, shoal bass have red eyes too but lack the brick-red colored fins of the redeye itself. They have vertical, tiger-like stripes above the midline, rather than a largemouth bass’ dark lateral line.
Shoal bass put up a good fight, making them a favorite when looking for a big catch, especially in Florida. Florida’s state record is 5.2 pounds, but anything over two pounds will get you recognition from the state.
The brownish, vertical-striped body of the Micropterus dolomieu, or smallmouth bass, is a clear distinction from the ever-popular largemouth bass, although the smaller mouth is also a giveaway. Also, the smallmouth bass does not have a break between the dorsal fins. They will rarely grow past 18 inches but are often caught less than six inches in length.
Nicknames’ smallies’ or ‘bronzebacks’, these fish are a bit more jumpy and feisty than their larger varieties, putting up an enjoyable fight for any angler. They tend to stay in more transparent water than largemouth bass, often in open and deeper waters. Usually, the larger smallies will be looking for food in stronger currents or extra-deep rocky spots.
When fishing for a smallie, you can use just about any bait, but make sure to keep the line light. Their excellent eyesight will alert them to anything too heavy. But, they are well worth the search and fight.
Spotted bass tend to take a backseat to their small and large mouthed cousins. With coloring similar to largemouth bass, the easiest way to tell them apart is that the spotted bass’ mouth does not go past its eye, unlike the largemouth.
Spotted bass, named Micropterus punctulatus, are usually caught between 6 and 16 inches in length, depending on their age. Initially spread from the Mississippi River through Ohio, West Virginia, and Kansas, the spotted bass reached the Gulf of Mexico, Guadalupe, and Choctawhatchee River.
If spotted bass are introduced somewhere smallmouth bass are, they tend to interbreed and minimize the smallmouth bass population.
A stunning, shimmering turquoise color, the Suwannee bass is one worth catching – if you’re willing to find it. Found along the Florida-Georgia line, you can find it in the surrounding rivers feeding on crayfish. They are usually near shallow, rocky spots in smaller streams or ponds.
You should hope to catch a female as they grow much faster and achieve heftier lengths and weights than the males, even up to 16.5 inches. The Florida state record weighed 3.89 pounds. Suwannee bass also have their teeth on their tongue, unlike most other fish of this species.
Additional Black Bass Species To Consider
The nine species above are the most recognized species of bass by anglers, biologists, and other scientists. But, bass enthusiasts will tell you about other subspecies well worth seeking out, especially in the southwest US.
We won’t touch on the large Papuan black bass, also known as the New Guinea black bass, as it is actually a snapper. But these other bass are true to this species and incredible sport fish as well.
Found solely near Birmingham, Alabama, Cahaba Bass live in the Cahaba River and its tributaries. The Cahaba River boasts the most diverse ecosystem for a river its size. It is classified as one of eight “Hotspots of Biodiversity” by the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy.
Usually tucked into small streams with plenty of cover, these Cahaba bass have red eyes and dusty green coloring with dark spots on their upper half. They are currently part of the redeye bass classification as they share most traits, but many are working on getting them their own designation.
Another redeye relative, the Chattahoochee Bass, is perhaps one of the most beautiful fish you could catch. With bright-orange tipped second dorsal, caudal, and anal fins, these fish will catch your eye – if you can catch them.
Growing between 5 and 12 inches long, these fish are usually found in the fast-flowing parts of the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. Downstream of Helen and above Lake Lanier are popular spots. While some nearby streams have these bass, they have often interbred with other bass species and are not considered real Chattahoochee Bass.
Choctaw bass were first noticed as different from its spotted and Alabama bass cousins in 2007. But, they were not given their own species designation until 2013. But, the Choctaw bass is definitely the newest player in the fishing game.
Found in Florida’s panhandle, southern Alabama, and potentially southern Mississippi, these bass are only differentiated by counting scales and gill rakers or genetic testing. Usually, along calm rivers, Choctaw bass will only be caught by those that seek them out.
A darker bass, the Tallapoosa is well sought after in Georgia. Sometimes speckled with iridescent blues, catching one of these will make any angler’s day. They average between 5 and 16 inches long, they stand out from other bass with a green-yellow coloring on their second dorsal, caudal, and anal fins that are topped off with white edges.
To find these fish, you’ll have to head to the Tallapoosa River. Most anglers go to the Dub Denman Canoe Trail due to its easy access points and abundance of them. Once you’re there, fish for them in high-flowing water near rocks, wood, and banks.
Like most other Georgia redeye variations, these are smaller fish and will go after smaller flies. Usually, anglers choose small jigs, minnows, 4” worms or grubs. Some have had success with crayfish crankbait and small cork poppers, too.
Another southern bass, the Warrior bass finds its home in western-central Alabama, throughout the Black Warrior River system. Usually found in smaller, covered streams, these fish have the same redeye and dusky blotches along their body as many others nearby.
Most people still classify Warrior bass with redeye bass, but you should be able to know you have a Warrior on the line based on your location in the river system.
Black Bass Capital of the World: Georgia
These last few additional bass are all located in the southeast, and that is not a coincidence. One of the most biodiverse spots in the world, these states are incredible for fishing, and Georgia is at the top.
Known as the capital of black bass, Georgia is proud of its nickname. It hosts the Georgia Bass Slam, which encourages anglers to catch five different species throughout the state in a year.
If you’re hoping to go on any bass slam, you’ll want to get just the right rigs for doing so. Once you have caught and submitted all proof, you can get stickers, website recognition, a personal certificate, passes to the Go Fish Education Center, and, of course, bragging rights.
Anglers have to catch five of the following species:
- Spotted (includes both Alabama and Kentucky bass)
While you can find excellent fishing just about anywhere in Georgia, there are a few particularly enticing spots to try. The Walter F. George Reservoir is one of the most popular, with over 640 miles of shore to fish and over 45,000 acres of open water.
But, there are more spots to fish in the peach state. If you’re looking for an unusually large catch, try out Lake Chatuge, Hartwell, or Burton, each producing one of the state’s records for biggest bass.
Rivers like the Suwannee, Ogeechee, Oconee, and Flint also contribute some of the other prized bass of Georgia.
All Black bass fish species are simply incredible, having immense variation in colors, size, habits, habitat, and even taste. Catching every single type on our list would be quite the undertaking, but I am confident it can be done. A trip down south will help you find most of these, and spending time differentiating between the redeyes will only heighten your angling ability.
Is there a bass on our list that you’ve always wanted to catch or haven’t been able to snag? Share with us your fishing story below!
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