4 Tips for How to Specialize in Spots
Throughout their range, these sporty gamefish are largely misunderstood, overlooked and underutilized; most are taken unintentionally by bass anglers fishing for largemouth or smallmouth
Everyseason, many bass fishermen have spots before their eyes without even knowingit. The cause is not some mysterious illness; it’s the spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus), a fish knownin some circles as the “Kentucky bass” or just plain “spot.”
Theseeming lack of popularity of the spotted bass is not because they are scarce. They’renot. Spotted bass comprise a significant portion of the catch on numerous lakesand streams.
It’snot because spotted bass aren’t sporty opponents, either. Spots are aggressive,high-spirited scrappers that guarantee hard strikes, powerful runs androd-bending fights.
Themain reason is confusion. Many fishermen think the spots they catch arelargemouth bass. Both fish have a greenish hue and a broad stripe of darkdiamonds or blotches along the midline of the body. But in Fishes of the Central United States, authors Joe Tomelleri and MarkEberle note, “A spotted bass can be distinguished by its orange or scarlet-rediris, broadly connected dorsal fins, chalk-white belly, smaller mouth, and theprominent row of spots on the upper belly.”
Anothergood spotted bass identification characteristic is a patch of rough teeth onthe center of the tongue that can be easily felt by rubbing a finger over thetongue’s surface. Most largemouths have slick tongues.
Thespotted bass doesn’t grow as big as its largemouth cousin, either. Two- to3-pounders aren’t unusual, but fish weighing 4 pounds or more are exceptionalin most waters.
Youwon’t catch many spotted bass using the same tactics employed for largemouthsand smallmouths. You must fish different areas, different baits and differentways for the most likely chance of success. Here’s a primer to get you started.
Basicequipment for many spotted-bass specialists is a 6-foot, medium-action rod anda medium-weight spinning reel spooled with 6- to 8-pound-test mono. This tacklewill cast lightweight spotted-bass enticements with greater accuracy anddistance than heavier baitcasting equipment. Don’t be tempted to use heavierline to save a lure or two or you won’t catch many spots. Use light line andenjoy more action.
Where to Fish
Spottedbass in streams favor moderate temperatures, depths and current. Look for themaround rock ledges, gravel bars, boulders and other current breaks, away fromthe current-heavy habitat of smallmouths and still backwaters favored bylargemouths.
Reservoirspots prefer cold, clear water and usually occupy the deepest niche—up to 100feet deep—below shallow largemouth haunts and mid-depth hangouts of smallies.Most will be near structure such as deep, rocky points, deep gravel bars,ledges and humps.
Crayfishand small baitfish are the main course at spotted-bass luaus, so nab these bassusing lookalike lures such as jig-and-pigs, grubs and jigging spoons. Plasticworms and tube jigs also are favorites. Shallow-running crankbaits andspinnerbaits produce during the spawn, the only time spots stay in shallowwater.
Itpays big dividends to use slightly smaller lures than you typically do whenfishing for largemouths or smallmouths. For example, a 1/8-ounce jig is justabout right for spots, and a 1/16-ounce version is not too small. When fishingplastic worms, try a 4-inch worm, instead of the 6-inch or larger models youusually toss for largemouths. And so on.
Thebest baits of all are live crayfish. Use 2- to 3-inchers tail-hooked on a 2/0bait-holder hook weighted with one or two split shot. Let the “mudbug” sink tothe bottom regardless of the depth you’re fishing and retrieve slowly with alift-drop action.
Duringthe retrieve, keep your rod tip high and apply light pressure to the line soyour mudbug doesn’t crawl under a rock. Work the bait much like you would worka jig-and-pig, lifting it then letting it fall back down. Don’t move it morethan six inches each time, and don’t jerk. Move the bait slowly. Spots can’tresist.
Spottedbass seldom frequent shallow water. There are exceptions to this rule, such asschooling summer fish often found slashing through schools of shad near thesurface. Most spots stay deep, however—20 to 75 feet down, year-round. Evenwhen spawning, spotted bass seldom build nests in water shallower than sixfeet, and they often nest as deep as 25 feet.
Deeprock ledges and humps rank among the best fishing spots. Work your bait or luredown the structure’s face in “stair-step” fashion. Your enticement should bumpthe rocks’ surface as it falls into the strike zone.
Don’tbypass mid-stream boulders, shale ridges, shoal edges and other structure,either. Spotted bass frequent these areas, too.
Spottedbass often school. If you catch one from a particular locale, chances are youcan catch two or three more right there. This fact makes them endearing totournament fishermen as well as fish-for-fun anglers.
Forinstance, when tournament anglers decide that their best strategy is quantityrather than size, they often head for habitat that holds spotted bass. A schoolof spots will often show up on sonar as a tight cluster of fish about the sizeof a bushel basket. The pros work at collecting several nice fish, then go offto a known largemouth spot and look for a lunker to up their weight.
Thisprimer on catching spotted bass is by no means complete. Yet, hopefully, it hasenlightened you about one of bass fishing’s most neglected targets. Years maypass before Kentuckies gain the full respect they deserve. But as more and moreanglers get serious about specializing for spots, word will spread that thisfish is worth the time and effort required to catch it.
Ofcourse, how could a good-looking, hard-fighting cousin of the largemouth andsmallmouth be otherwise? Spotted bass will keep on bending rods and challenginganglers. And that’s probably more than enough credentials to keep anglersinterested. Respect certainly can’t be far behind.