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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Spotted (Kentucky) Bass — most common in the streams of Northeastern Ky.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth article in a series about Kentucky’s native gamefish species.

Once thought to be a hybrid between the Largemouth Bass and the Smallmouth Bass, the Spotted Bass is easily confused with the Largemouth Bass by inexperienced anglers.

The species was first described in 1819 by French naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, who collected a specimen at the Falls of the Ohio, and named it Calliurus punctulatus, with the genus meaning “beautiful tail,” a reference to the colorful tail of the immature specimen he collected. The species is Latin for “dotted.”

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

His description was detailed in Ichthyologia Ohiensis, a natural history of the fishes inhabiting the Ohio River and its tributaries in Kentucky, published in Lexington in 1820.

The Spotted Bass was not recognized by ichthyologists as a separate species until 1927, when the species was renamed Micropterus punctulatus, and Rafinesque was credited with describing the species.

On February 27, 1956, Kentucky’s General Assembly passed Senate Resolution 70, establishing the Spotted Bass as Kentucky’s state gamefish. Soon afterward, the legislation was signed into law by Gov. Albert B. “Happy” Chandler, who had been commissioner of Major League Baseball and a U.S. Senator, prior to his election as Governor of Kentucky.

From that date, the spotted bass became known as the Kentucky Bass, a common name that is widely accepted throughout much of the fish’s geographic range.

There are three recognized subspecies of the Spotted Bass — the Northern Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus punctulatus), the Alabama Spotted Bass (Micropterus p. henshalli), and the Wichita Spotted Bass (Micropterus p. wichitae).

Size and Coloration

The Spotted Bass (Image from KDFWR)

The Spotted Bass has an olive-green back with irregular markings of darker green. Its sides are paler, with a midlateral band of semi-connected darker bars. The belly is a pearl, with longitudinal rows of dusky (dark green spotted) scales.

The Spotted Bass closely resembles the Largemouth Bass but has a smaller mouth. Its jaw bone doesn’t extend beyond the rear margin of the eye, like a Largemouth Bass, but ends near the center of the eye. Its tongue has a small patch of teeth. Its eyes have an orange or scarlet-red iris.

In Kentucky, adult Spotted Bass are commonly eight to 15 inches in length, weighing eight ounces to two pounds.

After reaching two and three-quarter pounds, spotted bass develop a very broad girth that tapers to a sleek, powerful forked tail.

Distribution in Kentucky

Present in all the state’s river drainages, the Spotted Bass is most common in the streams of northeastern Kentucky.

Spotted Bass (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

Spotted Bass have habitat preferences somewhat in between the Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, thriving in waters that are warmer and more stained than preferred by the Smallmouth Bass.

They inhabit small streams with a gradient of two to three feet per mile and larger streams with slightly less gradient. Their preferred habitat is gravel substrate, chunk rock, boulders or rock walls.

Spotted Bass are present in all 22 of Kentucky’s major lakes, with significant populations in eight major lakes, according to the 2020 Fishing Forecast, published by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). Four lakes support populations of Spotted Bass rated good or excellent: Cave Run Lake, Lake Cumberland, Green River Lake and Laurel River Lake.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

In Kentucky’s major lakes, Spotted Bass tend to live in deeper water near dams, around riprap at boat launching ramps, highway or bridge levees, gravels bars and rocky points.

Food Habits

Juveniles feed on small crustaceans and midge larvae.

Adults eat insect larvae, crayfish, frogs, worms, annelids (ringed worms), salamanders and minnows.

Fishing Tips

Spotted Bass are fun to catch on light tackle and are tasty eating when deep-fried and served with hush puppies and coleslaw.

Some of the best live baits are minnows and nightcrawlers.

Top producing artificial baits include small jigs and plastic grubs. Fish deep and hang on. Spotted bass can often be caught from depths exceeding 30 feet in deep, clear lakes.

Creel Limits

On January 1, 1988, the minimum size limit on the spotted bass was lifted, enabling anglers to creel Spotted Bass of any size.

The regulation change was made because Spotted Bass have much slower growth rates and most fish never reached the statewide 12-inch minimum size limit. Also, biologists felt that allowing anglers to remove more Spotted Bass would increase growth rates for Largemouth and Smallmouth bass.

The statewide daily creel limit is six fish.

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