Wilderness Underfoot: Little mouth, big mouth

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115885793017747.jpg’, ”, ‘Smallmouth and largemouth — which bass is which? Start by comparing their mouths. On the smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieu (top), the closed mouth stops just in line with the eye. On the largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides (bottom), the closed mouth extends past the eye. Another important clue is the dorsal fin (the fin on top of the body). The dorsal fins of both fish have two sections, with spiny rays on the front fin and soft rays on the rear, and dip dividing the parts. On the largemouth bass, the dip in the fin is deeper, reaching down to the body.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115885801514250.jpg’, ”, ‘All in the family – Bass are members of the sunfish family. They’re related to the sunfishes, pumpkinseeds, bluegills, crappies and warmouths. Fish in this North American family have flattened, often “pan-shaped,” bodies, and fins bearing soft rays and stiff protective spines. They’re all nest builders, and in each species, one of the parents will stay on and protect the hatchlings from predators. All sunfishes are carnivorous.’);

For fishermen, bass can be the most challenging, most frustrating, and yet most rewarding fish to catch.

They’re moody creatures, with fickle temperaments. A fisherman can never guess which location these fish will move to, whether they’ll take live bait or lures, or whether they’ll even bite at all. Bass are widely regarded as the scrappiest freshwater fish, and the smallmouth is often feistier than its larger bass relatives.

Bass are carnivores. Larger species, including the largemouth bass, feed on fishes and crustaceans such as crayfish. Smaller species, and the young of larger species, eat insects, small crustaceans and snails. They’re all sight-feeders, picking out prey by appearance and motion—and, despite the belief by some fishermen that scented bait will attract these fish, they don’t really hunt by sense of smell.

Largemouth bass are found in still or slow-moving waters. They prefer warmer, shallow waters, with vegetative cover. They don’t mind a little mud. These bass typically reach a weight of 2 pounds, but the largest one ever caught in Illinois topped 13 pounds, and the largest in North America was more than 22 pounds.

Smallmouth bass are attracted to colder, cleaner waters than largemouths. They’re somewhat smaller, with the largest ever caught in Illinois reaching nearly 6.5 pounds, and the largest in North America at almost 12 pounds. If a water body can sustain smallmouth bass, it’s a good sign the water is clean and well-oxygenated, with little chemical pollution.

From the Sept. 20-26, 2006, issue

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