Game Fishing > Sunfish Family, Centrarchidae > Calico-Bass


Calico-BassThe calico-bass was first described by Lacepede from specimens sent to France from South Carolina. He named it sparoides from a fancied resemblance, either in its scales or compressed body, to those features in fishes belonging to the family Sparidae.

Owing to its wide distribution it has received many names, more or less descriptive. In the Northern states it is variously called crappie, croppie, strawberry-bass, grass-bass, bank lick bass, silver-bass, big-fin bass, Lake Erie bass, razor back, bitter-head, lamplighter, etc., while in the Southern states it is known as speckled perch, goggle-eyed perch, chincapin perch, bridge perch, etc.

As the calico-bass and the next fish to be described, the crappie, belong to the same genus of the sunfish family, and resemble each other very much, the vernacular nomenclature is much confused, and in some instances is interchangeable. Some years ago I proposed to call them northern and southern crappie; but as the name calico-bass has obtained considerable currency, it is best to adopt that name for the northern species, leaving the name crappie for the southern form.

The calico-bass is found in the Great Lake region and the upper Mississippi Valley, and along the Atlantic slope from New Jersey to Florida and Texas. Its range has been considerably extended by transplantation, even to France, where it thrives well as a pond fish. It is a handsome fish, resembling in its general features and shape the sunfishes, but with a thinner body and larger fins. It has a long head and a large mouth, with thin lips and projecting lower jaw. The eye is large with a dark, bluish iris.

Its fins are large and strong. It grows usually to eight or ten inches in length, weighing from half a pound to a pound, but occasionally reaches a foot in length and two or three pounds in weight. Its color is bright olive-green, with silvery reflections, darker on the back, and paling to the belly. In some localities it is of a much darker and purplish hue with brassy lustre. It is profusely covered with dark spots or blotches, as large as the finger-tips or "chincapins."

The fins are mottled with pale spots on a darker or olive ground. It is gregarious, being usually found in schools, and prefers clear water. It is especially adapted to pond culture, and spawns in spring or early summer, according to locality; it prepares its nest in sand, gravel, or on a flat rock in the same way as the sunfishes. Its food is the same, also, though it is more partial to young fish. It is an excellent pan-fish but does not excel as a game-fish, for though a very free biter, it does not offer much resistance when hooked. However, with very light tackle it affords considerable sport, as it does not cease biting, usually, until most of the school are taken.

The usual method of angling for this fish is from an anchored boat on ponds or small lakes, or from the bank. At times it rises pretty well to the fly, and trolling with a very small spoon is also successful on lakes. The lightest rods and tackle should be employed, with hooks number 3 to 5 on gut snells. A small quill float is useful in very weedy ponds with mossy bottom. The best bait is a small minnow, though grasshoppers, crickets, crawfish, cut-bait, or worms are all greedily taken.

Fly-fishing is more successful during the late afternoon hours until dusk. The flies should be trout patterns of coachman, gray drake, black gnat, Henshall, or any of the hackles on hooks number 4 to 5.

I first became acquainted with the calico-bass during my residence in Wisconsin, many years ago. In the vicinity of Oconomowoc it was known as the silver-bass, though summer visitors from St. Louis, confusing it with the kindred species, the crappie, called it "croppie," as the real crappie is known at Murdoch Lake near that city. Owing to its greedy, free-biting habits it was a prime favorite with youthful anglers; for once a school was located, the contest was free, fast, and furious until, perhaps, the entire school was captured.

It was frequently taken by black-bass fishers when casting the minnow or trolling, much to their disgust. Of course it is always the unexpected that happens, in fishing as in other affairs of life, and the angler who was casting a fine minnow for a black-bass, viewed with disdain if not anger the unlucky "pickerel," rock-bass, perch, or calico bass that appropriated or, as the English angler has it, "hypothecated " the said choice shiner.