Florida Large Mouth Bass
Description – The largemouth is the largest member of the sunfish family. It generally has light greenish to brownish sides with a dark lateral line which tends to break into blotches towards the tail. Often confused with smallmouth and spotted bass, it is easily distinguishable because the upper jaw extends beyond the rear edge of the eye. Also, its first and second dorsal fins are almost separated by an obvious deep dip, and there are no scales on the soft-rayed second dorsal fin or on the anal fin.
Subspecies – Two are recognized: the northern largemouth (M. s. salmoides) and the Florida largemouth (M. s. floridanus). The two look much the same, but the Florida largemouth has 69-73 scales along the lateral line compared to the northern largemouth’s 59-65 scales. Florida bass grow to trophy size more readily than northern largemouth in warm waters.
Range – Originally, the Florida largemouth was found only in peninsular Florida, but they have been stocked in several other states including Texas and California. Pure northern largemouth bass are not found in Florida. Genetic intergrades between the subspecies, however, occur throughout north Florida.
Habitat – Prefers clear, nonflowing waters with aquatic vegetation where food and cover are available. They occupy brackish to freshwater habitats, including upper estuaries, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds. Also, they can tolerate a wide range of water clarities and bottom types, prefer water temperatures from 65 to 85 degrees, and are usually found at depths less than 20 feet.
Spawning Habits – Spawning occurs from December through May, but usually begins in February and March in most of Florida when water temperatures reach 58 to 65 degrees and continues as temperatures rise into the 70s. The male builds saucer-shaped nests 20 to 30 inches in diameter by placing its lower jaw near the bottom and rotating around this central location. Bass prefer to build nests in hard-bottom areas along shallow shorelines or in protected areas such as canals and coves. Depending on her size, the female can lay up to 100,000 eggs, which are fertilized as they settle into the nest. After spawning is completed, usually five to 10 days, the male guards the nest and eggs and later the young (sometimes called fry) attacking anything that approaches the nest. The female bass stays near the nest or may swim a short distance and remain listless for up to a day. After hatching, the fry swim in tight schools, disbanding when the small fish reach a length of about one inch.
Distinguishing between male and female bass based on external characteristics is very difficult, except with mature fishes during spawning season. At that time, a milky substance (milt) can be extruded from the vent of males and a few greenish colored eggs may appear at the vent of females. Females, however, grow significantly larger than males. Virtually all bass over eight pounds are female.
Feeding Habits – The diet of bass changes with its size. Young fish feed on microscopic animals (zooplankton) and small crustaceans such as grass shrimp and crayfish. Fingerling bass feed on insects, crayfish, and small fishes. Adult bass will eat whatever is available, including fish, crayfish, crabs, frogs, salamanders, snakes, mice, turtles and even birds.
Age and Growth – Growth rates are highly variable with differences attributed mainly to their food supply and length of growing season. Female bass live longer than males and are much more likely to reach trophy size. By age two or three, females grow much faster than male bass. Males seldom exceed 16 inches, while females frequently surpass 22 inches. At five years of age females may be twice the weight of males. One-year old bass average about seven inches in length and grow to an adult size of 10 inches in about 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 years. The oldest bass from Florida whose age has been determined by fisheries biologists was 16 year of age. Generally, trophy bass (10 pounds and larger) are about 10 years old. The formula used by Florida scientists to estimate weight based on length and girth is: log(weight, in grams) = -4.83 + 1.923 x log(total length, in mm) + 1.157 x log(girth, in mm). Click here for an automated formula, and here to determine how to properly measure your fish.
Sporting Qualities – The largemouth bass is Florida’s most popular freshwater game fish. Much of its popularity is due to its aggressive attitude and willingness to strike a lure or bait with explosive force. They will strike almost any kind of artificial lure or live bait, but most are taken on plastic worms, surface plugs, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, bass bugs and shiner minnows. The value of the largemouth as a sport fish has prompted a movement toward catch-and-release fishing. As a sport fish, specific bag and size limit regulations apply, and you can register a qualifying catch as part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s “Big Catch” program. Black bass are the most popular sportfish in north America and their value to Florida is immense (see: Florida Bass Values for more details). Florida’s top ten bass destinations are updated annually on our fishing sites/forecast page.
Eating Quality – The meat is white, flaky and low in oil content. The flavor depends upon the way the fish are cleaned and prepared. The strong weedy taste of bass caught in some waters may be eliminated by skinning the fish and salting and peppering the fillets before battering. Fillets usually are fried, while larger ones may be baked.
World Record – 22 pounds, 4 ounces, caught in Montgomery Lake, Georgia in 1932
Information obtained from MyFWC