Largemouth Bass

Micropterus ("small fin") salmoides ("trout-like")

Other names: largemouth, black bass, green bass, "bucketmouth"


Largemouth Bass

In an aquatic intelligence test at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium some years ago, the largemouth bass came out at the head of the class for smart fish. They were tops in visual perception, the ability to detect things and to make judgments. They also learned at first strike that a lure wasn't edible.

This brainy fish is the largest of the sunfish family, and has a mighty cavernous jaw. It is easy to tell the largemouth from the smallmouth bass by looking for an upper jaw that reaches past the eye, a golden-brown eye, and a deep notch in the dorsal (back) fin. The largemouth bass is usually dark forest green on their back with lighter green sides. Their bellies are pale green and they have black blotches that make up a horizontal line running from the eye to the caudal (tail) fin. Their color can change with age and the clarity of the water - in murky waters they can even be dark brown or nearly black.

In Wisconsin, largemouth bass live in nearly all Wisconsin waters, but are less common in southwestern Wisconsin. Wisconsin is part of the northernmost range where the largemouth bass is found. They live in warm (80-85 degree Fahrenheit), shallow waters, weedy lakes and ponds, and calm river backwaters all less than 20 feet deep.

The largemouth bass spawns from late April to early July. When the water temperature is 60º Fahrenheit, the male fish begin to "sweep" out a nest site with their fins. They will select a sand or gravel bottom, or soft bottom with nearby objects like roots, twigs, and snail shells on which to attach the eggs. The eggs are then deposited in the nest by the females when water temperatures reach 62-65º Fahrenheit. After the females deposit eggs, the males fertilize them. Males will spawn with more than one female and the nest may contain 5,000 pale yellow eggs. The male fish fiercely guard the nest while they fan water over the eggs, which take three to seven days to hatch.

What's for Dinner?

Largemouth bass will bite on almost anything. They feed by sight and hunt for their food, usually ambushing prey from behind logs and rocks, below boat docks, and at weed lines that drop into deeper water. They can also hear and smell prey as well. Watch for small schools of five to 10 fish cruising the shallows in the early morning or evening. They are cruising for crayfish, frogs, large insects, fish - including golden shiners, bluegills and other largemouth bass - anything that will fit in their large mouth! Once they start eating, their eyes glow and the anterior dorsal fin stands up. The fish may also "yawn" by flaring its gill covers and opening its mouth. During the daytime, largemouth bass lounge under lily pads or in the shade of overhanging trees, piers, or brush. Bass rest in the evening in deeper water on the bottom under logs or trees. During winter, bass become inactive and oftentimes they will stay in shallow waters and can die from winterkill, (low oxygen and/or low temperatures). Bass that survive the winter will move to deep water until the shallow waters warm up in the spring.

Predators of fingerlings (young fish) include other fish (muskellunge, northern pike, walleye, bluegills, pumpkinseeds, green sunfish, smallmouth bass and perch), birds and aquatic animals. Bass tapeworm also attacks the reproductive organs of these fish.

Become a "Basser"

If you fish for bass, you are called a "basser." Fill your tackle box with live minnows, worms, or other live bait, plus poppers or streamers presented with a fly rod, or plugs. Don't worry though, when the largemouth is hungry, they'll eat almost anything. Grab your casting or spinning rod and head for shallow weedy waters, reefs, docks, rafts, or areas with tree stumps, rocks or drop-offs. Plan your fishing trip for early mornings and evenings during the warm months. Bass like warm water and warm weather. Few bite in the winter.

Before you go, check the fishing regulations (Leaves EEK!) for licenses, bag limits, legal size and seasons for catching largemouth bass.

See you at the fishing hole!