Types of Bass in North America: A Simple Guide
Mar 12, 2021 | 6 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 6 minutes

“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.

Illustrations of the various types of Bass in North America on a blue background

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.

Largemouth Bass

A happy man with a Largemouth Bass he caught while fishing

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.

Smallmouth Bass

A Smallmouth Bass held up by an happy angler in a white shirt

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.

Spotted Bass

A Spotted Bass held up by a man in a white shirt

“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.

And More!

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.

Striped Bass

A smiling angler holding a trophy Striped Bass with ocean behind him

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

An angler in a black jacket holding a White Bass with water behind him

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!

Yellow Bass

A Yellow Bass with a lure in its mouth being held above water

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.

And More!

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.

Black Seabass

A fisherman holding a Black Seabass in a charter boat

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.

White Seabass

Two anglers holding big White Seabass on a fishing charter, with the boat's wake creating waves behind them

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.

Peacock Bass

A Peacock Bass held up above a lake

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.

And More!

“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!

Comments (12)
  • Black Peacock

    May 27, 2021

    Never knew that about a Peacock!! Thanks for information. What is a rock bass or warmouth? Also were wipers or hybrids mentioned? Can different species mix? Since peacock are not bass, can they breed with an actual bass, like largemouth? It baffles me how bass are more popular than fish like blue catfish! Blue catfish are so beautiful. My favorite fish and most interesting are the alligator gar! Growing up, I didn’t even know largemouth were edible because my best friends aunt& uncles pond where we always fished, we never were allowed to eat anything but channel catfish and bluegill. Im just so intrigued by different species of fish. Im addicted to watching on YouTube

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      Andriana

      May 27, 2021

      Heya,

      Thanks for reading, I’m glad you liked the article.

      Despite their name, Rock Bass aren’t actually Bass, but rather a type of Sunfish, and some believe that they’re a mix of Black Bass and Bluegill. This also answers your other question about different species mixing – Bass can and often do mix with other species, usually some sort of Sunfish. As for Hybrid Bass, they’re a mix of Striped and White Bass.

      You’re right, Bass species hold a special place in the hearts of freshwater fishermen, but Blue Catfish are valued as well. I guess a lot depends on anglers’ preferences and the availability of certain species. Alligator Gar are super interesting, easily one of the most unique-looking fish out there.

      I hope this answers your questions, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

      All the best!

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      Bryan Thornton

      Jun 15, 2021

      A friend of mine caught a bass out of lake Lanier yesterday. I have fished all my life, and had never seen one like this. He called it a Hooch bass. It looked like a normal bass but its fins were bright red on the ends. Any idea?

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      Katie

      Jun 16, 2021

      Hi Bryan,

      Thanks for reading. Hmm, sounds interesting! We think that your friend’s unique catch might be a local variety of Spotted Bass found throughout the Chattahoochee River basin – hence the name “Hooch Bass.” Did he manage to snap a photo of it?

      Tight lines,

      Katie

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  • Jesse Hales

    Apr 28, 2021

    I caught a largemouth bass at a state park in TX with my family. My kids kept calling it a wide mouth bass. I kept smiling and correcting them. Then, my wife tells me that they saw it on a sign in the park listed as wide mouth base and that’s why they kept calling it that. Is that a Texas thing to call it that? Was the sign just in error? Am I in error? I grew up fishing and have never heard anyone call it a wide mouth bass before. Thanks.

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      Sean

      Apr 28, 2021

      Hi Jesse,

      Thanks for reading.

      To be perfectly honest, I’ve never heard someone call Largemouth Bass “Wide Mouth Bass”.

      It could be a Texas thing, but I couldn’t find any official records of a fish going by that name. FishBase has a list of common names for pretty much all better known species, and the term Wide Mouth doesn’t show anything, I’m afraid.

      Perhaps you could ask at the Texas state park? Either way, the name does sounds cool!

      Thanks again for reading, and have a great day!

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  • Sara Russell

    Mar 22, 2021

    Great article! I saw a striped bass in a movie and wanted to i.d. it! Your article helped me do that first try!
    Thanks!

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      Albert

      Mar 23, 2021

      Hi Sara,

      Thanks for getting in touch. I’m glad we could help!

      All the best!

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  • Atanacio Luna

    Dec 19, 2020

    Loved the article, it inspires me to like fishing more. I have only been the maintenance guy for my wife’s boats but the fun descriptions make me want to advance my interest.

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      Sean

      Dec 23, 2020

      Hi Atanacio,

      Thanks for reading, we’re glad you liked the article.

      You should definitely try fishing yourself. Trust us, you won’t regret it.

      Have a good one!

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  • Rob

    Sep 11, 2020

    Important in Texas is the Guadalupe Bass.

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      Albert

      Sep 14, 2020

      Hi Rob,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      I did mention Guadalupe Bass, but wanted to only cover the most widespread species in detail. Otherwise, it would be a book instead of an article!

      All the best!

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