BBMP Black Bass Biology

Biology of black basses in Florida:

Raver-BlackBasses.jpgBlack basses are an important compo­nent of a complex aquatic ecosystem. Effective predators in both heavy cover and open water, their large mouths en­able them to swallow a variety of prey and help keep forage fishes in balance. All black bass species exhibit nesting behavior during spring, with males fanning out an oval depression on a firm substrate and stimulating a female to deposit her eggs. Males fertilize the eggs and then guard them through hatching, and protect schooling bass fry until the young fish reach about an inch, at which time they begin to disperse and fend for themselves. Feeding first on tiny zooplankton (microscopic animals), they soon shift to live fish and other prey. The life of young bass is difficult, but of the tens of thousands produced by a female during her lifetime, only two survivors are required to keep adult population levels stable.

The genetically unique Florida largemouth bass, which is native only to peninsular Florida, is renowned worldwide for producing tropy-size catches. Further north and west through the Panhandle, "intergrade" largemouth bass populations have genes from both Florida largemouth bass and northern largemouth bass (M. s. salmoides) subspecies. Because of rapid growth and top weights that exceed 12 pounds in warmer climates, Florida largemouth bass have been stocked in many states and foreign countries to enhance existing fisheries and create trophy-size fish.

Unlike Suwannee, spotted, and shoal bass, largemouth bass are generally more abundant in lakes and slow-moving rivers, where they thrive in native vegetation. Largemouth bass can be separated from other black bass in Florida by the extension of the mouth well beyond the eye, as well as the lack of scales on the soft dorsal fin and lack of a strong connection between the dorsal fins (two traits that are common among other black bass). Their diet is extremely diverse, and may be com­posed of fish, crayfish, insects, reptiles and amphibians - even small mammals and an occasional bird. Where black bass occur in tidal areas, shrimp and crabs are also important foods. Millions of anglers pursue black bass using a wide variety of live baits and artificial lures that mimic prey. Florida's certified State Record weighed 17.27 pounds (caught in 1986 from a central Florida pond). A noncertified 20.13-pound largemouth bass record was caught in 1923. Three other documented Florida catches of largemouth bass up to 18.82 pounds actually surpass the official State Record weight; these were documented by the IGFA. The ultimate benchmark for all subsequent bass fishing experiences occurred in 1932, when the All Tackle World Record weighing 22.25 pounds was caught in Georgia. More than 75 years later, that feat was matched in 2009 by an angler catching a stocked Florida largemouth bass in Japan.

Described by Bailey and Hubbs (1949), Suwannee bass might be the most geographically and ecologically restricted species of all the black basses (Ramsey 1975; Koppelman and Garret 2002). They are endemic to north Florida and south Georgia. Suwannee bass inhabit the lower and middle reaches of the Suwannee River, its tributaries, and the Withlacoochee River (Bass and Hitt 1973, Bonvechio et al. 2005). Suwannee bass were first reported in the Ochlocknee River in the 1960s and 1970s (Hellier 1967; Keefer and Ober 1977). Suwannee bass have also been collected from the St. Marks and Wacissa rivers since the 1990s (Hoehn 1998). Biologists have speculated that these latter populations may have originated from unauthorized releases (Cailteux et al. 2002). In fall 2009, they were collected by biologists in the Upper Suwannee River and the Alapaha River. There are no known references from Okefenokee Swamp (Pers. Comm. Will Strong, FWC). Due to this limited range, as well as an intolerance of poor water quality, they are considered to be a species requiring special attention.

Angler-SuwanneeBass.jpgSuwannee bass are the most colorful of the black basses occurring in Florida and may have dark, diamond-shaped blotches along bronze-colored sides; turquoise-blue coloring on the underside of the head and throat; and eyes may be red. Suwannee bass are strictly stream dwellers, and prefer rocky bottoms with moderate to swift flows. They also have an affinity for brush piles that may provide foraging cover and protection. Crayfish are their most important food source, but their diet also includes fish and freshwater shrimp; in tidal areas, they even eat crabs. Despite their small size, "Suwannees" provide excellent sport on light tackle, with periods of low water the best time to fish. The state record and all-tackle world record Suwannee bass weighed 3.89 pounds and was caught in 1985 from the Florida river after which it was named.

In Florida, spotted bass inhabit large creeks and river systems in the Panhandle, from the Apalachicola River system west to the Perdido River. Records suggest that spotted bass were stocked into the Flint River in Georgia and later migrated downstream into the Apalachicola River. The FWC has initiated a genetics study to determine whether all of the spotted bass inhabiting Panhandle streams are spotted bass or whether there might be more than one species present in the state. This research has determined that there are two distinct forms of spotted bass in Florida; spotted bass are only present in the Apalachicola River drainage but a second species inhabits the Apalachicola River system and the streams to the west. This appears to be the species of spotted bass that is native to Florida, and it has not yet been described by scientists. Scientists have proposed calling this species the coastal spotted bass (Micropterus sp. cf. punctulatus).

BlackBassesMap.jpgRecent surveys by FWC biologists determined that spotted bass have migrated into the Chipola River, a tributary of the Apalachicola River, and raised concern that this invasive species might be hybridizing with native shoal bass. FWC researchers are using genetics to determine whether fish captured in the Chipola River were shoal bass, spotted bass or hybrids of two species. To date, nearly 10 percent of the fish have been found to be hybrids of shoal bass and spotted bass, or shoal bass and largemouth bass. Biologists will continue to collect samples so that the FWC can monitor whether the number of hybrids is increasing, decreasing or staying the same through time.

There is very little information on the biology of spotted bass populations in Florida or how many anglers are interested in catching them. It is known that spotted bass prefer a stream environment that has moderate to swift flow, gravel bottoms and both deep pools and areas of cover provided by snags and brush. Like Florida's other stream-dwelling basses, spotted bass diets include crayfish and fish, but insects are important as well. Spotted bass are not well known to anglers and do not grow as large as largemouth bass. However, they aggressively attack both natural and artificial baits presented along deep stream bends and fallen trees. The State Record spotted bass weighed 3.75 pounds and was landed in the Apalachicola River in 1985. The All Tackle World Record spotted bass was 10.25 pounds.

Almost 200 years after the largemouth bass was scientifically described, the shoal bass achieved official status as a separate black bass species in 1999 (Williams and Burgess 1999). Very little information exists on the biology of this newly recognized species. Shoal bass are endemic to the Apalachicola drainage basin, including the Chattahoochee and Flint river systems in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. In Florida, the majority of shoal bass are found in the upper Chipola River. Shoal bass have also been found below the Jim Woodruff Dam in the Apalachicola River (Wheeler and Allen 2003). Shoal bass are thought to be declining in abundance in many localities within their native range (Williams and Burgess 1999; Wheeler and Allen 2003; Boschung and Mayden 2004).

Shoal bass are habitat specialists. They are frequently found in shallow, rocky riffles and shoals in medium- to large-size streams and rivers, and shoal bass are intolerant of reservoir conditions (Wheeler and Allen 2003; Boschung and Mayden 2004). This species has been assigned a status of "Special Concern" by the Endangered Species Committee of the American Fisheries Society (Williams et al. 1989), mainly because of habitat loss and associated distributional declines. In Florida, shoal bass are not officially listed, but their need for special attention is well recognized. Further hybridization with spotted bass, which was documented in 2009 by FWC biologists (Porak et al. 2009), could lead to elimination of "pure" shoal bass. The FWC is studying shoal bass in the Chipola River to gain a better understanding of harvest and population dynamics, and the genetic structure of this species. Shoal bass should not be confused with the redeye bass (M. coosae) or the smallmouth bass (M. dolomieu), neither of which reside in Florida. Shoal bass are distinctively marked on their sides with a pattern of vertical bars resembling tiger stripes. Their primary food is crayfish, fish and insects. Fishing over and near rocky shoals with artificial lures that resemble these prey can provide excellent sport. No state record exists in Florida; however, current state and world record "redeye bass" from the Apalachicola River weighing 7.83 and 8.75 pounds, respectively, are likely misidentified shoal bass.


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