Spot Check for Bass

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

bass made up about 20 percent of the black bass population. Spotted bass now make up almost 50 percent of the black bass population.

Reversing the Trend

The decrease in the harvest and increase in numbers of spotted bass under the 15-inch regulation are due to their relatively slow growth. For example, a 15-inch largemouth bass at Lake of the Ozarks is between 4 and 5 years old. A 15-inch spotted bass is between 6 and 7 years old. As a result of this slower growth, few spotted bass ever reach the legal length of 15 inches before dying of natural causes.

Effective March 1, 1998, the Conservation Department is reducing the minimum length limit for spotted bass on Lake of the Ozarks to 12 inches. Anglers will be able to catch and keep some of the spotted bass that would otherwise die of old age. The 15-inch minimum length limit still will apply to largemouth and smallmouth bass on Lake of the Ozarks.

"Anglers should not have any problems with this if they will take the time to learn the difference between the three species of black bass," says Jack Cramer, a conservation agent on the Lake of the Ozarks. "I think the regulation will be welcomed by novice anglers, who may want to harvest some bass to eat but have difficulty catching black bass over 15 inches in length."

On Lake of the Ozarks the number of spotted bass over 12 inches is equal roughly to the number of largemouth bass over 15 inches. Therefore, the regulation essentially will double the number of bass that anglers can catch and keep.

On the same date, a 12-inch minimum length on spotted bass and a 15 inch minimum length limit on largemouth and smallmouth bass will go into effect on the Missouri portions of Norfork Lake and Bull Shoals Lake. These regulations will increase the numbers of black bass by reducing the harvest of small bass. They also will align with regulations on the Arkansas portion of the lakes.

It is now important that anglers learn to distinguish the three black bass species if they intend to keep any fish. The more liberal length limit on spotted bass should be viewed as a bonus for anglers who learn to tell the three species apart.

Anglers who are unsure about black bass identification should release all black bass less than 15 inches in length. Identification assistance and literature are available at Conservation Department offices statewide.

  1. Check for horizontal stripe and length of jaw - Largemouth and spotted bass both have a dark horizontal line on each side of their bodies. Smallmouth bass lack this horizontal line, but may have vertical bars instead. The back edge of the jaw of largemouth bass extends beyond the back of their eyes, unlike the jaw of a spotted bass.
  2. Check for a tongue patch - Spotted bass (and most smallmouth bass) have a rough patch on their tongues. Largemouth bass usually do not. If it doesn't have a tongue patch it has to be a largemouth.
  3. Check the size of the scales behind the eye - The scales right behind the eyes of largemouth bass are nearly as large as those behind the gill openings. On spotted bass, the scales right behind the eyes are much smaller than the ones behind the gills.


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