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 BASS BASICS      -   Bass Facts Main Menu, Click Here!
Renowned for its explosive strikes and spectacular leaps, the largemouth bass is a favorite among millions of freshwater fishermen.

Largemouths were originally found only east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes. But as bass fishing grew in popularity, so did stocking programs in many states. Largemouths are now caught in waters throughout the continental United States and Hawaii, in addition to southern Canada and most of Mexico. Bass have been introduced in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.

The largemouth bass is the largest member of a group of closely related fishes called black bass. Others include the smallmouth, spotted, redeye, Suwannee and Guadalupe. The largemouth is distinguished from all of these species by a jaw that extends beyond the eye. All black bass belong to the sunfish family, but differ from sunfish because of their longer bodies.

Biologists have identified two subspecies of largemouth bass: the Florida largemouth and the northern largemouth. Originally, Florida bass lived only in Florida waters. Stocking efforts have expanded their range to include much of the South, particularly Texas and California.
Although they look alike, the Florida largemouth grows considerably larger than the northern subspecies. A trophy Florida bass weighs from 10 to 12 pounds, compared to 6 to 8 pounds for a northern largemouth bass.

Some biologists believe that the world-record largemouth bass was a cross between the northern and Florida subspecies. The 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth was caught in June, 1932, at Montgomery Lake in Georgia. This lake is one of many waters in Georgia and Alabama where largemouth crosses have been found.

Largemouths vary in color, depending upon the type of water. Bass from murky waters are pale, while those from clear waters are darker. Largemouths range from deep green to pale olive across the back, with bellies that are a shade of white or yellow. All bass have a black lateral band that runs from the head to tail. The band becomes more distinct when a fish is exposed to sunlight, but may disappear when a largemouth is in deep or murky water.


SENSES

Largemouth bass have the five major senses common to most animals: hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. They have another sense, the lateral line, which is a series of sensitive nerve endings that extends from just behind the gill to the tail on each side of the fish.

The lateral line can pick up underwater vibrations as subtle as a swimming baitfish. In one experiment, researchers placed small cups over the eyes of bass, then dropped minnows into a tank with the largemouths. Eventually the bass ate each minnow, using their lateral lines to locate the baitfish. This experiment suggests that bass can detect a lure in the murkiest water.

Largemouth bass hear with internal ears located within the skull. They may be attracted by the ticking or popping of some artificial lures. But when they hear loud, unfamiliar sounds, they usually swim to deeper water or cover. Many bass fishermen carpet the bottoms of their boats to reduce noise that might spook the fish.

Bass can see in all directions, except directly below or behind. In clear water, they can see 30 feet or more. But in most bass waters, visibility is limited to 5 to 10 feet. Largemouths can also see objects that are above water. To avoid spooking fish, many fishermen wear neutral-colored clothing that blends with the background.

Bass in shallow water can detect colors, especially red. In one study, red and white lures caught three times as many largemouths as any other color. Color selection is less important in deep water because most colors appear as shades of gray.

Most experts are reluctant to say that one color is always better than another. The best colors vary, depending on light conditions, water clarity and water color. Most believe that a lure’s action is more important than its color.

The eye of a largemouth absorbs more light than does the human eye, enabling the fish to see its food in dim light or darkness. Bass will feed at any time of the day or night, but are less inclined to leave cover and search for food under bright conditions. Like most fish, they prefer shade. They find better ambush camouflage in shady spots or under low-light conditions.

Largemouths smell through nostrils, or nares, on the snout. The nares are short passageways through which water is drawn and expelled without entering the throat. Like most fish, bass can detect minute amounts of scent in the water. However, bass rely on scent less than catfish, salmon or trout.

Bass use their sense of touch to determine whether to reject or swallow an object. They will usually hold on to a soft-bodied, artificial worm longer than a metal lure.

Sense of taste is not as important to largemouth bass as it is to some fish species, because bass have few taste cells in their mouths.


FEEDING

Newly hatched largemouths feed heavily on tiny crustaceans and other zooplankton until the bass reach 2 inches in length. Young largemouths eat insects and small fish, including smaller bass. Adult largemouths prey mostly on fish, but crayfish, frogs and insects are important foods in some waters.

Wherever they live, bass rank high in the aquatic food chain. A bass 10 inches or longer has few enemies and will eat almost anything it can swallow. Because of its large mouth and flexible stomach, a bass can eat prey nearly half its own length.

Largemouths inhale small foods. The bass opens its mouth quickly to suck in water and the food. It then forces the water out the gills while it either swallows or rejects the object. Bass can expel food as quickly as they inhale it, so anglers must set the hook immediately when using small lures or baits.

BASS FOODS reflect a varied diet. Adult largemouths feed heavily on crayfish where they are available. In most waters, they feed mainly on fish, including gizzard and threadfin shad, golden shiners, young sunfish and small rough fish. Bass also eat frogs, large insects, shrimp, salamanders, and even small mammals and ducklings.
Bass usually grab large prey, then turn the food to swallow it headfirst. This explains why anglers who use large golden shiners, frogs or salamanders wait a minute or two before setting the hook.

As the water warms, the metabolism of bass increases and they feed more often. Largemouths seldom eat at water temperatures below 50°F. From 50° to 68°F, feeding increases and from 68° to 80°F, they feed heavily. However, at temperatures above 80°F, feeding declines.

No one is certain what causes bass to strike artificial lures or bait. Experts point to hunger as the main reason. However, many of these same experts believe that reflex, aggressiveness, curiosity and competitiveness may play a part.

Reflex, or a sudden instinctive reaction, may explain why a bass with a full stomach strikes an artificial lure the instant it hits the water. The fish has little time to judge what it is grabbing, yet some cue triggers it to strike.

Male bass display aggressiveness when they attack lures or chase other fish that invade their nest sites. Although this behavior is common during nesting season, bass are not as aggressive at other times of the year.

Curiosity may be the reason that bass rush up to inspect new objects or sounds. However, it is doubtful they take food solely out of curiosity. Competitiveness probably explains why fishermen occasionally catch two bass on the same lure at the same time. Often several bass race to devour a single food item, particularly in waters where food is in short supply.


GROWTH

The best trophy bass waters are those where the fish grow rapidly as a result of proper temperatures and abundant food. Largemouths seldom reach large sizes in waters where they have become too abundant.

The amount bass grow in a year depends on the length of their growing season, or the number of days suitable for growth. The growing season in the South may last twice as long as it does in the North. For example, in 4 years, the average Louisiana largemouth reaches about 18 inches, an Illinois bass is about 13 inches, while a Wisconsin bass averages about 11 inches. Largemouths gain weight most quickly in water from 75° to 80°F. They do not grow in water colder than 50°F.
BASS GROWTH is faster in southern waters than in northern waters, primarily because the growing season is longer. For example, in four years, the average Louisiana largemouth (top) reaches about 18 inches; an Illinois bass (middle) is about 13 inches, while a Wisconsin bass (bottom) averages about 11 inches.

Although bass in the South grow and mature faster, they rarely live as long as largemouths in colder, northern lakes. In southern waters, bass occasionally reach 10 years of age; in northern waters, bass may live as long as 15 years.

Female bass live longer than males, so they are more apt to reach a trophy size. In one study, 30 percent of the females were 5 years or older, while only 9 percent of the male bass were 5 years or more.

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