The Different Types of Bass: Largemouth Bass vs. Smallmouth Bass and Everything in Between

Published on 12/30/2023 · 10 min readThis guide gives you an overview of the main types of bass, their similarities, differences, and habitats, so you can identify what you caught!
Michael Sw, Fishing Expert
By Fishing Expert Michael Sw

Photo by Ryno Botha

“I’m going fishing for bass.” That’s one sentence that has many meanings to many different people. There are so many different species of fish known as black bass (Genus micropterus), or just plain ol’ bass, that it is difficult if not downright impossible to keep up with all of them.

Since first being described, dozens of black bass species have been discovered in North America including but not limited to: largemouth bass (Micropterus floridanus, Micropterus salmoides), smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), spotted bass or Kentucky bass (Micropterus punctulatus), a subspecies of which has been recently identified in Florida known as the Choctaw bass, shoal bass or Altamaha bass (Micropterus cataractae), Suwannee bass (Micropterus notius), Guadalupe bass (Micropterus treculii), Alabama bass (Micropterus henshalli) and redeye bass also known as Bartram’s bass (Micropterus coosae), which itself has several subspecies such as Micropterus cahabre, Chattahoochee bass (Micropterus chattahoochae), Tallapoosa bass (Micropterus tallapoosae), and Micropterus warriorensis. Whew! And that is just the temperate bass species that are actually bass!

Some are actually related species or subspecies; while other “bass” resemble the bass people are used to catching while not being true “bass.” In this article, I will provide a brief and quick overview of the main different types of bass, their similarities, differences, and habitats.

Largemouth Bass

Photo by Ryan Garrett

This is the bass that comes to mind when most people say “bass.” Originating in the eastern United States, the largemouth bass is a stout-bodied member of the sunfish family that is more elongated than its smaller cousins. It has a characteristic black tail and a dark black band along the lateral line that runs along its length from cheek to tail. The mouth is large, hence the name, and when closed it extends past the rear edge of the eye. The back is blackish or greenish, and the belly is white. Due to its popularity as a hard-fighting game fish, the largemouth bass has been introduced around the globe and can now be found on nearly every continent except Antarctica.

The largemouth bass is a voracious eater and will consume nearly anything that fits into its cavernous mouth, from small fishes and minnows, to insects and worms, crayfish, frogs, baby ducklings, mice, and even baby alligators. Nearly all smaller aquatic creatures fall prey to largemouth at one time or another. The largemouth are divided into two subspecies: the northern largemouth native to the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes; and the Florida largemouth; a native of Florida’s everglades, and the swamps, ponds, and bayou’s of Texas and Georgia.

When the water temperature starts to hover around 60 degrees, largemouth come up shallow to spawn. They build their nests in coves and creeks amidst various types of cover in order to protect their eggs from predators as they wait for their fry to start hatching.

Due to the abundance of largemouth bass across the country, the majority of bass fishing baits in the industry are designed for catching this opportunistic species. They will eat almost anything, and with their large mouths it is easy to set and remove the hook, making it easy to release them safely back to their habitats. For these reasons and more, largemouth are an ideal species for beginners to target.

Smallmouth Bass

Photo by CSNafzger

This is the bass many people think of when referring to “northern bass,” but it is an entirely different species of bass in itself. Like largemouth, there are different subspecies of smallmouth, including the northern and Neosho types. They are called “smallmouth” because their mouth is smaller in proportion to their body than in the largemouth. The smallmouth’s upper jaw does not extend past the eye when closed. They are olive or brownish in color often with vertical blotches or spots along their lateral line. Along with their unique coloration, these stripes make smallmouth bass easy to distinguish for other species.

The smallmouth’s original range was limited to the upper half of the Mississippi River system from the Great Lakes down to the northern parts of Arkansas and Alabama. Like largemouth, they have been widely introduced to other regions. Smallmouth are more habitat-restricted than largemouth, preferring sandy rivers, gravelly and rocky lakes and reservoirs, and deeper water than their largemouth siblings. Smallmouth can also withstand colder water temperatures than many other bass species. . The two species can often coexist in the same lake or river, but they will typically inhabit different areas even though they seek similar prey species. Smallmouth become more pelagic in larger reservoirs with offshore forage fishes such as shad or alewives becoming a main portion of their diet.

As with largemouth bass, smallmouth begin to spawn when water temperatures reach about 60 degrees. They tend to spawn in slightly deeper water in the sand and around hard structures like boulders and rock pilings.

What makes smallmouth bass so much fun to catch is the fact that they are such aggressive fighters. Even smaller fish can be a challenge for anglers to land. Those who target this species will find that lures featuring the color chartreuse will be particularly effective. Soft plastic tubes, drop shots, and Neko rigs are all excellent ways to catch smallmouth.

Spotted Bass

Photo by bled05

The third main species of black bass targeted by anglers is the spotted bass. This also includes a former subspecies recently recognized as an entirely different species of bass altogether, called the Choctaw bass or Alabama bass, itself confined to the river systems of Alabama and the Choctaw area of the Florida panhandle. The range of the true spotted bass was originally the lower Mississippi River basin, from Georgia to Texas, It has since been introduced outside this range.

Generally smaller and shorter-lived than their bucketmouth cousin, spotted bass rarely live longer than six years while largemouth bass can live for 15 years or more. The main features that distinguish a spotted bass from other species are the connected first and second dorsal fins, features that are separate on largemouth bass. Another distinguishing feature of the spotted bass is the black spot located by the tail along with their tri-colored caudal fin.

The upper jaw does not extend past the eye, giving the spotted bass a smaller mouth than the largemouth, with cheek scales also smaller than on a largemouth bass. The lateral line also has a series of lateral blotches or dark marks along it. The lower half of the body has black dots or spots on the scales in rows along the length. These stomach markers are what give this species its name. Last, the tongue has a roughened rectangular tooth patch on the center, while the largemouth bass’ tongue is smooth.

In the early spring, spotted bass will come up to spawn on ledges and dropoffs right outside of shallower water like coves, creeks, and grass flats.

Like its cousin, the smallmouth, spotted bass or “spots” are often pelagic, preferring deeper clearwater lake habitats, and chase offshore forage fish species like shad. They are often caught on smaller lures and jigs with lighter tackle than is used to target largemouth.

Redeye (Bartram’s Bass)

Photo by R. Hanawacker

A fourth main species of bass is the redeye or Bartram’s bass, itself with five different subspecies differentiated by slight taxonomical differences such as different numbers of rays or spines on the dorsal and anal fins. Its range consists of parts of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. And while the spotted bass may resemble its larger cousin the largemouth bass, redeye bass resemble their larger relative the smallmouth.

Redeye bass are measured in inches, not feet, and ounces instead of pounds. An average redeye bass ranges anywhere from six to nine inches, and weighs six to nine ounces. The redeye lives in small, cool forested streams and smaller rivers, feeding mostly on aquatic and terrestrial insects and occasionally minnows and smaller fishes. There are populations present in a few upper elevation reservoirs in South Carolina, and they do hybridize with largemouth or more commonly smallmouth bass when the two species are encountered together. The main identifiers of redeye bass are a series of dark horizontal rows along the body below the lateral line, a series of vertical blotches that tend to disappear as the fish ages, and the fish will have fins that are orangish with a white margin along the edge.

Redeyes tend to spawn in warmer water than some other species of bass. When water temperature hits 62-69 degrees, males

Redeye bass aren't as popular to target as some other types of bass on account of their smaller size. They are ambush predators that hold tight to cover, so focusing on laydowns and rock piles will be essential when fishing for the species. Finesse techniques will be the most productive when targeting this unique fish in the bass family.

Shoal Bass

A less well-known species outside of its limited range is the shoal bass of Florida and Georgia (particularly of the Flint River drainage system). Once thought to be a subspecies of smallmouth bass, shoal bass have been recognized as a distinct species since 1999. Hybridization with other bass species is a major threat to populations where multiple species coexist. In most places where they are currently found, anglers are encouraged to practice catch and release, but there are few limits or laws to protect this relatively new species.

Similar in appearance to redeye, shoal bass have a greenish, almost clear tail with a dark spot at the base absent in redeye. The shoal bass also lacks the white edges found on the fins of redeye. The dorsal fins are connected like a spotted bass, and there are dark horizontal blotches or bands along its length.

Fishing for shoal bass will be nearly identical to the way you'd fish for Redeye Bass. They will be found staging around cover in waters with a moderately paced current. Light tackle, light line, and light lures will be a must for anglers who wish to catch this species.

Guadalupe Bass

Photo by N. Loveland

The final species of true bass is the Guadalupe bass of Texas, named after the Guadalupe River where they reside. The official state fish of Texas, the Guadalupe bass is confined to the waters of the Edwards Plateau of the central part of the state and in the San Antonio area. A smaller species, though not as small as the redeye, Guadalupe bass are known to reach weights up to 3lbs. Very similar in outward appearance to the redeye, they are greenish instead of brownish and have a rough patch of teeth on their tongue, similar to that of the spotted bass.

Its diet consists primarily of small fishes and aquatic insects. It is threatened not by habitat loss, but by hybridization with other bass species. The Texas fish and wildlife division is combating this by stocking pure-strain Guadalupe bass into the rivers and impoundments where they are known to live. These conservation efforts seek to re-establish a healthy population of this species and maintain the native habitats in which they live.

As far as catching Guadalupe bass goes, anglers will need to find areas with fast-moving water, where they are most likely to feed. Anglers who target the species will be using light tackle and lures like micro crankbaits, ned rigs, and other finesse fishing applications.

There are literally dozens of other species of “bass” that are not truly bass but have some taxonomic similarity with the true basses. These include sea bass, such as the black sea bass, sea bass, and striped bass. Hybrids of these such as wipers, which are crossed with white bass, are related only to the striper and yellow bass, not the aforementioned species. Then there are all the other panfish bass species such as black crappie and white crappie, (a.k.a. calico bass), and the rock bass, sometimes confusingly called redeye. There are so many species both among the true basses and the fish called “bass,” because of their similarities in appearance and because of the popularity of bass fishing.

There are countless resources to further one’s research into these fascinating and hard-fighting fish. Hopefully, this was a good start to understanding the fish known as the basses. The next time you go out fishing and someone asks you what you’re fishing for: if your answer is “bass;” now you know just how many fish that can be referring to.

Now that you know all the different types of bass, you’ll feel confident getting out there and catching some of your own! Remember to have fun doing it! Check out the Expert Journal here on Curated for more Fishing content.

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