Rock Bass: Panfish Supreme

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Published on: May. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

tan on their sides. Brought into full light, however, they quickly turn brassy gold, blotched with black.

Rock bass classification has changed in the last few years. Before 1980, only one species of rock bass was recognized in the Ozarks: the northern rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris). Now biologists recognize three: the northern rock bass, the southern rock bass (Ambloplites ariommus), and the Ozark rock bass (Ambloplites constellatus). All three species closely resemble one another, and distinguishing them requires careful counts of fin rays and body scales.

Perhaps the best clue to species is what waters the fish call home. If you catch rock bass in the rivers and tributaries feeding Table Rock and Bull Shoals lakes and Lake Taneycomo in the south-central part of the state, you are catching Ozark rock bass. Rock bass caught in the Meramec and Missouri river drainages are the northern species. This species also occurs in the Spring and Elk river systems of southwest Missouri by way of transplanted populations. Southern rock bass thrive throughout the rest of Missouri's southeastern Ozark streams and creeks.

Most rock bass run from 6 to 10 inches long and weigh less than 8 ounces. Anything over 9 inches is a fish to admire; a 10-inch rock bass will earn you a Master Angler patch in Missouri. The Missouri state record, caught in 1968 in the Big Piney River, weighed 2 pounds, 12 ounces and measured 17 inches. Most rock bass are bantam-weights, but some are big enough and feisty enough to break your line.

Rock bass typically spend the daylight hours within the nooks and crannies of rootwads and undercut rocks in running water between 3 and 12 feet deep, so you must present a bait or lure directly in such places. The best approach is to wade or float out to promising cover and jig with a bait or lure.

Although they typically seek cover, rock bass venture into open water from the mid-April to early July breeding season. Like all sunfish, male rock bass fan out a circular bed where they protect eggs after spawning.

Though the beds are not concentrated like those of bluegills, male rock bass on spawning beds are vulnerable to predation. If you remove a male rock bass from its nest, smaller sunfish quickly rush in and consume the eggs. During the spawn it's best to leave nesting males alone and limit fishing

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