This section is devoted to the black bass species (smallmouth, largemouth, Guadalupe and spotted bass) in Texas. (Information on the other "bass" species — yellow, white, striped and hybrid striped bass — will be found in the freshwater fishing section.) Black bass are the "money" fish and drive a big part of the Texas economy. Bass fishing and tournaments, tackle and boat sales, tourism, etc. are big business in Texas.
From our pages: Bass fishing articles
Bass DNA is slowly revealing its secrets through TPWD research. read more
A constant struggle takes place along the Texas-Mexico border, with millions of dollars at stake.
It’s a classic example of yin and yang, the dynamic interaction between seemingly opposite forces that are, in fact, interconnected and interdependent, one giving rise to the other. It’s not so much a struggle to win as a complicated dance of coexistence, a performance of life.
Falcon International Reservoir is the stage.
The anglers zooming around the lake armed with stout fishing rods spooled with strong line are more than just the audience for this performance. They are also part of the cast.
They are here to do battle with fish.
Big, big bass.
Fishing lakes, like dormant volcanoes and bad boxers, sometimes telegraph their next move, if you know how to read the signs.
O.H. Ivie Reservoir is a case in point. During the 2009–10 Toyota ShareLunker season, a remarkable 11 fish weighing 13 pounds or more from O.H. Ivie were entered into the program, including a new lake record 16.08-pounder that was caught on the last day of the ShareLunker season.
It might seem that no one could have predicted the explosion of big fish coming from the reservoir east of San Angelo, but there were clues.
When a fish is caught from deep water and hauled up to the surface, the sudden change in pressure may cause its air bladder to overinflate. This leads to a condition biologists call “barotrauma.” Eyes bulge, the belly swells, and the fish may float helplessly, too buoyant to submerge.
A technique known as “fizzing” — puncturing the air bladder with a needle to vent excess air — can relieve symptoms of barotrauma. But what’s the long-term effect? Does it improve the odds that a fish will survive, or can it do more harm than good? Is it something an angler should try? If so, what’s the safest, most effective method?
It’s a winning catch, and fans spring to their feet with a roar as photographers jockey for position, trying to get that front-page shot or 10-second prime-time sound bite. But no end-zone dance ensues, and instead of spiking an oblong spheroid into the grass, the athlete hoists aloft a football of another sort, a wriggling, thick-shouldered fish with a gaping mouth, bulging eyes and flaring, blood-red gills.
Another bass fishing tournament has reached its climax, and the epilogue follows shortly: presentation of a prize that can be as much as $500,000 — or more.
Something about bass fishing lights a fire in the bellies of young and old, rich and poor, men and women — and it’s not just about money. “It is a challenging pursuit, and no matter how good you are at it, you are always trying to be better—and you never really get there,” says Ray Scott, founder of the Bass Angler Sportsman’s Society, or B.A.S.S. “You’re constantly trying to work the puzzle, and the bass is a provocative critter. There is a hunger for knowledge on how to catch that fish, an affliction shared by the poorest and the richest people in the world.”
Fish live in a semi-transparent world suspended between earth and sky. Some people cast lures aimlessly into this watery world, hoping luck will bring their hook and a fish together. and then there are those who hunt for big fish and haunt those waters where lunkers live.
Richard McCarty is a big-fish hunter.
No one has entered more 13-pound-plus largemouth bass into the ShareLunker program than McCarty.
How a 17-pound largemouth bass changed the world.
When Mark Stevenson pulled a 17.67-pound largemouth bass from Lake Fork on November 26, 1986, he had no idea he had just set in motion a chain of events that would touch millions of lives, change careers, make fortunes and inspire conservation efforts. The fish Stevenson named Ethel after a close relative played a big part in making bass fishing what it is today.
This is her story.
After a decade of drought, it rained bass on three South Texas reservoirs.
Until I fished Lakes Amistad, Choke Canyon and Falcon last June, I never knew just how much fun largemouth bass fishing can be.
Trips to Choke Canyon and Falcon reservoirs with guide Debra Hengst showed me it was possible to catch 15 or 20 fish a day.
And then came Amistad. Oh, my.
On the second day of fishing with guide Ray Hanselman, Jr., the two of us caught and released more than 100 fish in one morning. The 1- to 2-pounders bit topwaters. They bit plastic worms. They bit everything that hit the water. I wimped out when both my thumbs became so raw and sore from lipping fish that it just was not fun anymore.
That was just the beginning.
Knowing what, when and where bass eat can be the key to angling success.
The simple answer to the question of what largemouth bass eat is: “Anything they can get into their mouths.”
While there’s a lot of truth in that statement, it doesn’t offer much help to the angler trying to select a lure, fishing location and presentation that will catch fish.
That’s where I come in. I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.
Bass Aren’t Really Bass
Largemouth bass aren’t really members of the bass family, which includes freshwater fishes like white bass and yellow bass as well as striped bass, a species that can be found in both fresh- and saltwater. Largemouth bass are actually sunfish, like their cousins the bluegill, redear, longear and warmouth, but they don’t look like their relatives.
Some of TPWD’s best researchers wear gimme caps instead of lab coats.
Because of their recreational and economic importance, largemouth bass are probably the most-studied fish in Texas. While Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists and researchers lead research efforts, some of the most valuable studies would not have been possible without the help of anglers.
By far the most visible and long-lived research program involving anglers is the ShareLunker program, which has been ongoing since 1986. In an effort to improve the quality of fishing in Texas — and perhaps produce the next world-record largemouth bass — TPWD uses 13-pound-plus females for spawning and stocks the offspring into public waters.
Illustration © TPWD
Black Bass, Green Trout, Bigmouth Bass, Lineside Bass
Largemouth bass grow 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) during their first year, 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) in two years, 16 inches (40 cm) in three years. They are usually green with dark blotches that form a horizontal stripe along the middle of the fish on either side. The underside ranges in color from light green to almost white. They have a nearly divided dorsal fin with the anterior portion containing nine spines and the posterior portion containing 12 to 13 soft rays. Their upper jaw reaches far beyond the rear margin of the eye.
Except for humans, adult largemouth bass are the top predators in the aquatic ecosystem. Fry feed primarily on zooplankton and insect larvae. At about two inches in length they become active predators. Adults feed almost exclusively on other fish and large invertebrates such as crayfish. Larger fish prey upon smaller bass.
In Texas spawning begins in the spring when water temperatures reach about 60°F. This could occur as early as February or as late as May, depending where one is in the state. Males build the nests in two to eight feet of water. Largemouth bass prefer to nest in quieter, more vegetated water than other black bass, but will use any substrate besides soft mud, including submerged logs. As in Guadalupe bass, once the female has laid eggs in the nest (2,000 to 43,000) she is chased away by the male who then guards the precious eggs. The young, called fry, hatch in five to ten days. Fry remain in a group or "school" near the nest and under the male's watch for several days after hatching. Their lifespan is on average 16 years.
Immature largemouth bass may tend to congregate in schools, but adults are usually solitary. Sometimes several bass will gather in a very small area, but they do not interact. Largemouth bass hide among plants, roots or limbs to strike their prey.
Largemouth bass seek protective cover such as logs, rock ledges, vegetation, and man-made structures. They prefer clear quiet water, but will survive quite well in a variety of habitats.
Largemouth bass were originally distributed throughout most of what is now the United States east of the Rockies, including many rivers and lakes in Texas, with limited populations in southeastern Canada and northeastern Mexico. Because of its importance as a game fish, the species has been introduced into many other areas worldwide, including nearly all of Mexico and south into Central and South America.
Two subspecies of largemouth bass exist in Texas: the native Micropterus salmoides salmoides and the Florida largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides floridanus, which has been introduced into many Texas lakes. The largemouth bass is by far the most sought-after fish in Texas. When anglers were asked to "name the fish you prefer to catch in freshwater in Texas", they chose largemouth bass three to one over striped bass, four to one over white bass, nearly five to one over channel catfish, and nearly ten to one over flathead catfish and white crappie. Because of the strong interest in largemouth bass fishing, there are hundreds of bass angling clubs in Texas devoted to fishing and conservation. Bass fishing adds greatly to the Texas economy each year and largemouth bass are highly prized for their value as food. Because of the species' popularity, it has been introduced into many waters in which it did not originally occur. As with nearly all aquatic species, pollution and drought are the biggest threats to the largemouth bass population.
Illustration © TPWD
Brown Bass, Brownie, Bronze Bass
The smallmouth bass is generally green with dark vertical bands rather than a horizontal band along the side. There are 13-15 soft rays in the dorsal fin, and the upper jaw never extends beyond the eye. Known maximum size in Texas exceeds 7.5 pounds. Micropterus is Greek meaning "small fin" [see Guadalupe bass for further explanation]. The species epithet dolomieu refers to the French mineralogist M. Dolomieu.
In small streams a fish's activity may be limited to just one stream pool or extend into several. Spawning occurs in the spring. When water temperatures approach 60°F males move into spawning areas. Nests are usually located near shore in lakes; downstream from boulders or some other obstruction that offers protection against strong current in streams. Mature females may contain 2,000–15,000 golden yellow eggs. Males may spawn with several females on a single nest. On average each nest contains about 2,500 eggs, but nests may contain as many as 10,000 eggs. Eggs hatch in about 10 days if water temperatures are in the mid-50's (°F), but can hatch in 2-3 days if temperatures are in the mid-70's (°F). Males guard the nest from the time eggs are laid until fry begin to disperse, a period of up to a month. As in other black bass, fry begin to feed on zooplankton, switching to insect larvae and finally fish and crayfish as they grow.
Smallmouth bass prefer large clear-water lakes (greater than 100 acres, more than 30 feet deep) and cool streams with clear water and gravel substrate.
Smallmouth bass originally ranged north into Minnesota and southern Quebec, south to the Tennessee River in Alabama and west to eastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas. Today there are few states, east or west of the Rocky Mountains, where populations have not become established. Florida and Louisiana are apparently free of smallmouth bass. In Texas the species has been stocked in numerous areas, particularly streams of the Edwards Plateau.
Illustration © TPWD
Black Bass, Guadalupe Spotted Bass
Micropterus is Greek, meaning "small fin" and is a rather unfortunate misnomer arising from an injured type specimen that made it appear that the posterior rays of the soft dorsal fin formed a small separate fin. Treculi refers to Trecul, the French compatriot of Vaillant and Bocourt. Trecul actually caught the specimen. The Guadalupe bass is generally green in color and may be distinguished from similar species found in Texas in that it doesn't have vertical bars like smallmouth bass, its jaw doesn't extend beyond the eyes as in largemouth bass, and coloration extends much lower on the body than in spotted bass.
Guadalupe bass do not grow to large size because they are adapted to small streams. However, a propensity for fast flowing water, and their ability to utilize fast water to their advantage when hooked, make them a desirable sport fish species. Their preference for small streams enhances their allure to anglers because of the natural setting where small streams are usually found. Specimens in excess of 3.5 pounds have been landed.
Both males and females become sexually mature when they are one year old. Guadalupe bass spawning begins as early as March and continues through May and June. A secondary spawn is possible in late summer or early fall. Like all other black bass, Guadalupe bass build gravel nests for spawning, preferably in shallow water. As with spotted bass and smallmouth bass, males tend to build nests in areas with higher flow rates than largemouth bass. When a male has successfully attracted a female to the nest she may lay 400 to more than 9,000 eggs. The female is then chased away and the male stands guard over the incubating eggs. After hatching, fry feed on invertebrates and switch to piscivory as they grow older. Very young fish and older adults tend to include more invertebrates in their diet than do largemouth bass. Juveniles and younger adults tend to include more fish in their diets than do largemouth bass.
Typically, Guadalupe bass are found in flowing water, whereas largemouth bass are found in quiet water.
The Guadalupe bass is found only in Texas and has been named the official state fish. It is endemic to the northern and eastern Edwards Plateau including headwaters of the San Antonio River, the Guadalupe River above Gonzales, the Colorado River north of Austin, and portions of the Brazos River drainage. Relatively small populations can also be found outside of the Edwards Plateau, primarily in the lower Colorado River. Introduced populations exist in the Nueces River system.
The Guadalupe bass, like other "black bass" including largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass, is not a true bass at all, but a member of the sunfish family Centrarchidae.
Illustration © TPWD
Kentucky Spotted Bass, Spotted Black Bass
Micropterus is Greek meaning "small fin" [see Guadalupe bass for further explanation]. The species epithet punctulatus, Latin for "dotted", refers to rows of dark spots on the lower sides. Coloration is similar to that of Guadalupe bass, but does not extend as low on the body.
Although a large proportion reach maturity within a year, spotted bass found in spawning areas are usually three to four years old. Rock and gravel are usually chosen as suitable spawning areas at water temperatures of 57–74°F. Nest depths may vary widely. Females may lay between 1,150 and 47,000 eggs. Males guard the eggs during incubation and for up to four weeks after they have hatched. As young fish grow their diet shifts from zooplankton to insects, and finally to fish and crayfish.
Spotted bass seem to be segregated by habitat type from closely related species. They tend to be found in areas with more current than largemouth bass, and they usually inhabit areas that are too warm, turbid, and sluggish for smallmouth bass.
Spotted bass are distributed throughout the Ohio River basin as well as the central and lower Mississippi River basin. The species may be found in Gulf Coast states from Texas east to Florida. Spotted bass are native to portions of East Texas from the Guadalupe River to the Red River, exclusive of the Edwards Plateau region.
Despite the fact that spotted bass are not nearly so large and numerous as largemouth bass (in Texas their maximum size is less than one-third that of largemouth bass), they are excellent fighters. Spotted bass are very popular in east Texas, particularly in the Sabine, Neches, and Cypress Rivers. Known maximum size in Texas exceeds 5.5 pounds.