Game Fishing > Sunfish Family, Centrarchidae > Small-Mouth Black-Bass

Small-Mouth Black-Bass

Small-Mouth Black-BassThe generic name Micropterus was given to the small-mouth black-bass by the French ichthyologist Lacepede, in 1802, who was the first to describe it. The name Micropterus, which means "small fin," was bestowed on account of the mutilated condition of the dorsal fin of the specimen, a few of the posterior rays of the fin being detached and broken off, giving the appearance of a short and separate fin. The specimen was sent to Paris from an unknown locality in America, and is still preserved in the Museum of Natural History at Paris, where I personally examined it. It is a fine example, about a foot in length, and is remarkably well preserved.

As there was no known genus to which the specimen with the curious dorsal fin could be referred, Lacepede created the new genus Micropterus. He gave it the specific name dolomieu as a compliment to his friend M. Dolomieu, a French mineralogist, for whom the mineral dolomite was also named.

Originally, the small-mouth black-bass was restricted to the Great Lake region, parts of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, and along the upper reaches of streams flowing from the Alleghany Mountains in the Southern states. It has, however, been introduced into all of the New England and Middle states, and into many Western states. It has a compressed, rather elliptical body, the dorsal and ventral outlines being nearly equal; it becomes deeper with age.

As its range, or distribution, is so great and extensive, and the waters it inhabits are so different in hue and character, the coloration of the small-mouth bass varies from almost black to the faintest tinge of green, in different sections of the country. The coloration is so variable that it differs even in fish in the same waters. It is influenced mostly by the hue of the water, character of the bottom, the presence or absence of weeds about the haunts of the bass, and, moreover, the changes in color may occur in a very short time when subject to these various conditions.

The general color, however, is greenish of various shades, always darker on the back, and paling to white or whitish on the belly. When markings are present, they form vertical patches or bars, never horizontal. Three bronze streaks extend from the eye across the cheeks. All markings, however, may become obsolete with, age.

The natural food of both species is crawfish, which might be inferred from the character of their teeth and wide-opening mouth. There is a popular belief that they are essentially and habitually piscivorous; but this is an error; they are not so black as they are painted. They feed on minute crustaceans and larval forms of insects when young, and afterward on crawfish, minnows, frogs, insects, etc., as do most fishes that have teeth in the jaws.

But the teeth of the black­bass are villiform and closely packed, presenting an even surface as uniform as the surface of a tooth-brush. Such teeth are incapable of wounding, and merely form a rough surface for holding their prey securely. All truly piscivorous fishes have fewer, but sharp, conical teeth, of unequal length, like the yellow-perch, pike-perch, masca­longe, and trout, or lancet-shaped teeth like the bluefish.

The black-bass is far less destructive to fish life than any of the fishes mentioned; on the contrary, it suffers the most in a mixed community of fishes, and is the first to disappear. There are small lakes in Canada and Michigan where the brook-trout and black-bass have co­existed from time immemorial without jeopardy to the trout. There are small lakes in Wisconsin where black-bass and cisco, with other species, have coexisted for all time; and while the cisco is as numerous as ever, the black-bass has almost disappeared. It does not follow, however, that black-bass should be introduced in trout waters; far from it.

Brook-trout are being exterminated fast enough, owing to the changed natural conditions of the streams and their surroundings, without adding another contestant for the limited supply of food in such waters. Both species of black-bass have been introduced into Germany, France, Russia, and the Netherlands. In Germany, especially, they have found a permanent home. It was my privilege materially to assist Herr Max von dem Borne, of Berneuchen, with such advice as enabled him to start on a sure footing in his enterprise, and with such subsequent success in its establishment that he published several brochures on the black­bass to meet the demand for information as to its habits and merits as a game- and food-fish.

An effort was made to introduce the black-bass into English waters, but without success as far as I know, owing to a want of knowledge as to the proper species to experiment with. The small­mouth bass was placed in weedy ponds or small lakes in which only the large-mouth bass would live.

The small-mouth bass thrives only in comparatively clear, cool, and rocky or gravelly streams, and in lakes and ponds supplied by such streams or having cold bottom springs. In lakes of the latter character, in northern sections, it coexists with large-mouth bass in many instances. In such cases, however, the small-mouth will be found usually at the inlet, or about the springs, and the large-mouth at the outlet or in sheltered, grassy situations.

In winter it undergoes a state of partial or complete torpidity. In ponds that have been drained in the winter season it has been found snugly ensconced in the crevices of rocks, beneath shelving banks, logs, roots, or among masses of vegetation, undergoing its winter sleep. In the spring, when the temperature of the water rises above fifty degrees, the small-mouth bass emerges from its winter quarters, about which it lingers until the water becomes still warmer, when it departs in search of suitable locations for spawning.

At this time, owing to a semi-migratory instinct, it ascends streams, and roams about in lakes or ponds, often ascending inlet streams, or in some instances descending outlet streams.