Spotted Bass vs Largemouth - The Differences Explained

Written by: Pete Danylewycz
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In the world of freshwater fishing, two bass species often take center stage: the elusive Spotted Bass and the iconic Largemouth Bass. But how do these aquatic stars truly differ? Dive in as we explore the unique traits and tales of these underwater rivals in 'Spotted Bass vs Largemouth Bass'.

Related: Spotted Bass vs Smallmouth

Spotted Bass Overview

spotted bass

Spotted bass belong to the same genus as large- and smallmouth bass, Micropterus. But they’re a separate species, punctulatus. Taxonomically, that makes them very close kin, and in terms of habitat, behavior, and appearance, they’re as hard to tell apart as fraternal twins.

Spotted bass are less voracious than largemouth bass, consuming about half the total biomass. Nevertheless, a steady diet of minnows, aquatic insects, and crawfish allow them to grow to a maximum of 25 inches and 11 pounds. 

Because spotted bass are sometimes, but not always, larger than smallies - and roughly the same size as largemouth - size alone isn’t going to help you out much at all.

In terms of habitat, spotted bass favor the same kinds of places you’ll find smallmouth bass: cold, clear streams with rocky or sandy bottoms. They tend to flourish in these environments but avoid the warmer, stiller ponds and lakes the largemouth call home.

But spotties aren’t strangers to slow-moving rivers like the Coosa in Georgia and Alabama, sharing space with largemouth.

That means that location can’t tell you which species you've landed, either.

Spotted Bass

Instead, you’ll need to take a really close look at the fish you’ve caught.

Spotted Bass vs. Largemouth Bass: Positive Identification

spotted bass vs largemouth bass infographic

It’ll take a close look to determine whether you’ve caught a spotted bass or a largemouth (Micropterus salmoides), though careful examination will tell you which you’ve landed if you take your time and know the cues.

Spotted bass typically sport pronounced dark dots along the scales of their lateral line, thus the latin name “punctualtus,” meaning “spotted.” But I wouldn't rely on scale pattern alone to make a decision.

That’s because largemouth bass also have a series of dark, connected blotches along their lateral line, and it’s easy to mistake one for the other.

fisherman holding largemouth bass

Largemouth bass can also have dark blotches along their lateral lines.

Two identifying signs to look for relate to the mouth and the dorsal fin.

The mouth of a spotty won’t protrude past the rear of its eye, as it does on the largemouth. And the spotted bass has a clearly connected first and second dorsal fin, unlike the largemouth.

spotted bass vs largemouth bass

Notice that the largemouth bass’s mouth protrudes past its eye. And pay close attention to the notch between the first and second dorsal fin.

So, three easy signs to look for to distinguish a spotted bass from a largemouth include:

  • A series of dark spots along the spotted bass’s lateral line (this is not definitive)
  • An upper jaw bone that doesn’t protrude behind the eye
  • A clearly joined first and second dorsal fin

You may have heard that only spotties have dark spots below their lateral lines, but that’s not true. Just look at the picture of the largemouth above.

There’s also a more complicated morphological difference to look for: like smallmouth bass, spotties have scales at the base of their dorsal fins. Largemouth don’t.

If the easy cues leave you unsure, you can look for those dorsal scales.

Differences Between Spotted and Largemouth Bass

  1. Appearance:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Has a distinct row of dark spots below the lateral line.
      • The lower jaw does not extend beyond the back of the eye.
    • Largemouth Bass:
      • Lacks the row of dark spots below the lateral line.
      • The lower jaw extends beyond the back of the eye.
  2. Coloration:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Generally has a greenish color with a more pronounced spotting pattern.
    • Largemouth Bass:
      • Dark green on the back with lighter green on the sides and a white belly. The sides often have a series of dark horizontal stripes.
  3. Dorsal Fin:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • The dorsal fins are almost separated or have a shallow notch between them.
    • Largemouth Bass:
      • The dorsal fins are more distinctly separated.
  4. Body Size and Shape:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Typically smaller and more streamlined than largemouth bass.
    • Largemouth Bass:
      • Bulkier and can grow much larger than spotted bass.
  5. Habitat:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Prefers clearer water and is often found in rocky areas, such as reservoirs with rocky outcroppings.
    • Largemouth Bass:
      • More adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including murky water, ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams with lots of vegetation.
  6. Behavior:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • More likely to school and can be more aggressive than largemouth bass.
    • Largemouth Bass:
      • More solitary and tends to lurk around structures like logs, rocks, and vegetation to ambush prey.
  7. Range:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Native to the Mississippi River basin and is found in many of the southeastern U.S. states.
    • Largemouth Bass:
      • Widespread across the U.S., with its native range encompassing much of the eastern and central parts of the country.
  8. Diet:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Prefers smaller prey, including insects, crustaceans, and smaller fish.
    • Largemouth Bass:
      • Has a more varied diet and can consume larger prey, including fish, frogs, and even small birds or mammals.

Final Thoughts

We hope that you learned something from this article today, and if we've helped you discern the differences between spotted bass and largemouth bass we’d love to hear from you.

With a little practice, it’s usually easy to ID a spotty, and if you know what to do, they can be an amazing fish to catch.

Please leave a comment below!

About The Author
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.
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