Fish Biology

How to Identify All 9 Species of Black Bass

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Black bass are the most popular freshwater gamefish in the world, largely due to their voracious appetites and outstanding pound-for-pound fighting power. It’s important to understand, however, that there are many more black bass species than what many anglers might think. 

There are actually 9 recognized species including Alabama bass, Florida bass, Guadalupe bass, largemouth bass, redeye bass, shoal bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass and Suwannee bass. All black bass species are generally elongated, have a larger mouth size, ctenoid scales and are carnivorous. 

To properly identify each species, you must know the following: 

  • Upper jaw length and position compared to the eye
  • Number, size and location of lateral stripes and/or blotches
  • Number of rays and spines on dorsal and anal fins
  • Number of scales on the lateral line
  • Region of the country where the fish was captured

Remember, many of these species will breed together and are considered sister species. For example, a Guadalupe bass will breed with both spotted and smallmouth bass, creating offspring that can be difficult to identify without genetic analysis. 

(1 of 9)

Alabama bass (Micropterus henshalli)

  • First described in 1940 and became a species in 2008. It was originally a spotted bass subspecies. 
  • Lateral blotches on sides that do not touch the first dorsal fin
  • Lateral stripe ends in a series of blotches on the caudal peduncle (forms a solid line in spotted bass)
  • Spiny and soft dorsal fins connected with shallow notch
  • Scales at the base of the dorsal and anal fins
  • Dorsal fin with 10 spines and anal fin with 3 spines
  • 68 to 84 lateral line scales. Usually 71 or greater.

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Florida bass (Micropterus floridanus)

  • First described in 1822 and became a recognized species in 2002.
  • Still technically considered a subspecies of largemouth bass by the American Fisheries Society. 
  • Upper jaw extends past the eye
  • Spiny and soft-rayed dorsal fins joined with a deep notch between them
  • Dorsal fin with 9 spines and anal fin with 3 spines
  • 59 to 72 lateral line scales
  • Genetic analysis strongly needed to confirm identification

(3 of 9)

Guadalupe bass (Micropterus treculii)

  • First described in 1874
  • Upper jaw does not reach past middle of the eye
  • Spiny and soft-rayed dorsal fins joined with shallow notch between them
  • Tooth patch on tongue
  • Bases of soft dorsal and anal fins are scaled
  • Dark lateral stripes in 10 to 12 bars
  • Dorsal fin with 10 spines and anal fin with 3 spines
  • 55 to 71 lateral line scales

(4 of 9)

Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)

  • First formally described in 1802
  • Upper jaw extends past the eye
  • Spiny and soft-rayed dorsal fins joined with a deep notch between them
  • Dark midlateral stripe or blotches from tip of snout to caudal fin (depends greatly on water turbidity)
  • Dorsal fin with 9 spines and anal fin with 3 spines
  • 59 to 72 lateral line scales

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Redeye bass (Micropterus coosae)

  • First described in 1940, with 5 subspecies currently
  • Subspecies include coosae, cahabae, chattahoochae, tallapoosae and warriorensis
  • Upper jaw does not extend beyond the eye
  • Spiny and soft dorsal fins are connected with very shallow notch
  • Small, dark spots below lateral line that form horizontal rows
  • Dark, vertical blotches on sides that disappear as they age and do not form horizontal bands
  • Second dorsal, caudal and anal fins will appear red with a white margin
  • Dorsal fin with 9 to 11 spines and anal fin with 3 spines
  • 63 to 74 lateral line scales

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Shoal bass (Micropterus cataractae)

  • First described in 1999
  • Formerly a redeye bass
  • The upper jaw does not extend beyond the eye
  • Dark, vertical blotches that fade as the fish ages
  • Dark spots below lateral line that form horizontal rows
  • The spiny and soft dorsal fin are connected and have a shallow notch
  • Similar to redeye bass without any red coloration or white margins on fins
  • Large, dark spot at the base of the caudal peduncle
  • Dorsal fin with 9 to 11 spines and anal fin with 3 spines
  • 72 to 77 lateral line scales

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Spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus)

  • First described in 1819
  • Currently two subspecies (Northern and invalidated Witchita)
  • Upper jaw does not reach past middle of the pupil
  • Spiny and soft-rayed dorsal fins joined with shallow notches between them
  • Base of dorsal and anal fins have small scales
  • Lateral body has multiple dark blotches that touch dorsal fin
  • Lower lateral scales form dark, horizontal rows or stripes
  • Dorsal fin with 10 spines and anal fin with 3 spines
  • 55 to 71 lateral line scales

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Suwannee bass (Micropterus notius)

  • First described in 1949
  • Upper jaw to central part of the eye, but not past it
  • Typically short in length, rarely exceeding 16 inches
  • Spiny and soft-rayed dorsal fins joined with shallow notches between them
  • 12 vertical lateral bars of blotches
  • Turquoise blue coloration on cheeks, breast and vent during breeding
  • Dorsal fin with 10 spines and anal fin with 3 spines
  • 57 to 65 lateral line scales

(9 of 9)

Shoal bass (Micropterus cataractae)

  • First described in 1999
  • Formerly a redeye bass
  • The upper jaw does not extend beyond the eye
  • Dark, vertical blotches that fade as the fish ages
  • Dark spots below lateral line that form horizontal rows
  • The spiny and soft dorsal fin are connected and have a shallow notch
  • Similar to redeye bass without any red coloration or white margins on fins
  • Large, dark spot at the base of the caudal peduncle
  • Dorsal fin with 9 to 11 spines and anal fin with 3 spines
  • 72 to 77 lateral line scales