Know Your Quarry: The Florida Largemouth Bass
Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 12, 2012
Among anglers, black bass are one of the country’s most popular gamefish. Black bass are really not bass at all, but rather represent the largest member of the sunfish family.
There are three major subspecies of black bass. These include the largemouth, smallmouth, and Alabama spotted bass. Of these largemouths attain the great size and are the most widely distributed. Green bass, green trout, bucket mouth, big mouth, and pond mouth are just a sampling of the local and regional names the largemouth bass is known by.
A subspecies of the largemouth bass known as the Florida largemouth is native to the Florida peninsula. The Florida largemouth is of special interest to the black bass enthusiast. Floridas grow quickly and attain sizes bigger than all other black bass subspecies. Florida bass routinely attain weights in excess of 12 pounds in mild climates where they can actively feed all year long.
As a result of their exceptional size potential and fast growth, Florida largemouths have been introduced to lakes and rivers all over the country. Strong trophy fisheries in both Texas and California have resulted from the introduction of Floridas. California anglers that are interested in landing trophy bass should be particularly interested in Florida largemouths, so lets that a closer look at this important subspecies.
Appearance and Description: The Florida Largemouth (Micropterus salmoides floridanus) sports olive green to muddy grey brown flanks with a prominent blotchy lateral line. The coloration generally darkens above the lateral line and fades below it. The belly ranges from white to white with a yellowish tint. The largemouth bass can be distinguished from smallmouths and spots by looking at the rear of the jaw. If the jaw extends beyond the eye socket, it’s a largemouth.
Range and Distribution: Originally Florida largemouths were only found in the Florida peninsula, but have been introduced to many states and a few foreign countries. To the layman it is difficult to distinguish the more common northern largemouth from the Florida subspecies. The only sure way to distinguish between them in the field is to count the scales along the lateral line. The Florida will have 69 to 73 scales, while the northern will have 59 to 65. When living together Floridas and northern bass will interbreed.
Preferred Environment: The Florida largemouth likes clear water with minimal current and ample cover. They thrive in waters that offer abundant and varied forms of prey. Floridas are found in both brackish and freshwater areas including estuaries, deltas, rivers, reservoirs and ponds. They prefer mud, clay or sand bottoms, but will also inhabit rocky areas. They are active in water above 50 degrees, but are most vivacious in waters ranging from 65 to 85 degrees. At times Floridas are found holding close to deep water structure, but in most situations they hold in 20 feet of water or less.
Reproduction: Spawning takes place from December through May depending on the latitude and seasonal conditions. Spawning is accomplished when the water temperature is in the 58 to 65 degree range. The most spawning activity traditionally occurs when the water reaches 70 degrees. Male bass kick off the spawning process by clear a spawning nest that is circular in shaped and 20 to 36 inches in diameter. These nests are built in areas that feature a firm bottom and relatively shallow water. Female bass lay up to 100,000 eggs in the nest. After spawning the females bass filter away from the nesting area while the male bass stay put for five day to two weeks defending the eggs and hatched fry.
Feeding Behavior: Early in life Floridas feed on microscopic organisms and crustaceans like shrimp and crawdads. As bass mature they begin feeding on insects and small fish. Adult bass are opportunistic predators that lay in wait and ambush their victims. Fish and crawfish are the primary prey items of mature bass, but they have been known to consume a variety of organisms such as frogs, turtles, salamanders, lizards, snakes, mice, birds, and crabs.
Age and Size: Growth is dictated by the length of the feeding season and the availability of forage. As a result the largest Floridas are typically found in southern latitudes. In California the largest specimens often are produced at lakes that have aggressive trout stocking programs. Floridas can consume prey that is up to two thirds of their own length, making and 8 to 12 inch rainbow trout an ideal meal for a big Florida. Floridas reach adulthood within 1.5 to 2.5 years. They attain a maximum age of 16 years in captivity. Most trophy bass in the 10 pound range are at least 10 year of age. Female bass live longer than male and attain much greater sizes. Male seldom exceed 15 inches in length while females beyond the 24 inch mark are reasonably common.