It was a crisp fall morning when I headed out to the lake, eager to catch some monster largemouth bass. As I reeled in a big 5-pounder, I thought to myself – wait a minute, is this fish actually a true bass? This question sparked my curiosity, so I decided to do some research on whether largemouth bass are indeed members of the bass family.
While largemouth bass share some surface similarities with other bass species, they differ in several key ways. In this in-depth article, we’ll explore the taxonomy and defining traits of true bass, contrast them with characteristics of largemouth bass, examine evidence from both perspectives, and look at why largemouth bass occupy an important niche as top-level predators across North America. So Are Largemouth Bass Actually Bass?
What Defines a “True” Bass?
To be considered a true bass, a fish must belong to the genus Morone in the family Moronidae. The Moronidae family contains all the temperate basses, including:
- Striped bass
- White bass
- Yellow bass
- White perch
- Similar related species
Some defining features of true bass include:
- Elongated, robust torpedo-shaped body built for speed and power
- Two separate dorsal fins (unlike largemouth bass which have one continuous dorsal fin)
- No scales on tongue or top of head
- Prefer brackish or saltwater habitats like estuaries, coastal rivers, and shorelines
- Often migrate between fresh and saltwater environments
- Top predatory fish reaching large sizes (striped bass record is 125 lbs)
- Tend to be more active swimmers than largemouth bass
- Broadcast spawners – males and females simultaneously release eggs and milt into open water during spawning
- Eggs are fertilized externally, and adults provide no parental care
True bass thrive in dynamic systems like estuaries and coastlines that provide rich forage like menhaden, shad, bluefish, and invertebrates. Their streamlined body allows them to migrate long distances between feeding and spawning areas.
Well-known true bass like striped bass and white bass support valuable sport and commercial fisheries across North America. True bass occupy an important predatory niche in coastal and estuarine food webs.
Traits that Set Largemouth Bass Apart
While superficially similar in appearance, largemouth bass possess several distinctive traits that separate them from true bass:
- Scientific name: Micropterus salmoides
- Family: Centrarchidae (sunfish family)
Largemouth bass are members of the diverse sunfish family Centrarchidae, which includes many popular freshwater gamefish like bluegill, crappie, rock bass, and of course other “bass” like smallmouth and spotted bass. They are not taxonomically related to true bass in the Moronidae family.
- Bronze-olive to greenish-brown back with a white, yellowish belly
- Dark lateral line running length of body
- Single joined dorsal fin with a deep notch or hump
- Large mouth with upper jaw extending behind the eye
- Rarely exceeds 22 inches or 10 pounds in size
This powerful, stocky build allows largemouth bass to explode out of cover to ambush prey and also exhibits bursts of speed to chase down fleeing baitfish. Their large, flexible mouths allow them to inhale large prey items.
Habitat and Behavior
- Found in freshwater lakes, ponds, reservoirs, rivers, and creeks
- Prefer warm (70-85°F), shallow, weedy habitats with downed wood, stumps, or other structure
- Aggressive ambush predators that explode from cover to attack prey
- Adults tend to be relatively inactive and sedentary, conserving energy
- Male largemouth construct nests in shallow gravel or sand and guard eggs/fry
- Can survive in water with low dissolved oxygen, allowing them to thrive in eutrophic waters
Largemouth bass occupy the top predatory niche in most freshwater systems, allowing them to grow large on forage like bluegill, crayfish, and baitfish. Their ability to survive in warm, murky, low oxygen environments gives them an advantage over trout and other species in weedy impoundments.
The native range of largemouth bass extends across eastern and southern parts of the United States, but they have been introduced widely across North America and globally. They are now established on every continent except Antarctica due to their popularity for sport fishing.
Key Differences Between Largemouth Bass and True Bass
|Nests, parental care
|Joined, single fin
|2 separate fins
|Scales on tongue?
|World record size
|Crayfish, bluegill, shad
|Menhaden, herring, shad
|Dense weeds, wood structure
|Rocky reefs, drop-offs
|Inactive, sit-and-wait predator
|More active swimmer
While similar in appearance and ecological role as ambush predators, largemouth bass differ from true bass across a number of anatomical, behavioral, and habitat factors as summarized above. However, there are some notable similarities as well.
Similarities Between Largemouth Bass and True Bass
- Occupying top predator niche in their respective habitats
- Robust, torpedo-shaped build for burst swimming
- Large mouths to inhale big prey
- Provide exciting sport fishing opportunities
- Important commercial fishing industry (true bass more so)
- Managing fisheries involves factors like catch limits, size limits, and habitat protection
So while they hail from different taxonomic families, both largemouth bass and true bass share comparable roles as apex predators in the waters they inhabit. Let’s look closer at their predatory function.
Largemouth Bass as Top-Level Predators
As adult largemouth bass have relatively few native predators besides humans, they occupy the apex predatory niche in most freshwater habitats, allowing them to influence entire food webs. Some key roles largemouth bass play as top predators:
- Feed on wide range of prey – With a diverse diet of insects, crayfish, frogs, smaller fish, and more, bass help regulate prey populations.
- Population control – By feeding on panfish like bluegill and crappie, bass help prevent stunted populations of these species.
- Support fisheries – Valued sportfish targeted by millions of bass anglers in the U.S. and beyond.
- Invasive species control – Can help control non-native species that throw food webs out of balance.
- Sensitivity indicators – Because they occupy a high trophic level, health issues in bass can signal problems lower in the food chain.
While not taxonomically “true” bass, largemouth bass essentially fulfill an equivalent crucial niche as ambush predators in freshwater habitats across North America and globally where they’ve been introduced.
Fishing for Largemouth Bass
Now that we’ve explored the biology and ecology of largemouth bass, let’s briefly cover tips for catching these popular gamefish:
- Where to find them – Target shallow, weedy areas, around docks and wood structure
- Time of day – Low light at dawn/dusk are best. Also hit shady spots on sunny days.
- Seasonal patterns – In spring target shallow spawning beds. Summer find them deeper near structure.
- Baits/lures – Plastic worms, topwater frogs, spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits, jigs, and many more (see table below).
|Buzzbaits, poppers, walking baits
|Skirt or craw trailers, bright colors
|Worms, craws, creature baits, flukes
|Shallow divers, medium divers, lipless
|Willow leaf and Colorado blades
These are just a few essential tips for tackling largemouth bass. Now let’s recap the verdict on whether they are actually true bass.
Conclusion: Are Largemouth Bass True Bass?
Based on taxonomy alone, no – largemouth bass are technically not “true” bass since they come from the sunfish family Centrarchidae, not Moronidae like striped bass and relatives. However, they occupy a remarkably similar predatory niche as ambush hunters in freshwater habitats.
While they don’t migrate like anadromous true bass species, largemouth thrive as largely sedentary apex predators within the lakes, rivers, ponds, and impoundments they inhabit.
Both recreational anglers and biologists tend to lump largemouth generically under the “bass” label since they share a comparable torpedo-shaped body plan and role in freshwater food webs. Taxonomic technicalities aside, anyone who has battled a big bucketmouth on the end of their line would agree this hard-fighting fish is a “bass” in spirit and function, if not in literal scientific nomenclature.
For simplicity’s sake, referring to largemouth bass as “bass” helps distinguish them from other sunfish like bluegill and makes it clear they occupy the top predatory position that true bass hold in saltwater ecosystems. However it is inaccurate to claim they are taxonomically members of the true bass grouping.
At the end of the day, whether dubbed technically a “temperate bass” or not, the largemouth bass remains one of the most iconic and popular gamefish in North America and abroad. Let’s take a look at why bass fishing reigns supreme.
The Popularity and Importance of Bass Fishing
Largemouth bass are undoubtedly one of the most sought after freshwater species among recreational anglers. Here are some reasons why bass fishing is so popular:
- They grow big – Given adequate forage and habitat, bass commonly reach 5+ pounds, with the all-tackle world record standing at an impressive 22 lbs 4 oz. Everyone wants to land a trophy “hog”.
- They fight hard – Pound for pound, bass make long powerful runs and acrobatic jumps when hooked. Hooking into a “lunker” provides a thrilling battle.
- Habitat availability – Bass have been stocked in millions of small lakes, ponds, and reservoirs across North America and beyond, offering accessible local fishing opportunities.
- Varied techniques – Anglers can catch bass with everything from topwaters to jigs to finesse worms, providing diverse fishing experiences.
- Great eating – While not commercially important, bass are considered excellent eating by many anglers when filleted promptly after capture.
- Tournaments/industry – Competitive bass tournaments have promoted the sport’s growth. Tackle companies have cashed in on bass fever.
Largemouth bass provide an accessible, exciting way to connect with nature through fishing. They readily strike a variety of artificial lures, putting up a great fight. While not “true” bass taxonomically, for anglers they represent the quintessential bass experience.
Environmental Factors Impacting Bass Populations
If someone desires to find and catch largemouth bass, it helps to understand the habitat factors that allow bass populations to thrive:
- Water temperature – Largemouth thrive in warmer waters from 70-85°F. Growth declines when water cools below 50°F for prolonged periods.
- Vegetation – Aquatic plants provide refuge for juvenile bass and ambush cover for adults to attack prey. Lakes with abundant vegetation tend to produce bigger bass.
- Prey availability – Good bass fisheries have a diversity of prey like bluegill, shad, crawfish, and frogs to provide nutritious forage.
- Dissolved oxygen – While tolerant of low oxygen, concentrations below 3 ppm will stress bass and reduce growth rates.
- Habitat – Stumps, submerged logs, overhanging trees, and other woody structure give bass cover. Rocks and docks also hold fish.
- Water clarity – Largemouth tolerate murky water but may feed less. Algae blooms can reduce productivity.
- Pollution – Contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and acid mine drainage can impact bass health and reproduction.
Understanding these environmental factors helps anglers select productive bass waters and allows fishery managers to make sound maintenance decisions.
Conclusion: Champions Regardless of Taxonomy
While the taxonomy may still be debated in some circles, one thing is certain – largemouth bass deserve respect as fierce apex predators occupying an invaluable niche in freshwater ecosystems across the globe. Their popularity among anglers speaks to their well-earned status as a world class gamefish, whether technically “true bass” or not.
So while my big largemouth may not have been a true Morone bass in scientific classification, it was a champion fish just the same. As bass fishermen say – a kicker is a kicker! Let the taxonomic debates rage on, but the unconditional love of landing a huge bucketmouth will remain for generations to come. Largemouth bass have earned their place in angling lore.