The battling black bass

The battling black bass

The black bass was first introduced to European waters from the USA at the end of the 19th century for its sport fishing potential. Although these early stocks of black bass failed to thrive, in more recent years it has become much more popular with European fly fishermen. However, in Britain, despite numerous introductions around the country, the black bass has struggled to adapt to our waters.

Although it is called the black bass, this name is slightly misleading as it is not particularly black, nor essentially a bass. It is only distantly related to the sea bass under the biological umbrella of perch-like fish.

Black home

The two species of black bass (largemouth and smallmouth) belong to a family of North American fish that includes the pumpkinseed, crappie and sunfish.

Its natural home stretches from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi. The largemouth also extends south to the Gulf of Mexico where the warm water has enabled it to grow slightly bigger than elsewhere.

Black bass have been stocked into more and more European waters and in recent years have become much sought-after fish. The main attraction is their outstanding fighting qualities.

Both largemouth and smallmouth have been brought to Britain, although the last introductions of any significance took place almost 60 years ago. Unfortunately, attempts to accustom and accommodate the black bass have failed because the waters or the conditions proved unsuitable.

In western Europe the black bass is surviving and gaining a healthy reputation among anglers. In southern France the renewed interest has led to owners of private waters re-introducing them and regional authorities slowly following suit.

The black bass is also increasing in status and numbers in Spain and Morocco while in Germany’s Rhone Valley it is being used to control catfish populations.

Bass basics

The largemouth takes its name from its long jawbone, extending beyond its eye. It has a dark green back, olive-green flanks and a whitish belly with a dark zig-zag pattern along the sides of the body. The dorsal fin is deeply divided, the front section made up of 10-12 strong, sharp spines, the rear consisting of 12-13 branched rays. There are three spines on the anal fin and the pelvic fins are joined to the body by a skin membrane. The body scales are small with at least 55 in the lateral line.

The smallmouth bass, as its name suggests, has a smaller mouth – the end of the jaw stretches back only as far as the middle of the eye. The dorsal fin has only a shallow dip dividing it. The front section has nine or ten spines and the rear fin has 13-15 rays. It’s skin is paler than the largemouth’s, and it has dusky bands along its body.

The smallmouth lives over rocky river beds, feeding on insects, crustaceans and fish, while the largemouth frequents shallow, protected areas of bays or lakes and prefers dense plant growth.

Black bass spawn in late spring; the male builds a river bed nest in water 6m (20ft) or so deep by hollowing out a shallow basin.