What the Heck Kinda Bass is That???

What the Heck Kinda Bass is That???

By: Lance “RedHeron” Coley     

Ever find yourself asking that question?  Many people don’t know that there are actually nine scientifically recognized different species of black bass, and another dozen or so more cryptic species or subspecies that are currently under consideration. While you can’t catch all of them in the state you reside in (although Georgia comes close, being home to 7 of the species), you may find the following informative. Maybe (if you’re like me), you’ll see it as a challenge to catch all of the species and subspecies, learning about each one’s peculiar characteristics in the process. As a disclaimer, this is based on just my personal experience and research, so there may be some discrepancies. I am not a degreed biologist/zoologist/ichthyologist, but the field has always interested me. You could consider me a fairly educated layman, but I do not intend for this article to be an end all, be all for black bass identification/speciation. I will try to cite some of the more technical information, but the vast majority of this is just knowledge I’ve absorbed over the past several years.

First, a note on identification. Fish of the same species, like many other organisms (including people), can vary quite substantially from one individualto the next. Even many of the so-called tried-and-true ways of identifying a fish (such as the presence of a tooth patch on the tongue) are not always true to that individual, even though it may apply in general to the species. You’ll notice I use word like ”typically” and “usually” when describing the characteristics of a certain species.  You have to look at the whole picture. In other words, do MOST of the characteristics match? There will always be outliers in the dataset. Over time, as you catch enough of a particular species and properly identify it, you’ll begin to develop a “search image” of that species in your mind. Eventually, if you’re diligent, you’ll be able to positively identify the species of the majority of your bass catches with a simple passing glance. If there comes a point where you have a pretty good “search image” of all species of black bass (or at least all species in your region of the country), and you catch a bass that doesn’tquite “look right”, take some good quality high-def pictures and see if you can ID it later using the technical information provided in various sources (some provided in this article). If it still doesn’tmatch, you may have some sort of hybrid. On the other hand, don’t be too quick to label anything that looks a little weird a hybrid. As I said, there can be substantial variation among a species. On rare occasions, there may be no reliable way to identify the fish without genetic testing; this is especially true in waters where there have been documented hybridization (usually between a native species and an introduced species). So with that said, I’ll do my best to explain how to figure this stuff out.

 

1. Largemouth Bass.  Micropterus salmoides or Micropterus salmoides salmoides
&
2. Florida Bass.  Micropterus floridanus or Micropterus salmoides floridanus

Status of Subspecies:
Florida Largemouth Bass and the Northern Largemouth Bass were once considered to be subspecies.  Many state fisheries agencies still consider them to be subspecies and treat them as such, often stocking “Florida strain largemouth” on top of the native Largemouth Bass stocks.  Although the American Fisheries Society (AFS) also officially still recognizes them as subspecies, biologists specializing in the field are calling for them to be separated into two distinct species: Florida Bass and Largemouth Bass.  This is based off genetic studies that suggest that the genetic variation between Florida Bass and Largemouth Bass is three times that between Smallmouth Bass and Spotted Bass (Kassler et al, 2002).  A natural intergrade zone occurs where the two species’ ranges meet in the deep southeast.  Many biologists have adopted a position against stocking non-native Florida Bass on top of native Largemouth Bass (and vice-versa) for various reasons including genetic integrity retention and significant evidence that such stockings are not even beneficial to long term growth rates and population fitness.  Artificial intergrade zones exist where state agencies have stocked Florida Bass over Largemouth Bass for decades.

It is very difficult to differentiate between the two (sub)species even when they’re side-by-side because most differences are genetic.  Florida Bass scales are smaller, they tend to get slightly bigger in their native habitat, etc.  Some recent research proposes a possible third species/subspecies in Cuatro Cienegas, Mexico (Garcia De Leon, 2015).  There is also evidence of a distinct population that specializes in the brackish environment of the Mobile River estuary (DeVries et al, 2015); and it is expected that similar populations exist in other large estuaries.  I do not think these estuarine largemouth are under consideration as a separate species, but just merely a distinct “form”—kind of like Rainbow Trout and Steelhead.

Distribution and Habitat:
Largemouth Bass (M. salmoides) exist practically everywhere, native and introduced.  They’ve been introduced so far and wide (including every continent but Antarctica) that I don’t know if anyone could tell you exactly what their original native range was anymore.  The more reliable sources suggest the original range includes Gulf of Mexico drainages between the Rio Conchos/Rio Grande and Suwannee River, the Atlantic Ocean drainages between the James River and the St. Mary’s River, the St. Lawrence River/Great Lakes system, and the lower Boundary Waters.

Florida Bass (M. floridanus) have also been introduced far and wide.  Most sources suggest the native range is the Florida panhandle south of the Suwannee and St. Mary’s rivers.  Although I am unaware of a paper that defines its actual boundaries, a natural intergrade zone exists where the two (sub)species’ ranges meet.  This zone is presumably the Florida panhandle, southeast Alabama, south Georgia, and coastal South Carolina.  This integrade zone has been artificially expanded to include most of the southeastern United States via Florida Bass stocking programs.

The suspected Cuatro Cienegas Bass is confined to drainages of extreme southeast Texas and northeast Mexico–presumably the Rio Grande, Cuatro Cienegas, Rio San Fernando, Rio Soto La Marina, etc.

Largemouth are habitat generalist…meaning they can be found anywhere from weedy backwater sloughs, to deepwater ledges, to submerged woody structure, to open water, and even in shallow rocky shoals with heavy current.

Hybridization Potential:
There is very little potential for largemouth to hybridize with other bass species, except between the two (sub)species described in this section.  Largemouth and Florida Bass hybridize easily, both naturally and artificially.  A first generation (F1) Largemouth x Florida hybrid is often called a “Tiger Bass” due to increased aggressiveness and growth rates.  These traits have been shown to diminish or disappear with subsequent generations.  It is extremely rare, but there have been documented cases of hybridization between Largemouth and Smallmouth, and Largemouth and Spotted bass.  The artificial Largemouth x Smallmouth hybrid was the original (and unsuccessful) “Meanmouth Bass”.

Distinguishing characteristics:
In general, both Largemouth subspecies can be easily distinguished from the other black basses because:
-when closed, the back of the jaw extends well past the back of the eye.
-there is typically no tooth patch on the tongue.
-the dorsal fins are separated into the two fins, whereas on every other black bass, they are connected.
-lateral line scale counts range typically 55-73, with Northerns being on the low end and Floridas being on the high end (I would cite this info, but I honestly don’t remember where I got it from).

Color and markings can vary widely depending on water conditions, but is usually a olive colored back; a darker solid, patchy, or sometimes faint or nonexistent lateral line markings; and a white belly.

Patchy line variant.
 LM patchy
Solid line variant (notice dorsal fin separation).
 LM solid
Faint/Nonexistent line variant.
 LM no line1
This one almost looks like a spotted bass, but mouth size and dorsal fin ID it as a Largemouth.
 LM spotty

 

3. Smallmouth Bass.  Micropterus dolomieu dolomieu and Micropterus dolomieu velox

Status of Subspecies:
There are two recognized  subspecies:  the Northern Smallmouth Bass (or just Smallmouth Bass) Micropterus dolomieu dolomieu, and the Neosho Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu velox.  The Neosho Smallmouth is only found in the Arkansas River watershed of Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas.  There is also mounting evidence that the remainder of the smallmouth population native to the Arkansas/Oklahoma region in the Red River watershed is also a genetically distinct lineage from their Northern and Neosho counterparts.  These are sometimes referred to as Ouachita Smallmouth.  However, this lineage has not been formally described or given a latin name.  As with the Florida and Largemouth Bass, some biologists consider these to be three genetically distinct species.

Distribution and Habitat:
Northern Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu dolomieu are native to the Ohio, Tennessee, and upper Mississippi, St. Lawrence/Great Lakes, and the Boundary Waters.  They have been introduced to other watersheds as well, including many of the upper Atlantic watersheds.  An intergrade zone with the Neosho Smallmouth reportedly exists where the two species’ ranges meet in the Ozark highlands.

Neosho Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu velox is native to the extreme southwest Ozark streams of the Arkansas River watershed in northwest Arkansas, southwest Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma.  The undescribed Ouachita Smallmouth Micropterus dolomieu sp. is native to streams of the Ouachita Mountains in the Red River watershed in southeastern Oklahoma and southwest Arkansas  (Brewer & Long, 2015).

Generally, this is a coldwater fish; however, it can tolerate and even thrive in warmer waters, easily colonizing rivers they were introduced to in South Carolina, Georgia, and even south Texas.  They prefer moving water, often relating to current breaks caused by large diameter substrate, woody debris, or vegetation.  The Northern Smallmouth also can thrive in deep clearwater natural lakes and manmade reservoirs.  However, it is reported that the Neosho and Ouachita Smallmouth do not frequent impounded waters, strongly preferring riverine environments instead.

Hybridization Potential:
Known to readily hybridize with Alabama Bass where Alabama Bass have been introduced into native Smallmouth waters.  I believe they can also hybridize with Northern Spotted Bass, but this is less common since the two species coexist naturally.  Both hybrids are known colloquially as the “Meanmouth Bass”.  It is believed that a briefly described species of black bass, the Wichita Spotted Bass found only in the Cache Creek watershed in Oklahoma, was actually a natural hybrid of Smallmouth and Northern Spotted Bass and has therefore been dismissed as a species by the scientific community.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
Smallmouth can be distinguished from the other black basses with the following characteristics:
-when closed, the back of the jaw just barely makes it to the front side of the eye.
-there is often a tooth patch on the tongue, but many individuals lack it…this is a poor distinguishing characteristic for this species.
-the body is typically shorter and stockier in comparison to the other black basses.
-the two dorsal fins are connected.
-lateral line scale count ranges 68-80 (Mettee, O’Neal, and Pierson, 2001 via www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/fish/bassblack/smallmouth/)

Smallmouth color and markings are typically brown/bronze, usually with some sort of vertical striping, but not always.

Prominant vertical stripes
 SM vert stripes
Non-existent vertical stripes (notice connected dorsal fin)
 SM no verts

 

4. Spotted Bass.  Micropterus punctulatus
formerly known as Northern Spotted Bass or Kentucky Spotted Bass

Status of Subspecies:
For years, it was thought that there were two spotted bass subspecies:  the Alabama and Kentucky spotted bass.  However, recent scientific works have confirmed that the two “strains” are in fact not even closely related genetically (Baker, Johnston, & Folkerts, 2008).  Thus, the Alabama Bass was named (more on that species later), and the Kentucky/Northern Spotted Bass became simply the Spotted Bass.  As mentioned previously, it is believed that a briefly described subspecies, the Wichita Spotted Bass found only in the Cache Creek watershed in Oklahoma, was actually a natural hybrid of Smallmouth and Northern Spotted Bass and has therefore been dismissed as a species by the scientific community.

Distribution and Habitat:
Spotted Bass are native to the mid and lower Mississippi River watershed.  Spotted Bass, or cryptic bass species that appear much like Spotted Bass, also inhabit many of the other Gulf Coast watersheds such as the Guadalupe, Colorado, Brazos, San Jacinto, Trinity, Neches, Sabine, Calcasieu, Mermentau, Maurepas/Ponchartrain tributaries, Pearl, Jordan, Wolf, Biloxi, Pascagoula, Styx, Escambia/Conecuh, Blackwater/Yellow, and Choctawhatchee Rivers.  There are no native Spotted Bass in the Mobile River watershed—these are the aforementioned Alabama Bass.  Recent studies show the populations east of the Mobile River watershed are a genetically distinct cryptic species described as the Choctaw Bass Micropterus haiaka (Tringali et al, 2015).  There is anecdotal evidence that the populations between the Mobile and Mississippi watersheds is yet another cryptic species.  One might speculate that the populations between the Mississippi and the Guadalupe might represent one or more other cryptic species or subspecies.  More on these cryptic “spotted bass” species later.

Spotted Bass have been introduced in several other watersheds in the southeast including the Chattahoochee, several watersheds along the United States Atlantic seaboard and southwestern United States.  Spots prefer to relate to wood debris or chunk rock on a hard substrate (clay, rock, or sand) in or near current; however, they are habitat generalist…meaning they can be found just about everywhere, much like Largemouth.

Hybridization Potential:
As noted before, there is some potential to hybridize with Smallmouth to form the “Meanmouth Bass”.  I have personally observed what appears to be Spotted Bass x Redeye Bass hybrids where Redeye Bass were stocked in Tennessee River tributaries in north Alabama.  It is suspected that hybridization is also possible with Alabama Bass and Shoal Bass where they have been artificially stocked on top of each other, primarily in the Chattahoochee.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
Spotted Bass are often called Spots, Kentuckies, Kentucky Redeyes, or just Redeyes. They are not true Redeye Bass…that is a different species entirely (to be discussed later). Spotted Bass can be identified using the following characteristics:
-when closed, the back of the jaw is usually lined up with the centerline of the eye.
-there is usually a small patch of teeth on the tongue.
-the two dorsal fins are connected.
-although not quite as pronounced as on the smallmouth, body shape tends to be shorter and stockier.
-lateral line scale count is typically 60 – 71 (Baker, Johnston, and Folkerts, 2008).

Spotted Bass coloration and markings are typically light to medium olive back, usually with darker patches within. These darker patches usually DO touch and blend with the top of the back (but this is not a constant). A solid to patchy lateral line coloration is present, sometimes with short vertical striping; usually there is a dark blotch separated from the lateral line markings at the base of the tail. They normally have a white belly with horizontal lines of small spots (the namesake).  Looked at from a distance, these lines of spots look distinctly like faint lateral stripes on the flanks.

Spotted Bass, typical coloration with textbook back blotches that connect with the top of the back.
 spot pasc
spot pasc
Spotted Bass caught in the muddy waters of a MS River tributary (almost no coloration, but still has faint lines of horizontalspots on belly and faint blotch at base of tail…connected dorsal fin and small mouth eliminates possibility of it being a Largemouth).
 spot muddy

 

5. Alabama Bass.  Micropterus henshalli
formerly known as Alabama Spotted Bass or Coosa Spotted Bass

Status of Subspecies:
As noted above, for years Alabama Bass were considered a subspecies to the Spotted Bass.  After all, they look almost exactly alike. However, the Alabama Bass was recently elevated to species status (Baker, Johnston, & Folkerts, 2008).  Compared to (Northern/Kentucky) Spotted Bass, Alabama Bass get bigger and average bigger, body shape tends to be longer and more streamlined, and there are significant genetic differences.  To paraphrase in simple terms my understanding of the research papers I’ve read:  Within the black bass gene pool, Northern Spotted Bass and Smallmouth Bass align in a “sister group”, while Alabama Bass are more closely aligned with the other black bass species in another, and specifically within a “sister group” with the Mobile watershed Redeye Bass.  This makes the two former spotted bass sub-species not even closely related (Near et al, 2003; Harbaugh, 1994; Kassler et al, 2002).

Distribution and Habitat:
Their natural range is also different, and fairly confined, compared to the Spotted Bass. Alabama Bass are native ONLY to rivers that flow into Mobile Bay, such as the Tombigbee, Alabama, Coosa, Cahaba, and their tributaries in Alabama, Northwest Georgia, Northeast Mississippi, and a very small piece of Tennessee east of Chattanooga.  However, Alabama Bass have been widely introduced into other waters, including but not limited to other watersheds in Georgia and Tennessee, as well as South Carolina and as far west as California (which holds the current world record).  This translocation is often to the detriment of other native species of bass because they compete with and easily interbreed with Smallmouth and Shoal Bass, diluting the gene pool.  Alabama Bass prefer wood debris, rocky outcrops, and chunk rock in or near current; however, they are habitat generalist…meaning they can be found just about everywhere, much like Largemouth.  Although they will, they do not seem to relate to sand and gravel as much as (Northern) Spotted Bass do.  Larger specimens tend to gravitate to large woody debris.

Hybridization Potential:
When introduced into Smallmouth waters, they readily hybridize with Smallmouth forming what is colloquially called the “Meanmouth Bass” hybrid.  When introduced into Shoal Bass waters, they readily hybridize forming what is colloquially called the “Spoal Bass” hybrid.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
Alabama Bass can be identified using the following characteristics:
-when closed, the back of the jaw is usually lined up with the centerline or back edge of the eye.
-there is usually a small patch of teeth on the tongue.
-the two dorsal fins are connected.
-lateral line scale count is typically 68 – 84, which is substantially higher than Spotted Bass (Baker, Johnston, and Folkerts, 2008).
-Alabama Bass have a longer, shallower body compared to Spotted Bass.
Alabama Bass coloration and markings are very similar to those of Spotted Bass: typically light to medium olive green back (often with a bronze-emerald or golden-yellow sheen), usually with darker patches within. These darker patches are usually smaller and more numerous than on the Spotted Bass, and usually DO NOT touch and blend with the top of the back below the front dorsal fin (but this is not a constant).  A dark, solid to patchy lateral line coloration is present, usually with short vertical striping, and sometimes with significant vertical striping; usually there is a dark blotch separated from the lateral line at the base of the tail.  They normally have a white belly with horizontal lines of small spots.  When viewed from a distance, these lines of small spots appear to be faint lateral stripes on the flanks.

Alabama Bass, subdued markings due to dingy water conditions.
 AL subdued
Alabama Bass, lighter and more vibrant markings…notice dark splotches on back generally do not connect to top of back.
 AL vib
Alabama Bass, birds-eye view with textbook back splotches that generally do not touch the top of the back.
 AL birds eye
Alabama Bass with some unique markings. I do not believe this is a hybrid, simply an extreme example of natural variations in the markings. Oddly enough, almost ALL the splotches on the back extend to the top of the back.
 AL unique
Alabama Bass caught out from under a rock (very dark coloration, but horizontal rows of spots are visible on flanks and no white tips to fins, so it’s not a Redeye Bass).
 AL dark

 

6. Shoal Bass.  Micropterus cataractae

Status of Subspecies:
The Shoal Bass use to be considered a subspecies of the Redeye Bass.  However, circa 1999, it was granted its own species because basically it’s just too different than a Redeye to be a Redeye.  Among other significant differences, while the Redeye Bass is a small bass generally confined to cooler mountain headwaters, the Shoal Bass is a much larger fish that can survive and thrive in warmer limestone bed coastal plain rivers.

Distribution and Habitat:
They are only native to the Apalachicola River Basin in Georgia, extreme east Alabama, and northwest Florida. They have been introduced to certain areas in the Altamaha basin in Georgia as well.  They do not tolerate impounded water very well and cannot spawn in impounded water.  Instead, they prefer highly oxygenated water in and around rocky shoals (hence the name).

Hybridization Potential:
They are known to hybridize with Spotted Bass, Alabama Bass, and the newly described Choctaw Bass where these species have been introduced into Shoal Bass waters.  These hybrids are colloquially referred to as “Spoal Bass”.  I suspect that a few strange bass recently caught in the Chattahoochee (which has an illegally-introduced Smallmouth population) could be Smallmouth x Shoal Bass hybrids—or “Smoal Bass” if you will.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
Contrary to their former placement as a Redeye Bass subspecies, Shoal Bass are actually a relatively large species.  They arguably average larger size and max out bigger than Smallmouth in a riverine environment.  Shoal Bass can be identified using the following characteristics:
-when closed, the back of the jaw typically extends to the back side of the eye (much smaller than the Largemouth’s, but slightly larger than others’).
-they typically do not have a tooth patch on their tongue.
-the two dorsal fins are connected. -lateral line scale counts are typically 70 – 79 (Mettee, O’Neal, and Pierson, 2001 via www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/fish/bassblack/shoal/).

Coloration and markings are usually dark brownish olive with darker brown vertical stripes and usually a dark spot at the base of the tail.  Unlike Smallmouth, which are usually brownish all over, Shoal Bass normally have a creamy white belly.

Shoal Bass, typical coloration
 shoal typical
Shoal Bass with subdued coloration due to stained water.
shoal bass subdued
Suspected “Spoal” Bass hybrid
 spoal

 

7. Suwannee Bass.  Micropterus notius

Status of Subspecies:
There are no widely recognized or suspected subspecies, but Barthel et al. (2015) proposes separate supspecies or “stocks”:  one in the Suwannee, and the other in the Ochlocknee with artificial range expansion of the Ochlocknee strain into the Aucilla/Wacissa and Wakulla/St. Marks watersheds.

Distribution and Habitat:
The Suwannee Bass can only be found in the Suwannee River, Ochlocknee River, Aucilla/Wacissa River, and Wakulla/St. Marks River watersheds in north-central Florida and extreme southern Georgia.  Genetic testing has suggested it is native only to the Suwannee and Ochlocknee systems, and the other populations are likely introduced (Barthel et al, 2015).  They usually prefer the limestone shoals and (often heavily vegetated) spring runs found in the rivers of north central Florida.  While I believe the clear spring runs are preferred, they will live in tannin-stained “blackwater” as well to an extent.  However, they have never been documented in the extremely acidic blackwater of the Okefenokee Swamp (the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Mary’s Rivers).  There is a possible route for distribution expansion to the St. Mary’s River through the swamp, but the swamp’s water appears to be an effective barrier.

Hybridization Potential:
I am not aware of any hybridization involving Suwannee Bass.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
They do not getvery big. They resemble a dark-complected Shoal Bass, but they are much deeper-bodied…almost panfish like. They can be identified with the following characteristics:
-when closed, the back of the jaw extends to the centerline of the eye.
-they typically have a tooth patch on the tongue.
-the two dorsal fins are connected.
Coloration and markings are typically very dark olive with almost black vertical bars, often with a bright turquoise shimmer to it (especially around the cheeks and belly). The eye often has a red coloration.

Suwannee Bass, taken from tannin-stained “blackwater”.
suwannee dark1
suwannee dark2
Suwannee Bass, taken from ultra-clear spring run.
Suwannee clear1
Suwannee clear2

 

8. Guadalupe Bass.  Micropterus treculii

Subspecies:
There are no recognized or suspected subspecies.

Distribution and Habitat:
With all the black bass species variation in the southeast, the Guadalupe Bass is a bit of an outlier, native only to a few rivers in Southeast Texas on the Edwards Plateau (also referred to as the Texas Hill Country), including main stems and tributaries of the Brazos, Colorado, Guadalupe, and San Antonio Rivers.  They have also been introduced outside their range into the Nueces River system.  Habitat preference is comparable to (Northern) Spotted Bass.

Hybridization Potential:
A large portion of the Guadalupe Bass’ range has been infiltrated by artificially stocked Smallmouth Bass. The result was the replacement of both species with the fertile Guadalupe X Smallmouth hybrid in many of these watersheds, effectively extirpating pure Guadalupe Bass from many areas of their native range.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
In coloration and markings, they can be very similar to (Northern) Spotted Bass and even some Redeye Bass species (sans the fin coloration). They are not a very large bass species, comparable to( Northern) Spotted Bass in size, if a little smallmer. The following characteristics can be used for identification:
-when closed, the back of the jaw typically extends to the centerline of the eye.
-they typically have a tooth patch on their tongue.
-the two dorsal fins are connected.

The following photos show the wildly varying coloration and markings of the Guadalupe Bass. All of these were caught in the only river that I’m aware of that still holds pure Guadalupe Bass (I think).
guad vert stripes1
guad vert stripes2
guad splotch line1
guad splotch line2

 

9. Redeye Bass, provisionally now Coosa Bass.  Micropterus coosae
10? Warrior Bass.  Micropterus warriorensis
11? Cahaba Bass.   Micropterus cahabae
12? Tallapoosa Bass.  Micropterus tallapoosae
13? Chattahoochee Bass.  Micropterus chattahoochae
14? Altamaha Bass.  Micropterus coosae sp.
15? Bartram’s Bass.  Micropterus coosae sp.

Status of Subspecies:
The Florida state record is over 8lbs, but this was really a Shoal Bass that was caught back when Shoal Bass were considered to be a Redeye Bass subspecies…but for some reason, it appears they are allowing it to stand.  True Redeye Bass do not even exist in Florida.  Even though Shoal Bass have been stricken as a Redeye Bass subspecies, there are still several proposed Redeye Bass species/subspecies.  Baker et al (2013) described five species/subspecies of Redeye Bass, splitting them into the following:
Warrior Bass Micropterus warriorensis, native to the Black Warrior River system in Alabama.
Cahaba Bass Micropterus cahabae, native to the Cahaba River system in Alabama.
Coosa Bass Micropterus coosae, the original phenotype, native to the Coosa River system in Alabama and Georgia.
Tallapoosa Bass Micropterus tallapoosae, native to the Tallapoosa River system in Alabama and Georgia.
Chattahoochee Bass Micropterus chattahoochae, native to the Chattahoochee River system in Georgia.  Historical populations in the Chattahoochee tributaries on the eastern edge of Alabama are presumed to be eradicated.

The most popularly recognized, but yet un-described, (sub)species is the Bartram’s bass in the Savannah River watershed of eastern Georgia and western South Carolina.  There is also a population in the Santee River basin of central South Carolina that is believed to be an artificially transplanted population of Bartram’s Bass.  The Bartram’s Bass is the only variety that can tolerate, and even spawn in, impounded water; whereas the other Redeye Basses require substantial current to carry out their life cycle.

The Altamaha River basin of central Georgia holds yet another potential and undescribed (sub)species.  A population in the upper Ogeechee River basin is suspected to be an artificially transplanted population of this Altamaha variety.  Freeman et al (2015) portrays Shoal Bass (M. cataractae), Chattahoochee “Redeye” Bass (M. chattahoochae), and the undescribed Bartram’s and Altamaha forms as a clade of sister species.

This splitting of the species is not without controversy within the scientific community.  Although several of the proposed species have been formally described, they are not yet widely accepted among biologists in the field or by the American Fisheries Society.  It is my personal expectation that they will be and ought to be eventually.  While the differences between the populations may be subtle, they are generally consistent enough to facilitate identification from photos alone, and I believe that at least warrants “subspecies” status.

Distribution and Habitat:
See “Status of Subspecies” for native distributions.  Redeye Bass inhabit rocky shoals, especially in the mountainous headwater tributaries of the Mobile, Apalachicola, Altamaha, Savannah, and Santee watersheds.  This is typically a headwater fish, preferring cool, clean, often shallow water over rocky substrate, although they are also commonly found in larger “Piedmont” streams down to the Fall Line as well.  On rare occasions, they can be found in the first several miles of the Coastal Plain just below the Fall Line.  Larger specimens may relate more to woody debris, weeds, and deeper water, but almost always near substantial current.

Redeye Bass (mostly Coosa form) have been stocked with some success in portions of the Tennessee River watershed and a handful of small streams in western states such as California and Arizona.

Hybridization Potential:
Smallmouth Bass and Alabama Bass introduced in the Savannah River watershed are hybridizing with the native Bartram’s variety there.  There is also suspected hybridization between introduced Alabama Bass and Altamaha variety Redeye in portions of the Altamaha watershed.  Hybridization with Smallmouth and (Kentucky/Northern) Spotted Bass has been documented where Coosa Redeye Bass have been introduced into various Tennessee River tributaries.  There may be other cases of hybridization with non-native congeners that I am unaware of; but the potential for hybridization is always increased in waters where a non-native bass species has been introduced.

Baker et al (2013) documented some natural hybridization between native Alabama Bass and various forms of Redeye in the Mobile basin.  These hybrids often look very much like an Alabama Bass with subdued Redeye fin coloration and “eyeliner”.  The lateral line blotches of a typical Alabama Bass on these hybrids often is faint on the front half or third of the body.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
They do not get very big…kind of like what a Brook Trout is to the salmonid family.  However, the Altamaha variety tends to grow somewhat bigger than the others, and the Bartram’s bigger still.  “Bigger” is a relative term here as even the Bartram’s would be considered a small fish by most sport fishermen.  The Redeye name is a bit of a misnomer, as they do not necessarily have to have red eyes.  Many species of black bass can have red eyes, especially during the spring spawning period.  Redeyes often have red/orange/rusty/yellowish fins, usually with white tips.  The back of the eye almost always has a bluish rim.  Body coloration ranges from olive to brown, often with bluish tints.  Body pattern can be almost non-descript to very vibrant vertical bars with spotted bass-like horizontal lines of spots on its flanks.  These fish also have the following characteristics: -when closed, the back of the jaw usually extends to the centerline of the eye. -most populaitons have a tooth patch on the tongue. -the two dorsal fins are connected. -may have a turquoise hue primarily on their belly and gill plates, especially during the spawn. -rear margin of eye is white or blue.

The following descriptions are paraphrased from Baker et al. (2013).  In general, I believe older specimens lose some of the vividness of their lateral blotching, making that aspect less useful in identifying larger individuals.  That said, the presence of a faint or partially present lateral stripe similar to an Alabama Bass (higher blotch density and less vertical elongation) on a larger individual may point to it being a natural hybrid.

Micropterus warriorensis
Whereas most of the Redeye (sub)species generally have an overall coloration of deep greenish brown with some turquoise, the coloration of this bass is often a lighter golden brown with lighter green (similar in some ways to Alabama Bass).  However, spawning specimens may present more vibrant colors typical of the other Redeyes.  Lateral midline markings consist of 6-13 blotches, the front few being somewhat vertically elongate with the rest being large “dots” or “diamonds”.  Back markings are often present and numerous, but are often in irregular patterns.  The outer half or 1/3 of the rear dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are generally faint orange bordered with white along the outer edges.  Sometimes, the orange coloration may be limited to the anal fin.  The tips of the spines on the front dorsal may also be white.  The remainder of these fins and the pectoral fins are generally a yellowish-green with small, sometimes faint, dark green or brown dots on the soft rays (but pectoral fins are more translucent with no dots).  Less than 1/4 of the population has a tooth patch, and even the individuals that do generally have very small ones.  Genetically, these fall in a clade with the other Mobile basin Redeyes and Alabama Bass.

Specimen from a Locust Fork tributary showing fairly typical coloration—yellowish-green dorsal, anal, and caudal fins with dots, some faint orange in front of white caudal fin tips, and on the anal and rear dorsal fins, about 10 lateral blotches.
redeye warrior

Micropterus cahabae
Lateral midline markings consist of 6 – 12 blotches, sometimes faint, usually starting as vertically elongate “stripes” near the front of the body extending mostly above body midline, and shortening into a series of large irregular “dots” near the tail. Back markings are generally small and may “zipper” between the midline markings slightly. Fins do not display appreciable amounts of red or orange coloration. Rear dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are greenish-yellow or brownish-yellow with white tips. Most of the caudal fin and the bases of the rear dorsal and anal fins are often covered with small light green or light brown dots on the rays. Pectoral fins are also greenish but more translucent with not dots. Tooth patch is present in about 2/3’s of the population. They are visually very similar to the [i]M. tallapoosae[/i]. Genetically, these fall in a clade with the other Mobile basin Redeyes and Alabama Bass.

Specimen from a small Cahaba River tributary, showing typical coloration—brownish dorsal and caudal fins with dots with no red or orange (white tips on caudal just off screen), about 12 lateral blotches with some “zippering”.
redeye cahaba

Micropterus coosae
Lateral midline and back markings are often faint and dispersed with very little distinguishable pattern, but some have 10-13 short, irregular, vertical blotches along midline that often fade away towards the tail. Outer half to 1/3 of rear dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are normally brick red with the pronounced white edges/tips. Remainder of these fins are a bronzy-green, often with faint dark green or brown dots on the soft rays near the base of the fins. Although more translucent and with no dots, the pectoral fins also often have a brick red coloration. They almost always have a tooth patch. Genetically, these fall in a clade with the other Mobile basin Redeyes and Alabama Bass.

Typical specimen of the Coosa Bass variety. Largely nondescript body markings. Red eye and overall turquoise coloration particularly vibrant during spawning season. Bluish white edge on back of eye, and white tips on rust/brick-colored caudal fin are evident. Pectoral fin is also rust/brick-colored.
 redeye coosa

Micropterus tallapoosae
Very similar appearance to M. cahabae. Lateral midline markings consist of 10-13 blotches, sometimes faint, generally a little more elongate than M. cahabae and often extending below body midline. Back markings tend to be larger than those on M. cahabae and generally butt up to the ends of the midline marking instead of “zippering” between them. Like M. cahabae, the rear dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are greenish, largely covered with darker green or brown dots, and have white tips; and the pectoral fins are greenish but more translucent with no dots. Tooth patch is present in about 3/4’s of the population. Genetically, these fall in a clade with the other Mobile basin Redeyes and Alabama Bass.

Although I have caught many, I did not have good photos of this (sub)species. Photos of typical specimens of Tallapoosa Bass courtesy of Tim Perkins showing typical coloration—greenish fins with dots on rear dorsal, anal and caudal fins, white tips but no orange or red coloration, 10-13 faint lateral blotches with no appreciable “zippering”.
redeye tallapoosa
redeye tallapoosa
redeye tallapoosa

Micropterus chattahoochae
Lateral midline markings consist of 9-11 blotches, generally distinct, vertically elongate near the front of the body and shortening into a series of “dots” near the tail. Back markings are generally distinct, and some of these markings may terminate well below the base of the dorsal fin creating a few distinct, separate “diamonds” or “dots” along the back. The outer 1/4 to 1/3 of the rear dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are bright orange, sometimes with a narrow white margin. The tips of the spines on the front dorsal may also be white. The remainder of these fins and the pectoral fins are generally brownish-green often with distinct small dots on the soft rays everywhere that is not orange (but pectoral fins are more translucent with no dots). The majority of the population will have a tooth patch on the tongue. Genetically, these fall in a clade with Shoal Bass and the Bartram’s and Altamaha Redeyes.

Since I have never caught this (sub)species, the photos typical specimens are provided courtesy of Keith Lott. The specimen in the upper photo is most typical with 9 or 10 fairly distinct lateral markings and “diamonds” on the back, as well as the characteristic bright orange fins. The specimen in the lower photo has atypically much less distinct (nearly non-existent) lateral markings, but retains the signature orange fins.
redeye chattahoochee
redeye chattahoochee

Undescribed Bartram’s Bass Micropterus coosae sp
Lateral midline blotches are generally well separated and elongate, often interlacing with distinct “diamonds” on the back, and remain generally distinct even in older individuals. Soft dorsal and anal fins typically a yellowish-brown with spots that tend to line up in bands. Caudal fin typically lacks significant pigmentation and may be edged with dull white or salmon. Genetically, these fall in a clade with Shoal Bass and the Altamaha Redeye according to Freeman et al (2015).

Since I have never caught this (sub)species, the photo of a typical specimen is courtesy of Andrew Taylor. Notice overall lighter coloration with very prominent lateral markings and barely noticeable salmon edges of caudal fin.
redeye bartrams

Undescribed Altamaha Bass Micropterus coosae sp
Lateral midline blotches are generally well separated and elongate, often interlacing with distinct “diamonds” on the back. These markings become subdued in larger individuals. Soft dorsal, anal and caudal fins are usually brownish-green with spots that tend to line up in bands, and are typically edged with light salmon to burnt orange. Genetically, these fall in a clade with Shoal Bass and the Bartram’s Redeye according to Freeman et al (2015).

Notice difference in body markings. This fish was taken in winter, and therefore the fin colors may be somewhat subdued, but it does have white’ish salmon colored margins to the anal and caudal fins. Notice the faint “diamonds” on the back that interlock with the faint lateral line splotches. Also, distinct lines of spots on the flanks, make the Altamaha variety look particularly like a dark-complected Spotted Bass.
 redeye altamaha

 

16?  Choctaw Bass.  Micropterus haiaka

Status of Subspecies:
None identified.  The species was completely unknown until Tringali et al (2015) basically stumbled upon it while doing Shoal Bass research in the Florida panhandle.  They may be related to Guadalupe Bass, and speculatively, to other cryptic “spotted bass” species along the Gulf Coast; therefore, future research may place these in a clade of species or subspecies.

Distribution and Habitat:
Choctaw Bass native range is limited to the Perdido, Escambia, Yellow/Blackwater, and Choctawhatchee Watersheds.  It has been illegally introduced into the Chipola River.  The illegally introduced “Spotted Bass” population in the lower Apalachicola/Flint/Chattahoochee may in fact be Choctaw Bass.

Preferred habitat is similar to many of the other riverine bass species.  They often prefer substantial current around woody debris, and can sometimes be found around clay-rock, sandstone/limestone shoals found in some areas of southeast Alabama and the Florida panhandle.

Hybridization Potential:
There is some documented hybridization with native Shoal Bass in the Chipola River in the Florida panhandle where Choctaw Bass have been illegally introduced.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
They look nearly identical to (Northern) Spotted Bass.  Morphological data presented by Tringali et al (2015) suggest the most significant difference is less soft rays in the front dorsal fin (11 vs. 12) and anal fin (9 vs. 10).  My own not-so-scientific observations suggest the back blotches are generally smaller, less distinct and less ordered than on Spotted Bass (large blotches that often connect to the top of the back) and Alabama Bass (smaller blotches that generally do not connect to the top of the back).  The Choctaw Bass’ smaller random blotches often seem to coalesce into a generally darker region at the top of the back.

Choctaw Bass specimen of typical coloration from the Choctawhatchee watershed.
choctaw

 

17-20?.  Cryptic “Spotted” Bass Species.  Micropterus punctalatus sp.

Status of Subspecies:
No one knows yet.  Unpublished genetic research suggests that previously-suspected Choctaw Bass in the Pontchartrain/Maurepas, Pearl, Bay Saint Louis, Biloxi Bay, and Pascagoula Bay watersheds are in fact, not genetically the same as the Choctaw Bass.  At this point, I am not privy as to where these are or related to Spotted Bass, Guadalupe Bass, or are yet another cryptic species like the Choctaw.  So as for my own speculations…

Some geomorphology studies I’ve read suggest that Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, and possibly the Pearl watershed were connected to the Mississippi River in the very recent past.  This suggests that whatever “spotted” bass species was isolated in these watersheds may not have had much time to appreciably diverge from the Mississippi River’s true Spotted Bass.  Therefore, the populations may simply be Spotted Bass or a very closely related subspeces.  Erosion and stream capture between the upper Pearl River watershed and the Big Black and other smaller Mississippi River tributaries in southwest Mississippi may also help contribute to keep these populations genetically similar to the Spotted Bass in the Mississippi River.

On the other hand, I suspect the Biloxi Bay and Pascagoula watershed populations to be something different.  The topography and geomorphology suggests a possible old tie with the watersheds to the east where Alabama Bass and Choctaw Bass currently reside.  This suggests this population may be a Choctaw/Guadalupe Bass subspecies.

The populations in the Bay Saint Louis tributaries I’m not sure about at all.  The Jourdan River has a likely recent connection to the Pearl via an old Pearl River distributary at Stennis.  On the other hand, the Wolf River appears to flow directly towards Biloxi Bay before making a hard right towards Bay Saint Louis after it goes under I-10, suggesting it may have been a Biloxi Bay tributary (through the Turkey Creek swamp) at some point before being pirated by a small Bay Saint Louis tributary.  Genetically, these populations could go either way.

That’s just Mississippi…there’s Louisiana and Texas too.  I suspect populations to the west of the Atchafalaya outflow, starting possibly at Bayou Queue de Tortue, and extending west through the lower portions of the Guadalupe and San Antonio Rivers, to be something different as well.  I haven’t found any studies stating such, but my lay view of the topography suggests all of these waterways may have connected into a single large coastal river or at least a single brackish bay somewhere offshore south of Galveston during one of the past glacial maximums when sea levels were as much as 300 feet lower than they are today.  Glacial maximum cycles could have facilitated both isolation from the Mississippi River populations as well as gene flow across these western Gulf Coast drainages, leading to the divergence of yet another cryptic “spotted bass” species.  In fact, I believe one of these earlier glacial cycles probably isolated populations in a sub-basin west of Houston, leading to the divergence of the Guadalupe Bass.

So there’s my Babe Ruth call…at least two and maybe up to four more cryptic “Spotted/Choctaw/Guadalupe” species or subspecies will eventually be identified.

Distribution and Habitat:
See above for completely speculative distribution.  Habitat use is much the same as Spotted, Guadalupe, and Choctaw Bass.

Hybridization Potential:
Not yet determined.

Distinguishing Characteristics:
Not yet determined.

“Spotted Bass” from Pascagoula River watershed (dorsal fin is damaged so it looks disconnected like a Largemouth; but coloration, mouth size, and tooth patch on tongue ID it as what is generally accepted to be a Spotted Bass)…notice the faint splotches on the back generally extend up to and coalesce into a non-descript darker area at the top of the back much like the Choctaw Bass example photo. This is suspected to be a “cryptic” species that looks similar to, but is genetically different from, a Spotted Bass and/or Choctaw Bass. Future research will be needed.
cryptic
“Spotted Bass” from Tchoutacabouffa (Biloxi Bay) watershed in upper photo, and from the Wolf (Bay Saint Louis) watershed in the lower photo. My sample size of photos from this region are not enough to determine if the striking differences in lateral markings of these two individuals is typical of the populations from which they came. I also have no photos of “Spotted Bass” from the western Gulf Coast watersheds.
cryptic
cryptic

 

References

Baker, Winston H., Carol E. Johnston, and George W. Folkerts. “The Alabama Bass: Micropterus henshalli (Teleostei Centrarchidae), from the Mobile River basin.” Zootaxa 1861 (2008): 57-67.

Harbaugh, J. M. “A Cladistic Analysis of the Centrarchid Genus MicropterusUsing Morphometric Characters.” M. S. Thesis (1994), Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

Kassler, T.W., J.B. Koppelman, T.J. Near, C.B. Dillman, J.M. Levengood, D.L. Swofford, J.L. Van Orman, J.E. Claussen, and D.P. Phillip. ”Molecular and Morphological Analyses of the Black Basses: Implications for Taxonomy and Conservation.” Black Bass: Ecology, Conservation, and Management American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland (2002).

Mettee, Maurice F., Patrick E. O’Neal, and J. Malcolm Pierson. Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin. Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor House, 2001.

Near, Thomas J., et al. “Speciation in North American Black Basses: Micropterus (Actinopterygii: Centrarchidae).” Evolution 57(7) (2003): 1610-1621.

Outdoor Alabama: Share the Wonder. “Fish in Alabama: Black Bass: SmallmouthBass.” Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources. Web. 18 February 2011. <www. outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/fish/bassblack/smallmouth/>.

Outdoor Alabama: Share the Wonder. “Fish in Alabama: Black Bass: ShoalBass.” Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources. Web. 18 February 2011. < www. outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater/fish/bassblack/shoal/>.

30 Responses to “What the Heck Kinda Bass is That???”

  1. ML says:

    Great Job RH!!!! Very detailed!!

  2. BravesWin says:

    Great job, Lance…this is about the most comprehensive and scientific summary on bass recognition that I’ve seen. I suspect that this will become a go-to reference for many folks.

  3. Andy Webb says:

    The Neosho Smallmouth Bass is a viable subspecies, separated by geography from the northern smallmouth. They are present in about ten counties in the world, and while a smaller subspecies, Missouri has not given them any consideration, citing slow growth as a reason to not have a special management area outside of the Elk River. Oklahoma refuses to stock northern strain fish in Grand Lake because of the possibility of interbreeding with native Neosho strain fish in the rivers feeding the lake. If these fish were not a stream dwelling fish, they would have colonized the lake by now, but the m.d. velox is not a lake dwelling fish. Velox, Latin for “swift” is given due to the fast water habitat these fish prefer. I hope I have helped out a bit with understanding these fish, and if you have more questions, let us know. Thanks.

  4. Astrobass says:

    This article has turned out to be a good reference tool for me. Now when I catch bass I take a look at the article later to see just what kind of bass I have been catching. Great article.

  5. baylorsdad says:

    Great Job Lance!

  6. Kev says:

    Hands down the best bass article I have read. GREAT JOB!

  7. Thorke says:

    That’s a truely awesome article!
    I’m trying to ID a bass caught in Spain (Europe) and thought that perhaps you can help me?:
    Supposedly only largemouth bass have ever been stocked in Spain, but a friend of mine caught one with a very red eye (it’s the header picture here: http://www.jjphoto.dk/jj_fishing/photo_reports/spain_apr11.htm (more pictures halfway down)). The locals say that it’s normal for the largemouth bass to get red eyes during spawning, but I can’t find this mentioned in any book or on-line.
    My questions: In your opinion, what species is it in the picture?
    Does the largemouth get red(der) eyes during spawning, like some of the other species mentioned here?
    Sorry for the atrocious English!
    Thorke Østergaard
    Denmark

  8. Mike Berg says:

    I loved your article; the scientific community has caught up with your suspicions, these 4 were split from the Redeye Bass.

    Micropterus cahabae

    Micropterus chattahoochae

    Micropterus tallapoosae

    Micropterus warriorensis

    • RedHeron says:

      I plan to update my article when/if the American Fisheries Society formaly recognizes these redeye species, as well as the Choctaw Bass described earlier this year.

  9. Tiffanie says:

    I live in southern Indiana and I need to figure out what kind of bass I recently caught. It has been puzzling me for a few weeks now. It was still a juvenile. I was seining for minnows when i caught it. This fish was wider than the others caught that day, darker in color. What really caught my attention was its tail it wasn’t the typical forked type… it was rounded? The markings, mouth, eyes, and all other fins were almost identical… if anyone is familiar with bass in my area i would greatly appreciate and insight!

  10. RedHeron says:

    Perhaps it was a pirate perch?

  11. Wes says:

    What river is it that holds the only pure Guadeloupe Bass? I fished the Guadeloupe river about a year ago and caught a few small hybrids (I believe). I’m going to head through Texas here pretty soon and would like to have another crack at a Guad.

    • RedHeron says:

      I am not sure. Texas has been stocking pure Guads in some streams to try to regain genetic intregrity in those areas. You might consider contact TPWD or the American Fisheries Society Black Bass Conservation Committee. The AFS-BBCC has a good facebook page.

    • Mike V. says:

      Regarding Guadeloupe: Guads are located in the San Saba river, the San Gabriel river(s), the Llano river(s), the Guadeloupe river (duh), and is stocked in the Nueces river. It is also stocked in the lower Llano river but is fairly pure upstream from Junction, TX.

      As you might’ve guessed, I fish for Guads all the time. Have become fairly good at finding them. I use an ultra-light spinning rod for my adventures and have landed some nice ones.

      If you are in Central Texas this fall, ping me on my site. We can go exploring. :-)

      Long live the Texas hotwater trout!

      Mike
      Hillcountryfishingrods.blogspot.com

  12. c jones says:

    HI I live in southwest texas and I recently caught a specie of bass that I am not familiar with it was similar to smallmouth but darker only about 1 foot long some vertical barring and very red eye its fight was strong for its size any info would be apreciated

    • RedHeron says:

      It is likely a smallmouth or a smallie x guad hybrid. Smallmouth, like all bass species, can change their coloration and contrast to some extent based on the environment they are currently in…kinda like chamaeleons. A bass hiding under a overhanging rock, cut bank, in thick vegetation, etc will be much darker than the same bass cruising open clear water.

  13. slayerwulfe says:

    a genetic switch that determines whether germ cells become sperm or egg. the gene is named foxl3, i believe the very small redeyed look like small mouth but a vibrant bright moss grn color may have this same mechanism. have fun, liked your work.
    slayerwulfe cave

    • RedHeron says:

      All of these species are genetically distinguishable. Redeye bass and smallmouth bass do not naturally coexist, but are geographically separated in different watersheds. Recent genetic studies have shown two clades of redeye bass, one (or multiple) Redeye species in the Mobile River watershed that is/are sister species with Alabama Bass in that same watershed, and another several Redeyes species in the Apalachicola, Altamaha, and Savannah River watersheds that are sister species to the Apalachicola’s Shoal Bass. Smallmouth bass are not closely related to Redeyes and appear to be a sister species to the Spotted Bass native to the Mississippi River watershed where they naturally coexist. Neither Smallmouth bass or true Spotted bass are native to watersheds where Redeye, Alabama, and Shoal bass are endemic; although there are some areas within these watersheds that have been illegally stocked with Smallmouth, Spotted, and Alabama bass within the last few decades, and some much more recently, to the detriment of the genetic integrity of the native species.

  14. Glen says:

    This looks like Largemouth and Smallmouth hybridization with variances in these two breeds of fish being accelerated because of possible isolation and possibly limited gene pool. Triggering more distinguished variances in the way they look. I would be curious to see if DNA tests conclude my theory. The red eye bass I would be curious to know if there are any other fish in that local area that have red eyes. I believe fish interbreed in the wild a lot more than we think they do. Fish are fish and genes are genes and they tell the truth. Species are man made identifiers to group or associate similar type or kind.

    • RedHeron says:

      Genetic research has confirmed all of these species, as well as a few others that I haven’t included yet because they haven’t been formally accepted by the scientific community (primarily the American Fisheries Society). There is some fascinating genetic research out there. Some papers show a sigficant degree of diversity not only between the species, but within each species, suggesting each species has been around for a long time with limited genetic bottlenecks.
      These fish are certainly not all hybrids between smallmouth and largemouth bass. Neither is eye color a reliable identifying characteristic for any of the bass species, including Redeye Bass oddly enough. Bass eye color can change with any number of environmental factors. Natural hybridization does occur in the wild, but to a limited extent…otherwise we wouldn’t be able to identify anything. The exception to this is when geographically isolated native species are artificially stocked on top of each other, they seem to hybridize much more readily. But even then, the parent species of these hybrids can often be identified with genetic testing, especially in the extrememly rare case of a parent being a non-Micropterus. However, as you say, geographic isolation through seal level fluctuations over the last 20 million years is a likely mechanism for the speciation events that led to all these different types of black bass. Natural hybridization with exant, extinct, or intermediate species may have been a contributing factor shortly after isolation; but since, they have diverged into very distinct populations.

  15. Glen says:

    Interesting info. Where can we send pictures for fish identification?

    • RedHeron says:

      I think if you get the photo hosted on a website like photobucket, you can post it in a reply to this article. That way, myself and everyone else that views this article in the future can see it at the bottom along with the most likely species ID. Another route would be to post it to the American Fisheries Society Black Bass Conservation Committee’s page on Facebook. I check that page alot, but more importantly, it is checked (and hosted) by a lot of actual biologists that specialize in black bass.

      Wherever you post, be sure to include the general watershed it was caught in as that is often a critical piece of info to correctly ID some these more cryptic species (especially when ID’ing from a photo…ie. without genetic testing, or being able to count scales, etc.).

  16. Ben says:

    Hi,

    I’ve also caught a strange variant of what I think is a black bass. I was fishing a large pond next to a river in Spain during a holiday when I hooked this little guy. Largemouth bass are pretty common over there as they have been introduced many years ago.

    I hope this link works:
    https://goo.gl/photos/rJ7PgjhhaLwzQ65N6

    If you look closely you can see a difference in color where the spots normally should be.
    I hooked him in the tail, that’s why it’s split and there’s a bit of blood. The fish was returned safely.
    I’ve also included a picture of a largemouth from the same pond so you can see what a “normal” one looks like.
    Been looking all over the internet to find what it is. Hope you guys can help. Thanks!

    • RedHeron says:

      I believe that is still a largemouth bass based on the mouth size and the fact that the two dorsal fins have a significant degree of separation. Sort of like a chamaeleon, they have some control on how light or dark their markings are. They will “wash out” their markings like that in muddy water or when they are hanging out in relatively featureless water. It looks like that pond is pretty clear, so I would guess he was hanging out over a low-contrast sand or pebble bottom or possibly suspending in open water.

      That said, I am not familiar with native species in Spain, so there may be some compatible fish over there that a largemouth hybridized with to make this guy. But I think what I said above is more likely.

  17. Ben says:

    Thanks for the response! I didn’t know they did that. The pond was indeed pretty clear and had a light sandy bottom, so that could explain it. Thank you.

  18. Donald R Schafer says:

    Please take a look at this fish. Caught in Rapid River Michigan out of the Rapid River. Caught 08Jul2015 20in 5lbs. I know it’s a small mouth but I have never caught one with such red eyes.

  19. kyle booker says:

    Great article, thank you!

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