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Lake Barkley & Kentucky Lake Fish Species - Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass
(Micropterus salmoides floridanus)

KY State Record- 13 lbs, 10.4 oz.
TN State Record- 14 lbs. 8 oz.

The largemouth is the largest member of the sunfish family. It generally has light greenish to brownish sides with a dark lateral line which tends to break into blotches towards the tail. Often confused with smallmouth and spotted bass, it is easily distinguishable because the upper jaw extends beyond the rear edge of the eye. Also, its first and second dorsal fins are almost separated by an obvious deep dip, and there are no scales on the soft-rayed second dorsal fin or on the anal fin.The largemouth bass is a popular sport fish because it attacks lures and leaps out of the water when hooked.

Common names: black bass, Florida bass, Florida (or southern) largemouth, green bass, bigmouth, bucketmouth

General description: A medium- to large-sized fish shaped like a small football. These aggressive eaters aren't afraid to attack fishing lures.

Length: The average length is about 14 inches.

Weight: About 2 to 3 pounds.

Color: Gray, olive green, and silver.

SUBSPIECES - Two are recognized: the northern largemouth (M. s. salmoides) and the Florida largemouth (M. s. floridanus). The two look much the same, but the Florida largemouth has 69-73 scales along the lateral line compared to the northern largemouth's 59-65 scales. Florida bass grow to trophy size more readily than northern largemouth in warm waters.

HABITAT - Prefers clear, nonflowing waters with aquatic vegetation where food and cover are available. They occupy brackish to freshwater habitats, including upper estuaries, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds. Also, they can tolerate a wide range of water clarities and bottom types, prefer water temperatures from 65 to 85 degrees, and are usually found at depths less than 20 feet.

SPAWNING HABITATS - Spawning occurs from December through May, but usually begins in February and March in most of Florida when water temperatures reach 58 to 65 degrees and continues as temperatures rise into the 70s. The male builds saucer-shaped nests 20 to 30 inches in diameter by placing its lower jaw near the bottom and rotating around this central location. Bass prefer to build nests in hard-bottom areas along shallow shorelines or in protected areas such as canals and coves. Depending on her size, the female can lay up to 100,000 eggs, which are fertilized as they settle into the nest. After spawning is completed, usually five to 10 days, the male guards the nest and eggs and later the young (sometimes called fry) attacking anything that approaches the nest. The female bass stays near the nest or may swim a short distance and remain listless for up to a day. After hatching, the fry swim in tight schools, disbanding when the small fish reach a length of about one inch.

FEEDING HABITATS - The diet of bass changes with its size. Young fish feed on microscopic animals (zooplankton) and small crustaceans such as grass shrimp and crayfish. Fingerling bass feed on insects, crayfish, and small fishes. Adult bass will eat whatever is available, including fish, crayfish, crabs, frogs, salamanders, snakes, mice, turtles and even birds.

AGE AND GROWTH - Growth rates are highly variable with differences attributed mainly to their food supply and length of growing season. Female bass live longer than males and are much more likely to reach trophy size. By age two or three, females grow much faster than male bass. Males seldom exceed 16 inches, while females frequently surpass 22 inches. At five years of age females may be twice the weight of males. One-year old bass average about seven inches in length and grow to an adult size of 10 inches in about 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 years. The oldest bass from Florida whose age has been determined by fisheries biologists was 16 year of age. Generally, trophy bass (10 pounds and larger) are about 10 years old. The formula used by Florida scientists to estimate weight based on length and girth is: log(weight, in grams) = -4.83 + 1.923 x log(total length, in mm) + 1.157 x log(girth, in mm). Click here for an automated formula, and here to determine how to properly measure your fish.

SPORTING QUALITIES - Much of its popularity is due to its aggressive attitude and willingness to strike a lure or bait with explosive force. They will strike almost any kind of artificial lure or live bait, but most are taken on plastic worms, surface plugs, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, bass bugs and shiner minnows. The value of the largemouth as a sport fish has prompted a movement toward catch-and-release fishing. As a sport fish, specific bag and size limit regulations apply.

EATING QUALITIES - The meat is white, flaky and low in oil content. The flavor depends upon the way the fish are cleaned and prepared. The strong weedy taste of bass caught in some waters may be eliminated by skinning the fish and salting and peppering the fillets before battering. Fillets usually are fried, while larger ones may be baked.

Fishing Techniques

Use a wide variety of fishing methods to catch largemouth bass. Artificial baits such as crankbaits, spinnerbaits, topwaters, jigs and soft plastic lures imitating minnows, crayfish, salamanders and worms are good choices. Live baits such as minnows, nightcrawlers and crayfish also can be effective. As the most popular game fish in the United States, largemouth bass receive a good deal of fishing pressure, often making them difficult to catch in popular fishing areas.

Summer Tips:
Location:  Look for bass shallow early in the morning and late in the evening.  Fish deeper as the day progresses.  Good areas to fish include main lake points, ledges, and any other type of deep structure.  Farm ponds will also produce early in morning and late in evening. A way to catch bass with the added benefit of heat relief is by wading one of Kentucky’ many productive smallmouth bass streams. The flowing water at the beginning and end of stream drops hold stream smallmouth in summer. Avoid fishing the slack water in the middle of deep holes, as the feeding smallmouth use the flowing water instead.

Baits/Lures:  Good topwater baits include Pop-R, buzzbaits, weedless frogs and weightless senko-type baits.  Use jigs, soft plastics and crankbaits for deeper water fishing.  Tough bites may require lighter line and weights with smaller plastic baits. For stream smallmouth bass, fish 3-inch black or brown curly-tailed grubs and 4-inch finesse worms rigged on 1/8-ounce leadheads with 4-to 6-pound test line. Small topwater lures work well early in the morning and at dusk.

Typical Size:
Largemouth bass grow to 10-13 inches and 2-3 lbs in about 4 years. Males can reach about 16 inches while females can surpass 22 inches. The oldest recorded largemouth bass was 16 years old, and the typical trophy bass (10 lbs) is about 10 years old. 

WORLD RECORD - 22 pounds, 4 ounces, caught in Montgomery Lake, Georgia in 1932. See the Big Bass Record Club (BBRC) for a history of this historic fish.