Seeing Spots: Tough-Fighting Bass Shouldn't Be Overlooked

Seeing Spots: Tough-Fighting Bass Shouldn't Be Overlooked

John Murray, a professional bass angler from Tennessee, shows off a Kentucky spotted bass he caught on a jighead worm while fishing on Norfork Lake near Mountain Home, Ark. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

Ferocious, hard-fighting spotted bass typically go almost overlooked by many anglers who only catch these aggressive predators by accident when seeking largemouth, smallmouth bass or other fish. However, these vicious fish can challenge the best tackle.

Sometimes called Kentucky spotted bass, the species ranges throughout the eastern United States in the Mississippi and Ohio river drainages from the Great Lakes states to the Gulf Coast.

Spotted bass like this one often hit jigging spoons that resemble small shad or other baitfish. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

A subspecies, the Alabama spotted bass, flourishes in some Alabama river systems. Another subspecies, Choctaw bass inhabits rivers in southeastern Alabama and the Florida panhandle. Some spots from Alabama stocked into southern California lakes reached double-digit status.

“We now recognize the spotted bass as the Alabama bass in the Mobile River drainage lakes and rivers,” advised Michael P. Holley, an Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources fisheries biologist. “I consider a really big spotted bass to be about six pounds. A 4-pounder is still considered big and bass this size show up more frequently in angler catches. Pound for pound, in my opinion, Alabama bass fight harder than any other species of black bass including smallmouth bass.”

Robert Robbins lands a Kentucky spotted bass that he caught on a topwater bait while fishing on Norfork Lake near Mountain Home, Ark. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

With a greenish-white coloration, a spot looks very similar to a largemouth, but with a slightly smaller mouth and more black splotches along its lateral line. The defining feature, a rough “tooth patch” on its tongue distinguishes this species. While spotted bass look similar to largemouths, they act more like smallmouths. Spots love hard bottoms and deeper, cooler flowing water. They commonly hunt near main channel points, ledge edges, rocky shorelines, sandbars, riprap and similar places. A bottom strewn with chunk rock and little crannies that attract crawfish, small baitfish and other prey creatures can make a great place to look for spotted bass.

“Many river reservoirs have old shell beds, hard-bottom areas where mussels form and grow, particularly on the Tennessee River,” advised Randy Howell a former Bassmaster Classic champion from Alabama.

“The beds often become uncovered during high current flow. They are easy ambush places where bass can catch prey. These old shell beds are always great fish catching spots, especially for spotted bass, but I have also caught largemouth and smallmouth around shell beds.”

John Jones shows off a spotted bass he caught while fishing at Lake Sidney Lanier near Gainesville, Ga. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

On big impoundments, check the generation schedule for dams. Water flowing through a dam creates current that stimulates feeding activity. Like smallmouths and trout, spotted bass frequently hide behind current breaks like rocks, shell beds, stumps or long sloping points. They stay at the current edge looking upstream and waiting for the flow to bring them something to eat. Then, they rush out to snatch the morsel before returning to their eddy lairs.

Spotted bass might hit anything that would tempt largemouths or smallmouths. Since they feed heavily upon threadfin shad, spots particularly like 1/4- to 1/2-ounce spinnerbaits in white or a combination of white and other colors like chartreuse or black. Spots might also hit crankbaits, topwaters such as Zara Spooks, swimbaits and spoons.

Because they closely resemble minnows or other baitfish, jerkbaits make an excellent presentation for spotted bass.

Darold Gleason with South Toledo Bend Guide Services shows off a largemouth bass (left) and a Kentucky spotted bass (right) that he caught while fishing at Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana-Texas line near Many, La. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

In clear water, a fish might rise quite a distance to hit a suspending or slow-sinking jerkbait, even in deep, open water. Toss a suspending jerkbait to a good area, like over a hump, and let it sink. Estimate the sink rate by counting down by “one one-thousand” for each second.

Vigorously jerk the rod several times to make the lure dive. At the desired depth, jerk the bait side to side so it darts like an injured fish. Then pause. Bass regularly strike a jerkbait hovering motionless at the proper depth.

“Not many baits can beat a jerkbait for spots, especially in the fall,” Howell proclaimed. “People can fish a jerkbait many different ways, but there’s an art to fishing it successfully. To best fish a jerkbait, anglers need to fish it with a pop, pop, stop -- pop, pop, stop cadence with a couple seconds between the fall and the start back. That causes the bait to flick from side to side. It’s almost the same action as a walk-the-dog topwater bait, but under the surface. When it’s moving, a fish is usually trailing it. When the angler stops the retrieve, the bait just hovers in the strike zone. When it stops in their face, that’s when bass eat it reactively.”

Randy Dover shows off a Kentucky spotted bass he caught on a jerkbait while fishing on Lake Lanier near Buford, Ga. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

When spots go deep, drop a 1/8- to 3/4-ounce chrome spoon next to a drop-off edge. As it flutters down, the spoon mimics a dying shad. When it hits bottom, jig it up and down a few times. Bass normally hit as it falls. Keep trying different depths to find the fish. Locate fish in deep water and anglers could catch them for weeks in the same place.

In deep water, spots might also hit jigs, worms and other temptations. A 3/8- to 1/2-ounce football or a shaky head jig tipped with a small green pumpkin, watermelon red or watermelon seed worm trailer makes another super spot bait. Many anglers also use a drop-shot rig to probe the depths. A drop-shot rig essentially consists of a sinker on the end of a line with a lure tied about 12 to 24 inches above it. Sweeten the rig with a 4-inch grub or similar soft-plastic temptation. When the sinker hits bottom, twitch the line to make the bait quiver.

Jennifer Norman weighs a Kentucky spotted bass she caught while fishing on Lake Lanier near Buford, Ga. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

“With a bait 12 to 15 inches off the bottom, it’s right in the bass’s face,” explained Mark Menendez, a professional bass angler from Kentucky. “I like to use 8- to 10-pound line with a number 4 hook and a 1/8- to a 1/4-ounce sinker. In areas with considerable grassy cover, I use a number 1, 2 or 1/0 hook and Texas rig the bait. Round sinkers work better around rocks. Cylindrical sinkers cut through grass better.”

Although generally caught as a bonus while fishing for something else, spotted bass make a very welcome addition to any catch. After landing several mean spots on light tackle, anglers might start intentionally targeting this species.

Sometimes, spotted bass and other fish congregate over shell beds. This SteelShad blade bait worked over the bottom picked up a shell from a bed. Spotted bass often hit such blade baits since they resemble baitfish. (Photo by John N. Felsher)
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