How many kinds of bass have you caught? What are the differences between striped bass and black bass? How about the differences between largemouth and smallmouth bass? Some differences are very noticeable, others not so much. And scientifically, some of what we call bass in general are not related at all.
Georgia fisheries biologists classify ten different species of black bass in our state. Black bass species include largemouth, smallmouth, shoal and spotted bass that most of us are familiar with, but the others are very similar.
We also have Suwanee, Redeye, Chattahoochee, Tallapoosa, Altamaha and Bartram’s bass. To make it even more confusing, largemouth are divided into Florida largemouth and common largemouth and spotted bass are divided into Alabama and Kentucky spots.
The way scientists classify fish into genus and species is confusing, even to me. I taught life science for seven years way back in the 1970s so maybe it has been too long for it to make sense to me. Put simply, all in one species and interbreed, but those in the same genus usually can not.
All black bass are in the genus Micropterus but that genus also includes bluegill and other sunfish. White and strip bass are in the genus Morone, and they can be crossed to create the infertile hybrids that biologists stock in our lakes.
Hybrids, like mules that are a cross between a horse and a donkey, most hybrids are infertile and cannot reproduce. But many crosses between black bass species happen in the wild. Spots and largemouth do interbreed in Georgia and produce a hybrid offspring.
Of more interest to fishermen, Georgia has a “ Georgia Bass Slam” awards program. If you document catching five of the ten different species in one calendar year you get awards from the state. As their web site says, you get “a Personalized Certificate, Two passes to the Go Fish Education Center, Some fantastic and fun stickers (for vehicle windows/bumpers) to advertise your brag-worthy achievement, All successful submissions for the calendar year will go into a drawing for an annual grand prize, and Anglers will be recognized on the state website, at the Go Fish Education Center, and through a variety of social media platforms.”
There is good information about the different species of black bass and all other Georgia fish at https://georgiawildlife.com/fishing/identification. It includes areas each can be caught and the state record. Rules for catching and entering your catches for the Bass Slam program are at https://georgiawildlife.com/fishing/angler-resources/GeorgiaBassSlam
This is a fun program and four of the included species are within an easy drive of Griffin. We can catch largemouth and spots at Jackson, shoal bass in the Flint River and Altamaha bass are in the Ocmulgee River from the Jackson dam to Macon.
For redeye, the best place to catch one is Lake Hartwell. You can catch smallmouth in Blue Ridge Lake and below the Clarks Hill dam in the Savannah River where they have been stocked, and Bartram’s are in the Broad River above Clarks Hill.
All species of bass will hit a variety of baits, but some baits are better for certain ones. I caught spots, largemouth and redeye bass at Hartwell, all on a Carolina rigged Baby Brush Hog. I should have documented them as the rules require and would have been three-fifths of the way to meeting the requirements this year.
I caught a spot and several largemouth at Eufaula on a shaky head worm, but I don’t think they would have counted since I was on the Alabama side of the lake, in Alabama waters.
Many of the species are native to only small parts of Georgia but have been midnight stocked by bucket biologists in places they should not be. Stocking non-native fish often causes problems. Spotted bass are the worst. They are native only in the Tennessee River basin in far northwest Georgia but have been put in most of our lakes and rivers.
Spots are more aggressive than largemouth, spawn deeper so they are not affected as much by changing water levels during bedding, and often take over a lake, hurting the largemouth population. And they don’t get as big as largemouth. They are fun to catch but can really mess up a good largemouth fishery.
At Jackson, spots started showing up at our club weigh-ins in the early 1990s. Before that time, any tournament we had from October through March there usually produced at least one six pound largemouth. And often we had several big ones weighed in. In one tournament I had an eight-pound, four ounce bass and it was third biggest, two bigger eight pounders were weighed in. And in another my seven-pound, four ounce largemouth was fourth biggest. A seven-pound, twelve-ounce bass beat it as did two nine pounders!
I often say where there used to be 100 largemouth in an area weighing from one to eight pounds at Jackson, now there are 100 spots weighing one pound each. That is the kind of change stocking non-native species can cause.
Spots are even a worse problem at Blue Ridge Lake. Before spots were illegally introduced, it was common to catch several smallmouth on a trip there. Now you can fish for weeks without ever catching one, the spots have taken over from them.
If becoming a Georgia Bass Slam winner interests you, check out their web site for the rules, go fishing and get your rewards!