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Northern largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) are one of Ohio fishermen's favorite game fish for both sport and eating. They can be found in most of Ohio's waters including lakes, ponds, reservoirs and slow, sluggish streams. The name itself easily identifies the largemouth - their upper jaw extends past the back of the eye. The mouth is generally six inches long! They can also be recognized by a dark lateral line going from head to tail. Their dorsal fin is split in half, part of it being spiny, the other part "soft." Adults averae ten to twenty inches in length and one to two pounds, although five to thirteen pounds is not uncommon.
Smallmouth bass are very similar except that its mouth is less than six inches long. It is also confused with the spotted blackbass. They are all members of the sunfish family. A favorite prey, northern bluegills, are also members of this family.
Largemouths spawn in the spring, from May to mid-June. The male will guard the nest until the 2,000-20,000 eggs hatch and continue to watch the young fry for a while. They are true predators, beginning to feed on their life long diet of crayfish, frogs, large insects, small snakes, and other fish, particularly bluegill. Largemouths are most commonly found around cover such as logs and large rocks. This provides them a hiding place in which to wait for prey.
During the 19th century, largemouths were abundant in the Lake Erie area, as well as other areas of the state, and, by 1830, were an important commercial fish. In 1894, 92,500 pounds of "bass" were taken from Buckeye Lake. They were also present in the Ohio River drainage before 1825, prior to canals. During this time their exact numbers are unknown because largemouth and spotted bass were often counted as the same. Between 1830-1850, with the introduction of the canal system in Ohio, the range of the largemouth bass increased.
In 1902, commercial fishing for all bass, including largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, was prohibited. Since then, they have become a very popular sport fish.
Stocking of largemouths began in Ohio around 1885. These mass stockings have helped to increase both population and range of the largemouth bass.
Between 1955 and 1980, the number of largemouth bass in shallow areas of Lake Erie and nearby marshes and harbors decreased because of a decline in the amount of aquatic vegetation and a constant murkiness of the water.
During this same time period, thousands of farm ponds were constructed and stocked with bass. With floodwaters, many bass "escaped" from these ponds and entered into inland Ohio waters, increasing the largemouth population in those waters.
For over one hundred years, largemouth bass have been sought by Ohio fishermen. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources annually stocks Ohio waters with bass that they have raised in one of their fish hatcheries. Sportsmen catch approximately 185,000 bass each year. This does not include the thousands which are caught and released.
The record largemouth bass in Ohio was taken in 1976 from a farm pond and measured 25 1/16 inches long and weighed 13.13 pounds.