12 Bass Types: How To Identify And Understand Their Characteristics

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  • Learn about the 12 most common bass species found in North America
  • Learn how to identify them, and their characteristics
  • Understand where each type of bass live

Bass are one of the most common species sought after by anglers. There are several species and subspecies that can be found throughout the world in both seawater and freshwater. The name bass is a generic name given to fish that have a resemblance to the perch-like group that they belong to.

Bass is one of the best fighting sport fish across the world and is found mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, where we will focus this article. 

Bass fish are grouped into two main types: Black bass and temperate bass.

1. Black Bass (Micropterus family)

There are 9 main species in the black bass group. Black basses have spiny and soft-rayed portions of the dorsal fin joined as a single fin. The largemouth and the smallmouth bass are the most loved game fish by anglers and can be easily recognized. The largemouth can grow up to 32 inches long and can reach 22 pounds in weight.

2. Temperate Bass (Moronidae family)

Temperate bass inhabits the salt and freshwaters of North America, Europe, and Africa. They have double dorsal fins connected at their base. Most have slim bodies. The yellow, white, and striped bass are the most well-known species. 

Most fish are between 12 to 18 inches long but the “striper” can grow to a weight up to over 120 pounds!

Black Bass Species

Alabama Bass (Micropterus henshalli)

As the name suggests, Alabama bass is native to the Mobile River drainage of Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. Alabama bass looks very much like the spotted bass. Initially known as a subspecies of Spotted Bass, but was named a species in itself in 2008. 

The Alabama bass is extremely aggressive and adaptable, they are a threat to other bass species as they outcompete or hybridize with almost any other bass species they come in contact with. They are considered invasive species.

Alabama bass grows very fast! Typically 12 inches within 3 years and up to 23 inches by 8 years. The largest fish ever recorded is over 11 pounds. Typically they average around 2 pounds in weight.

It’s really difficult to determine the species from the spotted bass, the best way is to count the scales with holes along the lateral line.  Alabama bass usually has 71 or more pored scales, spotted bass 70 or fewer – which is an impossible task whilst out fishing!

Alabama Bass has a blotchy lateral dark band along its length and has spots below this band. Alabama Bass also typically have a tooth patch on their tongue,

They prefer flowing waters, small to medium-sized pools, and rivers over silt or gravel.  

Florida Bass (Micropterus floridanus)

The Florida bass is primarily found in Florida. However, It has a relatively wide-roaming range and can be found in the Great Lakes, the middle Mississippi River, and most Southern US States.

Florida bass is often confused with the largemouth bass. However, the Florida bass has 69-73 scales along the lateral line compared to the northern largemouth’s 59-65 scales. Florida bass grows to trophy size much faster than the northern largemouth due to the warmer waters. 

The largest Florida bass is recorded at 22 pounds. Typically they average around 3 pounds in weight.

They inhabit brackish freshwater including estuaries, rivers, and lakes. They prefer lots of vegetation, where food and cover are available. 

Tip: While spawning, many male basses such as the largemouth, prepare the nest and guard the eggs and fry.

Guadalupe Bass (Micropterus treculii)

The Guadalupe Bass is only found in Texas and is also their state fish. The common sites of Guadalupe bass include the San Antonio, Guadalupe, and, Colorado rivers, and portions of the Brazos River drainage. 

Their numbers are quite low and most anglers practice catch-and-release techniques to increase fish populations.

Their lime green color extends lower along the body as compared to the Spotted bass. They have a lateral line with separate diamond-shaped or circular spots. In older fish age this fades from black to olive. On its back, there are many smaller diamond marks. They also have a rectangular tooth patch on their tongue.

The record fish is only 3.5 pounds, most fish are less than 12 inches long and under 1 pound in weight.

Guadalupe bass is usually found in streams and reservoirs. They prefer flowing waters and use cover such as large rocks, or tree stumps for refuge. Smaller fish are often found in fast-moving water but then transition to deeper, slower currents after one year.

Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)

Largemouth Bass
A nice plump Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass is often referred to as America’s most sought-after gamefish. Competitive and recreational fishing for largemouth bass is extremely popular in the US. The fishing tackle industry has grown hugely due to new types of fishing baits and gear designed for catching largemouth bass.

The largemouth bass is native to the eastern and central United States, southeastern Canada, and northern Mexico, but has been widely introduced elsewhere within the US. They can be located in the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay (Red River), and the Mississippi River.

The appearance of Largemouth bass can change, with colors ranging from olive to pale white and yellow with a prominent line of jagged splotches running from the gill plate to the tail. 

The preferred habitat of largemouth bass is in clear waters, with sandy bottoms, and an abundance of vegetation. You can identify this species by looking at the mouth, extending past the rear edge of the eye. The dorsal fins are present in clearly separate sets, and the first dorsal fin has nine to eleven spines. 

The heaviest reported weight was 22 pounds.

The average length for largemouth bass is 16 inches, with the longest recorded specimen being 38 inches and over 22 pounds in weight.

You can read more on what is a good size bass here!

Redeye Bass (Micropterus coosae)

The Redeye bass is relatively smaller than most of the bass species and their growth rate is slower. They are native to the Coosa River system of Georgia, Alabama. 

They typically range from five to sixteen inches in length and the average weight is approx 1 pound. The largest fish caught on record is 5 pounds. 

The Redeye bass is like most other basses, olive green in color. The upper jaw extends to the back of its red eye. The dorsal fin contains usually 10 spines and usually 12 rays. There is a small notched area between the two. The anal fin contains three spines and 10 rays. The complete lateral line has from 63 to 74 scales. Redeye has a small tooth patch present on the tongue. The back and sides are generally olive to brown with darker brown mottling.

There is some confusion about the similarities between the redeye bass and the shoal bass.  However, to distinguish between the two, look at the white edges of the upper and lower caudal fin.

They are found in cool streams and rivers in the foothills of mountains.

Shoal Bass (Micropterus Cataractae)

Shoal Bass are native to the warmer waters in Florida and Georgia. In Alabama, it has been declared an endangered species and must be returned as catch and release. 

The largest caught was a length of 24 inches and weighed almost 9 pounds. Its average size is around 8 inches and weighs typically 2 pounds.

The shoal bass has been confused with the redeye bass, due to its red-tinted eyes. Anglers compare it to the smallmouth bass, due to its faint vertical stripes along the side of its body.

Shoal bass are generally olive green to nearly black along the back. A dusky dark blotch is found on the back edge of the gill cover. It also has three diagonal black lines on the side of the head. Ten to fifteen vertical blotches appear along the sides with tiger stripes often appearing in between.

Shoal bass prefer gravel bottom areas and water around 60 to 75 degrees.

Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus)

Endemic to the Mississippi River basin and across the Gulf states, from Texas and the Florida panhandle. Its native range extends into the western Mid-Atlantic states and can now be found in western North Carolina and Virginia.

Spotted bass can reach an overall length of almost 25 inches and can weigh up to 11 pounds.

Spotted Bass are similar in appearance to the largemouth, except for a slightly rounded body and a smaller mouth. Its name comes from its spots that are below its dark lateral line. The mouth does not extend past the eye when closed, and the base of the dorsal and anal fins have small scales. but the latter can be identified by multiple dark blotches that touch the dorsal fin. 

The Spotted Bass prefers cooler clear waters with a gravel bottom and faster currents.

Suwannee Bass (Micropterus notius)

The Suwannee bass prefers water bodies with currents and eddies that sweep food in its direction. This species is native to just two river systems in the southeastern US, the Lower Suwannee, and Ochlockonee River systems in Florida and a small part of Georgia.

Suwannee bass is one of the smaller bass types and Its average size is only around 8 inches, and weighs 1 pound. 

It has a deep body with a large mouth and it has a round group of teeth on the tongue.

The base of the soft part of the dorsal fin and the anal fin are scaled. They are usually brown in color and the flanks are marked with a dozen olive blotches.

It prefers the shallow parts of rivers that have a fast current and a limestone bottom.

Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

Smallmouth bass is almost as popular as largemouth. It has been spread by stocking in many cool-water tributaries and lakes in the US. They inhabit the same lake systems as the largemouth but prefer the colder waters.

The maximum weight ever caught was 27 inches in length and 12 pounds. The average size is around 12 inches.

The Smallmouth bass is pale gold or green to dark brown with dark vertical lines. This fades to a lighter yellow towards its belly. Unlike the largemouth, its dorsal has no break between the two fins.

Adults live in shallow rocky areas of lakes and in the clear and gravel bottom runs and of cool flowing rivers. They can be found in both still and running water.

Tip: The jaw on the Largemouth bass is extended past the eye level. Smallmouth jaws are level with their eyes.

A great day out – Bass fishing with the kids

Temperate Bass Species 

Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)

An absolutely gorgeous striper, my favorite looking bass!

The striped bass or “striper”, is a native of the northeastern Atlantic region, but is also found on the pacific coastlines. The largest fish are in the Chesapeake Bay, where they average from 30 to 50 pounds in weight. An average fish is around 10 pounds and 20 inches in length.

They are green or brassy-olive in color, and the sides of the “striper” have seven or eight horizontal stripes. The sides and fins are paler in color.

The striped bass is the largest among the temperate bass. Its dorsal fin has a clear distinction between the spiny and soft rays. 

They live in the ocean, only migrating to freshwater during the spawning season around April to June when the water temperatures reach 60 degrees. 

Tip: Striped bass have no eyelids, they will move to deeper water to avoid the bright sunlight.

Yellow Bass (Morone mississippiensis)

The yellow bass is a native of the southern Mississippi Valley. Due to their small size, they are not so sought after by anglers.

It is a light fish for its length, typically weighing one to two pounds, but often measuring 12 to 18 inches

They are a brassy-yellow color, with seven very distinct dark horizontal stripes, the stripes are “broken” below the lateral line. Its body shape is oblong/oval and has an arched back. The dorsal fin and anal spines are wide. 

Although similar to the white bass and the striped bass, it has no tooth patches on the tongue. The yellow bass differs further from the white bass by having nine or ten anal rays compared to eleven to thirteen on the white bass. 

The yellow bass can be found in lakes surrounding the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers, especially in areas with dense vegetation and slower movement.

White Bass (Morone chrysops)

The white bass is a close relative of the striped bass, and inhabits the Great Lakes from St Lawrence to Manitoba, and southward in the Mississippi Valley to Arkansas. It prefers still waters rather than strong currents. They typically grow to 12 inches in length with the longest being around 18 inches.

It has a silver color with a tinged golden belly, with dusky lines along the sides.

White bass is a migratory open‐water fish. They spend most of their lives chasing their favorite food – schools of shad. The White bass is very active during the early morning or dusk.

White bass spawn in freshwater tributaries or on top of rocky shoals in lakes. Spawning occurs in early spring in the southern states and in May in the northern States.

White bass are distinguishable from striped bass by a single tooth patch on the tongue, the striped bass has two tooth patches on their tongue.

White bass love lakes, ponds, and the pools of small to large rivers. White bass like clearer water or areas with less vegetation.

Take the kids fishing for bass, they are easy to catch and plentiful

Final Thoughts

Bass is the most sought-after game fish for anglers. Color, shape, and shades do vary between species but most anglers are not that concerned about the type of bass they just caught.  The thrill of the catch is more than enough!

All anglers new and old can catch bass, kids have so much fun catching all kinds of bass, even the smaller sizes. 

To help you catch bass, check out my articles on the best spinnerbaits for bass and the best lures to use when bass fishing.

Steve Fitzjohn