Skip to main content

Spotted Bass

Spotted Bass

Third Member of the Black Bass Clan

In several regions of the country, spotted bass are overlooked by anglers set on catching largemouths or by purists seeking only smallmouths. But in top locations, spots combine the best features of both fish. Indeed, many characteristics are intermediate between largemouths and smallmouths, so much so that ichthyologists regarded the spotted bass as a hybrid or type of smallmouth until the 1930s.

Distribution

The original range of spotted bass included all the lower and central Mississippi River drainage from Missouri and Kansas to Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as the Gulf Coast drainages from the Chattahoochee River in Georgia to the Guadalupe River in Texas. The Ohio River drainage from West Virginia and North Carolina through Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee also was home to northern spotted bass. The species was absent from the lower Mississippi River, possibly due to excessive turbidity, and they don't enter tidal sections of coastal rivers. The epicenter of spotted bass range seems to be the central Mississippi drainage. Ichthyologist theorize they spread east, south, and west from there.

Alabama spotted bass were brought to California in 1974 and their success there led to stocking in other western states. Today, 24 states contain spotted bass, and they keep getting bigger. Six states set new records in this decade, and California rules with a 10-pound 4-ounce beast from Pine Flat Reservoir.


The Wichita subspecies of spotted bass, feared extinct by some ichthyologists, occurred only in streams of the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. The Alabama subspecies inhabits the Mobile Bay drainage in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. The northern subspecies or "Kentucky bass" is most widespread.


Analysis of mitochondrial DNA has led some geneticists to conclude that Alabama spotted bass are a full species, more closely related to redeye bass than to northern spotted bass. A scientific paper published in 2008 dubbed the new species Micropterus henshalli. In any case, they're a superior gamefish, outgrowing largemouths in shared waters and testing the tackle of bass anglers lucky enough to encounter them.

Spotted Bass Distribution Map

Fishing for Spotted Bass

Spring patterns: The Prespawn Period offers a predictably good bite, as fish mill along the edges of flats sloping from 2 to about 10 feet of water, along rock and gravel points, in natural brush along creek channels, and in manmade brushpiles. As reservoirs warm, spotted bass leave the main river and enter large sloughs and side channels, eventually spawning on flats or steep cuts.


Four-inch ringworms or 5- and 6-inch straight-tail worms Texas rigged with 1/8- and 3/16-ounce slipsinkers excel, though Carolina rigs account for some big fish, often females holding a bit deeper along channel ledges. Drop-shot rigs also are deadly on deeper fish. Heavy, compact jigs tipped with craws work well all year, as do shaky-head jigs backed with straight-tail worms.

Summer Patterns: The shallow nature of spotted bass in the prime impoundments on the Coosa River in Alabama, like Logan Martin and Lay Lake contrasts with Lake Lanier, Lewis Smith Lake, Pine Flat Lake, Lake Shasta, and most other top waters for this species. Water clarity seems to affect preferred depth. On the relatively murky Coosa system, a productive tactic is skipping worms and jigs under boat docks where 3- and 4-pound spots spend sunny summer days. And they've been known to blast a buzzbait worked through patches of smartweed along river channels.

Deep-diving crankbaits are another good choice when spots hold along mid-depth ledge in the 10- to 16-foot range. In clearer lakes like Lewis Smith and Lake Martin, also in Alabama, large spots typically move below the range of crankbaits in summer.


In general, downsizing baits helps catch more spots by matching their prey size preference and smaller mouth, compared to largemouth bass. Spots seem intrigued by sound, hitting rattlebaits, noisy crankbaits, and softbaits presented with brass-and-glass setups.

In spring and summer, spotted bass often feed on the bottom, but also form schools to pursue shad in mid-water or toward the surface. This has become a common phenomenon in California's clear impoundments where imported Alabama spotted bass have prospered and grown to world-record size. Here anglers fish big ripbaits and bounce large topwater walkers like the Zara Spook, Rico Suave, and Paycheck Repo Man to entice schools of roaming spots called "wolfpacks." Six- and 7-inch swimbaits account for some huge fish, though trailer hooks often must be added to hook them efficiently.

To attract spots to the surface, position the boat over deep water and cast across underwater humps or stands of submerged timber. Work baits fast to trigger bites. Where spots hold along steep rocky breaks, work lures parallel to the bank or break, with each cast progressively deeper. In warm clear water, they're known to rise from 15 feet to smack a bait on or near the surface.

Fishing at night is another option for spotted bass in summer. Like other black bass species, spots roam from cover at night and feed consistently, particularly in clear impoundments like Lake Lanier, Georgia, where Patrick Bankston caught the former state record spot weighing 8 pounds 1/2 ounce. After dark, worms, grubs, and finesse jigs work well around brush and stumps, along with spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and bladebaits.

Fall and Winter Patterns: Since spotted bass don't tolerate extreme cold as northern largemouth and smallmouth bass do, their aggressiveness in cool and cold water is surprising. In early fall, summer patterns hold, but as water temperatures fall into the 50°F range, spots move deeper, whether the habitat is bluff banks, creek channels, offshore humps, or boat docks.

Along bluff banks, spots may suspend between 20 and 30 feet in southeastern waters, sometimes deeper. Shad also have shifted deep at this time, attracting voracious spotted bass. It's often critical to find baitfish before starting to fish. If bait doesn't show on sonar, concentrate on rockslides along bluff banks, transitions from bluff to more gradual shoreline, and bank cover like boulders or fallen trees. Where timber remains along creek channels, spotted bass may hold in tree branches 10 to 30 feet off bottom. They're hard to pick out among the limbs, even on top-end sonars.

Texas-rigged worm, grubs, and hair jigs drifted through the school usually tempt a few biters, but spots soon become wary. Jigging spoons imitate shad well, and excel for working deep structure. Experts watch from above on sonar, testing the reactions of fish to various jigging motions. When one is hooked, schoolmates often accompany it upward.

In some cases, winter spots hold deeper than 50 feet. Pulling fish to the surface from this depth is known to cause barotrauma, physiological damage to tissues caused by rapid change in depth. At times, fish float on the surface, their eyes and gas bladders distended. In other cases, fish may swim away but suffer less obvious problems. Where anglers encounter extra-deep bass, it's best to catch a couple, then leave the school, particularly if fish have difficulty submerging. If a few fish exhibit problems, take them home for a meal and quit the pattern. Spotted bass are notoriously good-eating fish, due to their clear-water habitat, offshore existence, and muscle-bound frame.

Article by Steve Quinn

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

In-Fisherman New & Notable 2020 – Mossy Oak Fishing

In-Fisherman New & Notable 2020 – Mossy Oak Fishing

Jake Meyer from Mossy Oak goes over some of the fishing clothing that Mossy Oak has rolled out with In-Fisherman associate publisher Todd Ceisner.

What

What's Next for ASA & ICAST?

American Sportfishing Association president talks ICAST, coronavirus and the fishing industry.

SPRO Madeye Diver 85 & Minnow 120

SPRO Madeye Diver 85 & Minnow 120

The Madeye Diver 85 & 120 feature sound chambers that imitate various batfish.

Lew

Lew's Pro SP Skipping and Pitching SLP Reel

Bass Pro Tour angler Andy Montgomery shares his insight on the new Lew's Pro SP Skipping and Pitching SLP Reel.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Everything you need to know about popular catfish species and how to catch them on proven riggings. All About Catfish Catfish

All About Catfish

Rob Neumann

Everything you need to know about popular catfish species and how to catch them on proven...

To guide your carp quest, we've lined up the best carp baits that are easy-to-fish natural baits and commercial options.10 Best Carp Baits Available Today Carp

10 Best Carp Baits Available Today

Dan Johnson

To guide your carp quest, we've lined up the best carp baits that are easy-to-fish natural...

It is buoyant and enhanced with garlic and salt.Venture Lure's Finesse Worm Midwest Finesse

Venture Lure's Finesse Worm

Ned Kehde - August 25, 2020

It is buoyant and enhanced with garlic and salt.

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate explanation from the In-Fisherman biologists. Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart Bass

Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart

Dr. Rob Neumann - January 22, 2017

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate...

See More Trending Articles

More Bass

The future of quality bass management depends on several factors.The Evolution of Quality Bass Management Bass

The Evolution of Quality Bass Management

Dr. Hal Schramm - May 08, 2020

The future of quality bass management depends on several factors.

Crankbaits excel for covering water, bumping cover, and daring spring bass to bite.Shaping Up for Spring Crankbaits Bass

Shaping Up for Spring Crankbaits

Steve Quinn - May 18, 2020

Crankbaits excel for covering water, bumping cover, and daring spring bass to bite.

Dr. Todd A. Kuhn goes inside the numbers in this episode of Beyond the Bait Powered by Streamlight.Choosing the Right Bass Rod Made Simple

Choosing the Right Bass Rod Made Simple

Game & Fish Digital Staff

Dr. Todd A. Kuhn goes inside the numbers in this episode of Beyond the Bait Powered by...

Carolina-rigging is admittedly an “old-timey” technique but one that can outperform others throughout the season.Carolina Rig Revival Bass

Carolina Rig Revival

Steve Quinn - August 03, 2020

Carolina-rigging is admittedly an “old-timey” technique but one that can outperform others...

See More Bass

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All In-Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now