Biology of black basses in Florida:
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
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.
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.
Recent 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
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.