Bass are far and away the most popular game fish in the Coosa River. And, the Coosa River is world famous for it’s excellent bass fishing. We can break down the extensive bass family into two categories: Black Bass (including largemouth, spotted, and redeye) and Temperate Bass (including striped, white, and hybrid). Let’s get to know ’em!
The three species of black bass that are native to the Coosa River are the largemouth bass, the spotted bass and the redeye bass. They can be hard to tell apart to the untrained eye, but when you know what to look for it’s easy!
The largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) is the official state freshwater fish of Alabama! They are the most popular game fish on the Coosa River and most commonly found in lakes. The state record largemouth, weighing in at 16 lbs 8 oz, came from right here in the Coosa Valley! Largemouth bass grow to the largest size of any black bass. A few features distinguish the largemouth: their jaw (when closed) extends past their eye, they generally do not have teeth on their tongue, and there is only a slight bridge, if any, between the spiny and soft dorsal fins (the ones on top!). Compared to other black bass, they usually don’t fight very hard, especially in the summer. They spawn when water temperatures range from 63° to 68° and prey on smaller fish, crawfish, and frogs.
The Coosa River’s spotted bass (Micropterus henshalli), also known as the Alabama Bass, are some of the meanest fighting fish in the nation! They are found both in the lakes and in creeks. They tend to be more slender and shaped like a football than a largemouth. Notably, their jaw, when closed, does not extend past the eye. A few other features distinguish the “spot:” they generally have a tooth patch on their tongue and there is a significant bridge between the spiny and soft dorsal fins. They usually have red eyes, but contrary to what some fishermen get confused about that doesn’t make them redeye bass! They spawn in April to May and prefer moving water year round. They feed on smaller fish, crawfish and insects. Because they fight so hard, many a fisherman has been duped into thinking he’s hooked a monster largemouth only to find a smallish spotted bass with a lot of energy.
The Coosa River’s redeye bass (Micropterus coosae) brings pure joy to the few fishermen that know ’em when they see ’em. The redeye bass are small: the state record redeye came from the Coosa Valley and weighed only 3 lbs 2 oz. Redeye love moving water and you’ll only find them in creeks, they loathe lake life. They have beautiful colors and tend to be darker and more mottled than their largemouth and spotted cousins. Like spots, they have a significant bridge between the spiny and soft dorsal fins, their jaw does not extend past the eye, and they usually have a tooth patch on their tongue. The key way to know you’re holding a redeye is that their caudal fins are edged in white, something no other Coosa black bass exhibits. Generally speaking, redeye bass don’t have a strong horizontal black band down their sides like spots and largemouth tend to, and have the visual appearance more similar to a smallmouth bass. Redeye spawn from April to June and they feed on very small fish, insects and crawfish. They’re a true delight on a fly rod!
Black Bass Hybrids
Hybridization does occur to a very small extent amongst black bass, especially in streams that are polluted with lots of sediment (making it hard for bass to distinguish their own kin). A hybrid may exhibit some characteristics of two different species.
Striped bass (Morone saxatilis) are the most notorious game fish of the temperate bass. Though they don’t grow incredibly large in the Coosa, their brethren that have more room to stretch their fins grow to huge sizes over 50 pounds and can live well into their twenties. They are anadromous fish; they spend most of their life in saltwater but spawn in freshwater. On the Coosa, of course, they are stuck between two dams and live their entire life in freshwater. This makes it hard for them to sustain their populations. However, on Weiss Lake where stripes have freedom to roam a large territory into Georgia, striped bass now spawn naturally, one of few freshwater populations to do so. Stripes largely feed on shad. They have horizontal black lines along their body which are continuous, but sometimes broken. But, the first stripe below the lateral line is complete all the way to the tail. They have two tooth patches on their tongue, compared to one on a white bass. In the summer, they seek out cold water springs and clear water.
The white bass (Morone chrysops) is similar to the stripe in many ways, but does not grow nearly as large. Their body tends to be stockier (more football shaped) and their stripes tend to be fainter. They only have one tooth patch on their tongue and the first stripe below the lateral line is broken (not complete). Like striped bass, they feed on shad. Their name “chrysops means “golden eye.” They generally spawn in the mouths of creeks in March and April.
Photo By BenitoJuarez98 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
The striped bass and white bass hybrid (Morone chrysops x saxatilis) is not a natural species. It is created by artificially spawning a male white bass with a female striped bass. They are stocked by the millions by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and are a common catch, especially below any of the Coosa’s dams. Like their striped bass mother, they have two tooth patches on their tongue. But unlike their mother, the lateral stripes on the lower half of their body are very broken. They also tend to be shorter and thicker. Like both their mother and father, shad is their primary sustenance. They rarely reproduce naturally.