Northern Smallmouth Bass

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Northern smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieui)are a popular game fish throughout Ohio. Unlike largemouth bass, which prefers calm water, they are found in habitats of streams with a quick current and clean, gravel bottoms. They are also in Lake Erie.

The main difference between the smallmouth and largemouth bass is just that, their mouths. The mouth of the smallmouth bass is large but only extends to approximately the middle of the eye. The mouth of the largemouth bass extends easily past the eye. Also, smallmouths do not have the dark lateral line of the largemouth. It does however, have a similarly divided dorsal fin of half spiny rays and half "soft."

During the spawning season of May–June , the male smallmouth, like other members of the sunfish family, will fan their caudal fin and use their nose to make a saucer-shaped depression for a nest. After females lay their 2–15,000 eggs, males will guard the nests until the eggs hatch and continue to watch the young fry for a short time afterward. The young bass will mature in two to three years, reaching an average length of twelve to fifteen inches and one to two pounds.

Bass are predators, feeding on aquatic and land insects, crayfish and smaller fish, such as minnows and even very small smallmouth fry.

From early settlement to the beginning of the 20th century, smallmouth bass were extremely abundant in Lake Erie and inland streams. Not only were they an important food source for both American Indians and settlers, but they were most likely very important to the prehistoric Indians as well. Bass were often speared as they traveled upstream to spawn. After 1810, the construction of dams throughout the state obstructed this migration. Massive numbers of bass were netted at the bottom of the dams and taken to the upstream side. As the bass returned downstream, they were again caught and placed on the top of the dam so that they could continue their journey.

By 1830, smallmouth bass became an important commercial fishing species. It was reported that between 1849 and 1851, Lake Erie waters, near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, were "literally black with fish boats,…." During the 1877 season, several tons of bass species were caught daily near the islands in Lake Erie. In 1885, takes of smallmouth and largemouth bass from Lake Erie totaled 599,000 pounds. After this impressive harvest the number of bass taken yearly by commercial fishermen decreased dramatically until 1902. In 1902, commercial fishing for bass, including the smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted blackbass, was prohibited. As with the other bass species, smallmouths have since become a very popular game fish.

From 1885 to 1951, northern smallmouth bass populations declined because of dams blocking spawning routes, silts polluting and covering nesting areas, and the clouding of water in general. Despite these setbacks, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources 1998 annual report reported that smallmouth bass fishing in Lake Erie was strong.

The record smallmouth bass for Ohio was taken from Lake Erie in 1993, measuring 23.5 inches long and weighing 9 pounds 8 oz.

See Also