“Bass fishing” can mean very different things to different people. For some, it brings up memories of lakeside mornings and tournament circuits. For others, it means trolling beachfronts or deep sea adventures. This article breaks down the different types of Bass in North America, with a quick look at how they fit together.
There are dozens, possibly hundreds of fish called “Bass” in the world. It’s impossible to cover them all in one place. However, there are two main families of Bass in North America, and a few extras that are well worth mentioning. You probably know most of them, but there might be a couple of surprises hidden along the way.
Types of Black Bass
For many people, Black Bass are the only Bass. These guys have a multi-billion-dollar industry built up around them. Tournaments are held every week of the year. Bass fishing pros tour the country, battling monster fish as well as each other. Let’s take a look at some of the fish causing all this commotion.
They say you can never fool a Largemouth the same way twice. They’ll attack fish, insects, and even small birds with incredible aggression, but will avoid the most convincing lures if they came across them before. Their intelligence is probably exaggerated by Black Bass fanatics, but nobody can deny that Largemouth are an amazing game fish.
The funny thing is that, to your average non-angler, Largemouth Bass probably look pretty boring. They’re small. They’re round. They have no crazy fins or exciting color patterns. It really is all about the fight with these lake-loving legends.
Their big-mouthed brothers may get the headlines, but Smallmouth Bass are just as worthy of the limelight. They’re every bit as wily and put up an even better fight pound for pound. At least, that’s what the “Smallie” crowd says.
We’ve covered Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass in much more detail elsewhere, but the main differences are size and habitat. Smallmouth are smaller on average. They like colder water and stronger current. You can find both fish in the same place, but one always tends to be more dominant.
“Spotties” are much less common and are unfairly overlooked by many Bass anglers. When people do catch them, they often mistake them for Largemouth because of their similar coloring. The best way to tell the two apart is that the upper jaw on a Spotted Bass doesn’t extend past its eye. In plain English, it doesn’t have such a large mouth as Largemouth.
Spotted Bass like water somewhere between what their famous cousins go for. It needs to have some current, like with Smallmouth, but in warm, murky water, where you’d expect to find Largemouth. Essentially, they’re the “baby bear” of the Black Bass family.
These are the most common types of Black Bass, but there are plenty more fish in the family. Some only inhabit a single river, like the Guadalupe Bass of Texas. Others have only recently been recognized as a separate species, such as Florida’s Choctaw Bass. There could be even more species just waiting for someone to discover them!
Types of Temperate Bass
Of course, just because Black Bass are big business, doesn’t mean they’re the only fish out there. The Temperate Bass family includes one of America’s most important sport fish. Let’s take a look at North America’s “other” Bass family.
If you’ve ever fished on the East Coast, chances are you’ve at least tried to catch a Striped Bass. Ken Schultz describes Stripers as “one of the most valuable and popular fish in North America” in his Fishing Encyclopedia. Big words, but well deserved. These guys are big, strong, and mean – all the makings of the perfect sport fish.
Stripers spend most of their lives in the sea, but head inland to spawn. The problem is that most of them migrate into one place – the Chesapeake Bay. This bottleneck leaves them vulnerable to overfishing. Recently, several states canceled their trophy Striper season to try and avoid this. Whatever you make of the closures, let’s hope it helps to keep the species healthy.
White Bass are Stripers’ smaller, freshwater cousins. Unlike most of the fish on our list, these guys aren’t really considered sport fish by many anglers. They’re less aggressive than Stripers and less wily than Black Bass. They’re perfect for kids and beginners, though.
White Bass like large lakes and reservoirs. They prefer clear waters that are at least 10 feet deep. As they hang out in schools, you can really fill the boat when you find them. Opinions vary on White Bass as food. They have a particular taste that some people love and others avoid. The only way to find out which group you’re in is to catch one!
Another rung down the ladder, Yellow Bass are one of the smallest members of the Temperate Bass family. They don’t put up much of a fight, and rarely weigh more than a pound. Even complete beginners will have an easy time reeling one in.
To be fair, people catch them more for their meat than their might. They’re supposed to be even tastier than Stripers. What’s more, they’re way less overfished, making them a great choice for sustainably-minded fish lovers.
These are the most important Temperate Bass species. The other one worth a mention is White Perch. “Wait, that’s not a Bass!” Actually, it is. It’s in the same family are Stripers. There’s also another branch of Temperate Bass in Europe, which includes European Seabass – every British beach angler’s favorite fish.
“Bass” That Aren’t Bass
There are fish called “Bass” all over the world. Most of them have little or no connection to each other. Here are the top species of Bass-not-Bass in North America. They all prefer completely different habitats. Each one of them is from a different family. The one thing they’ve got in common is that they’re incredibly popular to catch.
These guys are technically a species of Grouper. They show up around reefs and piers from Texas to Maine. Black Seabass are mainly caught for food, but they can also put up a good fight on light tackle.
It’s not clear how Black Seabass got their name. They don’t look or act like any other type of Bass. One thing’s for sure: they’re absolutely delicious, and a welcome sight on any fishing trip.
Is White Seabass related to Black Seabass? No. Does it have anything to do with European Seabass? No. Is it big and tasty? Yes. Sold!
Also known as “White Weakfish,” these confusingly-named fish are actually distant cousins of Redfish. They’re most closely related to Geelbek, a popular catch in South Africa. How they ended up in the East Pacific is a mystery, but you won’t hear any complaints from Californian anglers.
People often assume that these brightly-colored brutes are Black Bass. They fight just as hard and look kind of similar, after all. Peacock Bass are actually Cichlids, from the same family as Tilapia. There are around 15 different species of Peacock Bass that we know of. The most common one in the US is Butterfly Peacock Bass.
Peacock Bass were introduced in Florida in the ‘80s to battle invasive Tilapia and Oscar. They quickly got to work eating up their relatives, and helped to stabilize the ecosystem. In the process, they became a much-loved sport fish and are now an iconic part of South Florida’s fishing scene.
“Bass” is one of those names that gets handed out to all kinds of fish. Some of them are popular table fare such as Chilean Seabass. Others are critically-endangered goliaths like the Giant Seabass. It seems like pretty much any fish can take the name as long as it tastes great, fights hard, or both.
We’ve tried to cover the top types of Bass in North America. It’s not an easy list to narrow down, but these are the species you’re most likely to come across. Hopefully, we’ve helped to clear up one of the most confusing fish names out there!
Did any of the fish on our list surprise you? Which ones did we miss? Why do you think so many different species are called “Bass”? Let us know your thoughts and theories in the comments below!