When bass season opens at midnight this coming Saturday, all species of fish will once again be fair game in Pennsylvania.
Of course, here in our region the start of bass season doesn't evoke all the hoopla the opening day of trout season brings for several reasons. First, bass aren't stocked by the thousands in hundreds of waterways around the state as trout are. Bass tend to be more difficult to catch for many casual anglers, especially compared to stocked trout.
And most avid bass fishermen nowadays tend to practice catch and release almost exclusively and therefore feel no compulsion to be on the water in hopes of "catching a limit" on the first day of the season.
Nationwide, however, the largemouth bass tops the list as our most popular freshwater game fish. Largemouths are now found in all of the lower 48 states and southern Canada and have been transplanted well into Mexico, Central America and most other continents as well. Largemouths do well in a wide range of habitats, from small farm ponds to the largest manmade reservoirs.
Smallmouth bass were originally native to the eastern half of the United States and southeastern Canada from Manitoba and Quebec and south to Tennessee and eastern Oklahoma. Smallmouths have also been introduced into almost every other state but are not as widespread as the largemouth.
Smallmouth bass are not as adaptable as their largemouth cousins, preferring lakes with mostly clear water and gravel, rocks and other hard bottom structure.
Smallmouths, of course, thrive in rivers, while largemouths are rarely found in flowing water, especially in the northern part of their range. In Pennsylvania, all our major river systems are well known for their excellent smallmouth fisheries. Surprisingly, smallmouth bass are only native to the Allegheny and Ohio River watersheds and were introduced to the Susquehanna, Juniata and Delaware rivers during the late 19th century.
Along with their widespread availability, bass tend to be popular with anglers because they are strong fighters when hooked and can reach respectable average size in most waters where they are found. The world record largemouth weighed 22 pounds, 4 ounces and was caught from Montgomery Lake in Georgia in 1932. That record was tied in 2009 by a monster bass taken in Lake Biwa in Japan.
The Pennsylvania state record largemouth bass weighed 11 pounds, 3 ounces and was caught from Birch Run Reservoir in Adams County in 1983. The world record smallmouth bass came from Dale Hollow Lake in Tennessee in 1955 and tipped the scales at 11 pounds, 15 ounces. Pennsylvania's record smallmouth weighed 8 pounds, 8 ounces and was caught from Scotts Run Lake in Berks County in 1997.
Both species of bass are highly adapted predators, capable of preying on virtually any creature they can swallow and happens to be found in, on or around the water they inhabit. This extremely varied diet means bass are likely to attack a wide variety of lures, a trait that endears these fish to both fishermen and tackle companies.
For well over a century, anglers have eagerly sought a steady diet of new lures to tempt their favorite fish. And the lure makers have always been eager to satisfy that demand. Probably more lures have been produced specifically to catch largemouth bass than every other of species combined. And as long as we anglers keep buying them, I'm sure the tackle manufactures will keep turning them out.
There just might be some scientific justification for so much time and effort being spent to catch bass or for those of us who seem to be incurable lure accumulators. Recent research has revealed that largemouth bass are the most intelligent freshwater fish. Based on some tests, largemouths have demonstrated the ability to recognize a certain lure after a single encounter with it and steer clear of it from then on. Most other species of fish, including trout, require several encounters before wising up, if at all.
The final debate regarding bass will always be which species is really the better, more sporting species. To that, I used to hedge somewhat, equating that decision with being forced to pick a favorite among one's children. But lately, I have made a decision about which bass I like best: the one that happens to be at the end of my line at the time.