While the vast majority of American anglers are familiar with the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), far fewer know about its cousin, the spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus).
Endemic to the deep south, these fish are relatively easy to mistake for either large or smallmouth bass, as they resemble both to a striking degree.
But these hard-fighting predators are a species (or two) of their own and deserve all the attention they can get.
Reaching lengths of as much as two feet and weighing in at a hefty 11 pounds, the spotted bass is a prized catch wherever it’s found, though average lengths and weights are more in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 inches and one to three pounds.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Spotted Bass 101: Identification
- 2 Close Kin: Micropterus punctulatus and Micropterus henshalli
- 3 Spotted Bass Range and Location
- 4 Spotted Bass: Technique and Lure Selection
- 5 Final Thoughts
Spotted Bass 101: Identification
Connected dorsal fins? You’ve probably caught a spotty.
Separate dorsal fins are a sign that you’ve landed a largemouth.
As you’d expect for a fish of the genus Micropterus, differences between it and other close relatives like the largemouth and smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) are going to be subtle.
Unlike the largemouth, the spotted bass will have scales on the base of its second dorsal fin. You’ll also notice that the two dorsal fins are connected, creating a shallow “v.”
Spotted bass also sport a circular patch of teeth on their tongue, something largemouth lack.
And finally, on adults, you’ll find the dark spots below the lateral line that give them their scientific name, as well as their nickname “spotty.” But as you can see in the pics above, those spots aren’t the easiest way to tell a spotted bass from a largemouth.
Some folks will tell you that the upper jaw of a spotted bass won’t reach back to its eye, but that’s not true. Just take a look at the photo above.
Spotted bass identification checklist (vs. largemouth bass)
- Separated first and second dorsal fins
- Scales on the base of the second dorsal fin
- Round patch of teeth on the tongue
Now, the real trouble can come in when you need to tell a spotted bass apart from a smallmouth, especially since these two species are known to hybridize, blurring the distinction between the species almost entirely.
Unbybridized spotted bass have a distinctive dark pattern along their lateral lines.
Unhybridized smallmouth bass are relatively uniform in color.
Smallies and spotties share that connection between the first and second dorsal fin, and they both sport a rough patch of “teeth” on their tongues.
As long as you’re not dealing with a hybrid, the easiest way to tell the difference is that smallmouth lack a distinctively dark coloration over their lateral line, being more or less uniformly gold-green.
Spotted bass identification checklist (vs. smallmouth bass)
- Dark pattern along the lateral line
Close Kin: Micropterus punctulatus and Micropterus henshalli
In 1940, a subspecies of spotted bass was identified by biologists. Called the Alabama bass, it’s native to the Mobile River basin but has since been introduced into the Chattahoochee River (as has the spotty).
As experts from Auburn University explain, “Micropterus henshalli differs from M. punctulatus, with which it has been aligned, by having higher scales counts, a narrower head, smaller-scale width, higher gill raker count, and a smaller tooth patch. It also has a narrower and more elongate body shape than does M. punctulatus.”
In practice, unless you do an accurate scale count along the lateral line, these two species are very, very hard to distinguish.
The Alabama bass is virtually indistinguishable from the spotted bass to which it’s closely related.
Spotted Bass Range and Location
Spotted bass can be found as far north as Ohio and Kentucky and make their home along the Gulf states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. You’ll also find them in Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
While it’s not scientifically accurate to say that the spotted bass is a combination of large- and smallmouth bass, in terms of habitat, it fills a niche that resembles both.
Spotties prefer moving water to still ponds, like a smallmouth, but they also like stained and murky water, like a largemouth.
As Kentucky’s Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources says, the spotted bass “occupies primarily streams and rivers, but also occurs in lake (e.g., oxbows) and reservoir habitats. It is less numerous in reservoirs than Largemouth Bass and far less common than Smallmouth Bass in cool, clear upland streams. As with other black basses, Spotted Bass tend to associate with cover in the form of logs, stumps, and other submerged structures.”
As you’d expect of any bass, they thrive in areas with plenty of aquatic vegetation. Like all bass, they feed on insects, aquatic invertebrates like crawfish and other fish, and areas that offer plentiful prey habitat are likely to hold plenty of spotted bass.
Spotted Bass: Technique and Lure Selection
As you’d expect from a close relative of the smallmouth, flies of all kinds are terribly effective on spotted bass, but my personal favorite has to be a popper. They simply devour these lures, coming clear out of the water when they hit them!
Fly poppers like these from Yazhida are simply murder on spotted bass.
For standard tackle, pretty much anything that works on largemouth will catch spotties, but keep in mind that they tend to run a bit smaller than their kin, so size down appropriately.
Among my favorite choice for murky, slow-moving rivers, you’ll find Heddon’s Tiny Torpedo. Whether you pop and wait or “walk the dog,” this little guy really stirs up a ruckus on the surface, and when you’re working an area with plenty of frogs and big water bugs, that’s exactly what you want.
Another proven choice is Strike King’s KVD 1.5 Flat Side crankbait.
Flat-sided crankbaits create an aggressive wiggle. Given the fact that spotted bass like low-visibility water, that’s exactly what you want to call them in.
That big bill lets you run this crankbait into every rock, stump, and log on the river, creating the erratic bumps and turns that trigger strikes.
Sometimes I use these on a drop shot rig; other times, I’ll just rig them Texas-style, and I’ll even occasionally just run them weightless and twitch and stop.
Each of these options drives spotted bass wild.
If you’re in the right part of the county, and you know where to look and what to look for, you might just catch a few spotted bass.
And while not as well-known as either its largemouth or smallmouth cousins, these hard-fighting, exciting game fish are sure to entertain.
As always, we hope that you’ve enjoyed this article and learned something new.
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