Spotted Bass Fishing – The Expert’s Guide
I thought I knew a little about spotted bass fishing. After all, I’ve spent many years and thousands of casts pursuing this species. My relatives and I used a variety of painted wood, plastic, and metal creations to catch these pugilistic fish as we floated a small stream called the Sipsey in Greene County, Alabama.
However, the recent proliferation of genetic testing has led fisheries biologists to some newly discovered conclusions about this freshwater bulldog. I invite you to read along as I share some interesting facts about this wily member of the black bass family.
How To Fish For Spotted Bass
As waters warm in the spring, try deep-diving or suspending jerk-baits like Strike King’s KVD Jerkbait 2-Hook or Rapala’s X-Rap XR10. During summer, finesse presentations like a 6th Sense 3.0 Craw Tube or a Zoom Shaky Head Worm paired with an Owner Shaky Football Head or Reaction Tackle Shaky-Head Jig are steady producers.
Drop-shot or Carolina rigs with a Berkley Powerbait Crash Craw work well along steeper, hard bottoms, rocky shorelines, and long, tapering points with brush. Concentrate on creek channels and ditches that intersect timber lines. In open water, smaller spoons like Luhr Jenson’s Krocodile or Strike King’s Sexy Spoon often attract schooling fish.
Spotted bass typically follow shad into creeks in the fall and readily attack shad-colored jerk baits and topwater lures. Jackall’s 3.2″ Dd Squirrel and topwater lures like the Rebel Pop-R or Yo-Zuri’s 3DB Pencil Popper 110 can provide action as fish leave the channels and follow the timber edges to points containing brush piles. Deep-running or suspending crankbaits or light-colored soft plastics like Zoom’s Shaky 5″ Worm or a Strike King Ned Craw on a Z-Man’s Finesse ShroomZ Jig often produce good fish.
The History Of Spotted Bass
In the late 50s, locals called them Smallmouths because of the apparent differences in their jaws, shape, and markings compared to Largemouth bass. In the 70s, a cousin declared that Kentucky Spotted bass was their correct name. Finally, in the early 80s, I discovered their proper name- Alabama Spotted Bass.
Though known by several names, including Northern, Kentucky and Alabama Spotted, or Spots, geneticists discovered in 2008 that Alabama’s Spotted bass is a closer relative to the Redeye bass, and in 2014, the American Fisheries Society (AFS) officially recognized the Alabama Spotted Bass as a separate species.
Spotted bass are part of the Black bass family of fishes and belong to the Sunfish family Centrarchidae. They are somewhat elongated, with substantial mouths and cycloid or smooth-edged scales.
To correctly identify the different Black bass species, you must know the following:
- Upper jaw length and position relative to the eye.
- Size and location of lateral stripes and blotches.
- Number of rays and spines on the dorsal and anal fins.
- Number of scales on the lateral line.
French naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque first recognized the Spotted bass as a separate species in 1819. Rafinesque named it Calliurus punctulatus, which means “beautiful tail,” a reference to the colorful tail of the immature specimen he collected.
David Starr Jordan described Alabama’s Spotted bass in 1878 as a subspecies of the Northern Spotted bass. Starr named it Micropterus punctulatus henshalli after his friend, Dr. James A. Henshall, who provided the initial specimens.
In 1926, American ichthyologist Carl Leavitt Hubbs published a paper in which he renamed the Northern Spotted bass Micropterus punctulatus. He argued the previous name was incorrect because Rafinesque based his observations on a hybrid specimen that was a cross between a Spotted and Largemouth bass.
Other ichthyologists and fisheries scientists eventually adopted Hubbs’ revised classification for the Northern Spotted bass. However, it took fisheries experts till 1940 to officially recognize Micropterus punctulatus as a separate species.
Biologists wondered why some populations produced larger specimens than others. Testing in 2008 led to the discovery of genetic differences between Northern and Alabama Spotted bass, eventually leading to their reclassification.
Following renewed efforts to rename the fish, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) officials shortened the fish’s name to Alabama Bass in 2016.
Recognizing the separate identities of these two species is essential for several reasons, including effective management, angler expectations, and establishing catch records. The American Fisheries Society now recognizes these as separate species, but the new name has been slow to catch on.
Understanding Spotted Bass
Here are some key details about the habitat and characteristics of the Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus):
- Habitat– Native to North America and found in rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs across the central and eastern United States. They prefer clear, vegetated waters with rocky or sandy bottoms.
- Size– These medium-sized fish typically measure 10-16 inches long and average 0.5-3lb.
- Appearance– They are olive-green with a darker mottled/spotted pattern along their sides and a protruding lower jaw.
- Diet– They are opportunistic predators that eat a variety of prey, including insects, crayfish, frogs, smaller fish, etc.
- Spawning– Bedding usually occurs in the Spring when water temperatures reach 60-70°F. Males create shallow water nests and guard the eggs and fry.
- Lifespan– They typically live 4-6 years. The maximum reported lifespan is ten years.
- Distinguishing Features– Spots are distinguished from largemouths by their elongated body, smaller mouths, and rows of teeth on their tongue. They also lack the solid lateral line near their tail fin that largemouths have.
Spotted Bass Vs. Largemouth Bass
Where depth permits, Spotted bass generally roam deeper than Largemouths. Spots frequent depths of up to 100 ft in one lake in the TVA system in Tennessee. As water temperatures decline into the 50-degree range in early fall, Spots typically move deeper, whether the habitat is bluff banks, creek channels, or offshore humps. They usually feed in the bottom half of the water column during this time.
- Color and markings– Their body is generally thinner than Largemouths, with pale green to light golden-brown markings covering their backs. They have black spots and dark scale streaks along their mottled pale sides and underbelly, and the rows of dark marks below the lateral line are the reason for their common name.
- Size and weight– Spots can reach an overall length of 20 inches and weigh up to 8 pounds.
- Mouth- An easy way to identify them is by the size of its mouth. They resemble a largemouth bass in coloration, but their jawline doesn’t extend past their eye.
- Dorsal fin– All Black bass, except the Largemouth, have scales on the base portion of the second dorsal fin, and its first and second dorsal fin are connected.
- Tongue– Spotted bass tongues usually have a raised patch of tiny teeth.
Largemouth bass are usually found between 4 and 10 feet of water and hang near structures or the bottom. They may move as deep as 15 or 20-feet during summer, especially in clear water. These fish prefer deeper water (8 to 15’) during daylight hours and typically move to shallow water at night.
- Appearance– Largemouth bass are olive green to greenish gray, marked by a series of dark and sometimes black splotches that form a jagged, horizontal stripe along each flank. The upper jaw of largemouth bass extends beyond the rear of their eye socket.
- Habitat– They inhabit clear and vegetated lakes, ponds, swamps, and the backwaters of rivers and creeks. They prefer spawning areas with firm bottoms of sand, mud, or gravel.
- Size– They are the largest species of Black bass. The largest recorded specimen weighed 22lb. 4oz. and was 32.5 inches long. George Perry caught it on June 2, 1932, in Montgomery Lake, Georgia.
- Diet– The Largemouth is an opportunistic feeder that dines on fish, crustaceans, amphibians, and insects. Larger specimens may feed on birds and even baby ducks.
- Range- Their original range in North America extends from the St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay into the Mississippi River basin. They are also found in Atlantic drainages from North Carolina to Florida into northern Mexico.
In summary, while Spotted and Largemouth bass are both popular gamefish, they differ in average size, coloration, jaw shape, habitat preferences, and geographical distribution. These differences make them a distinct species with unique characteristics.
Alabama Bass Vs. Spotted Bass
Limited habitat studies suggest Alabama bass orient to slow currents in rivers, while preferring deeper water with rock or gravel bottoms in reservoirs. They also seem to thrive when faced with fluctuating water levels. The diet of adults is mainly fish and crayfish, and Alabama Bass grow to 12 inches by age three and up to 23 inches by age eight.
Many fishermen have been somewhat reluctant to refer to these fish as anything other than a Spotted Bass; however, it’s important to most fisheries biologists and those who keep records.
Here is a comparison of some key characteristics to differentiate between the Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus) and the Alabama Bass (Micropterus henshalli):
- Range- Spots have a wider distribution across the central and eastern U.S., whereas Alabama Bass are native to the Mobile River drainage in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.
- Size- Alabama Bass reach a maximum length of up to 24 inches and 11 lbs. Spotted bass max out around 20 inches and 8 lbs.
- Appearance- Both have a spotted/mottled pattern, but Alabama Bass tend to be darker in color.
- Habitat- Alabama Bass prefer slower-flowing, lowland rivers, and streams. Spots thrive in lakes and reservoirs as well as rivers.
- Spawning- Alabama Bass spawn a few weeks earlier than Spotted Bass as water temperatures reach the mid 50s°F.
- Diet- Both are opportunistic predators, but Alabama Bass feed more heavily on crayfish than Spotted Bass.
- Angling- Alabama Bass are more aggressive and excellent fighters when hooked. However, Spotted Bass are great grapplers in their own right, and both are great tableware.
The Alabama and Spotted bass are often confused because their ranges overlap in certain areas and appear very similar. However, Alabama Bass tend to have a deeper-bodied profile and darker coloration. They rarely have spots below the lateral line, while Spotted Bass can have spots over their entire body.
Alabama and Spotted bass often coexist in the same places. Alabama Bass have found their way to many other parts of the United States, including California, Arizona, North Carolina, and Virginia. Spotted bass are native to a broader range, including the entire Mississippi River drainage, the Great Lakes, and the Atlantic Coast from New York to Florida.
The Alabama Bass often hybridizes with Spotted, Smallmouth, and Redeye bass, which means it can be difficult to distinguish true identities, even for experienced anglers. This recent realization is of concern to several Smallmouth and Redeye bass fisheries.
- A reliable way to distinguish between the two species is to count the number of scales along the lateral line. Lateral line scales are larger and have tiny pores. Alabama bass typically have 71 or more pored scales, while Spotted bass have 70 or fewer.
- Alabama Bass have a narrower head and smaller scale width than Spotted Bass.
World Record Spotted Bass
On February 12, 2017, New Ballard’s Bar Reservoir in Northern California produced a new world record fish initially identified as a Spotted Bass, which was recognized by the IGFA.
Ideal conditions and a diet of salmon and trout produced a Goliath of a fish for Nick Dulleck of San Jose. Dulleck’s fish was the descendant of fish first brought to California’s waters in 1974 from Smith Lake in Alabama. That is why the fish was initially classified as an Alabama Spotted Bass but later changed when it was christened Alabama Bass. The IGFA later revised their records to reflect the new species and established Dulleck’s trophy as the first All-Tackle record as an Alabama bass.
According to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), the current world record for Spotted Bass is 8 pounds, 3 ounces, caught by Cameron McLemore on Lake Oliver near the Georgia/Alabama line on April 24, 2020. The fish measured 21.75 inches, with a girth of 17.25 inches.
Final Thoughts On Spotted Bass
Despite the mixed reactions, renaming the Alabama Bass is a significant event in the history of this fish. It recognizes its unique identity and importance to Alabama.
It also creates a touch of nostalgia and adds a little confusion to listeners’ expressions as I relate perilous adventures of paddling down my favorite stream in pursuit of giant Spotted…… I mean, Alabama Bass.
Full Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links. There’s no extra charge to our readers for using these.