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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Almost 60 years later, spotted bass still Kentucky’s state gamefish

The spotted bass has been Kentucky's state gamefish since 1956. (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

The spotted bass has been Kentucky’s state gamefish since 1956. (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

The spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus) has found a home in Kentucky.
On Feb. 27, 1956, Kentucky’s General Assembly passed Senate Resolution 70, establishing the spotted bass as Kentucky’s state gamefish. Soon afterwards, the legislation was signed into law by Gov. Albert B. “Happy” Chandler.
From that date, the spotted bass became known as the Kentucky bass, a common name that is widely accepted throughout much of the fish’s geographic range.
Spotted bass are members of the sunfish family, Centrarchidae, 37 species, not all of which occur in Kentucky. This family also includes rock bass, bluegill and crappie.
Somewhat of a regional fish, the spotted bass is found in streams of the Gulf Coast from Texas to the Florida panhandle, north and west of the Appalachians to eastern Kansas, central Illinois, and southern Pennsylvania. The spotted bass has also been widely introduced into waters outside of its geographic range.
Spotted bass have similar physical characteristics and habitat preferences, but they are not as widely distributed as their cousins, the largemouth and smallmouth bass.
According to the International Game Fish Association, there are three recognized subspecies of the spotted bass – the northern spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus punctulatus), the Alabama spotted bass (Micropterus p. henshalli), and the Wichita spotted bass (Micropterus p. wichitae).
The Wichita spotted bass appears to be limited to the West Cache Creek in Oklahoma. The Alabama spotted bass has been introduced into California.
In Kentucky, adult spotted bass are commonly 8 to 15 inches in length, weighing 8 ounces to 2 pounds. After reaching 2 3/4 pounds, spotted bass develop a very broad girth which tapers to a sleek, powerful forked tail.
The spotted bass has an olive-green back with irregular markings of darker green. Its sides are paler, with a midlateral band of semi-connected bars. The belly is pearl, with longitudinal rows of dusky (dark green spotted) scales.
Its tongue has a small patch of teeth.
Kentucky’s state record spotted bass was caught from a farm pond. It’s believed that the fish was trapped in the pond by receding flood waters, where it grew to such enormous size.
The fish weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces and was caught by A.E. Sellers of Louisville, on June 13, 1970, in Nelson County. Read a list of Kentucky state record fish here.
The spotted bass was chosen as the state gamefish because of its abundance in the Ohio River, and tributaries to the south, many of which arise or flow through the Bluegrass State. Populations of spotted bass are found in most of Kentucky’s major rivers, but ichthyologists didn’t recognize that the spotted bass was a separate species from the largemouth bass until 1927.
The 2014 Fishing Forecast, published by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, reports that six lakes support “good or excellent” populations of spotted bass: Carr Creek Lake, Cave Run Lake, Lake Cumberland, Dale Hollow Lake, Green River Lake and Laurel River Lake. For the full text of the 2014 Fishing Forecast, click here.
The preferred habitat of the spotted bass is gravel substrate, chunk rock, boulders or rock walls. In Kentucky’s major lakes, spotted bass tend to live in deeper water near dams, and around riprap.
They eat crayfish, insect larvae, minnows and salamanders, during their aquatic breeding stage.
On Jan. 1, 1988, the minimum size limit on the spotted bass was lifted, enabling anglers to creel spotted bass of any size. The regulation change was made because spotted bass have much slower growth rates and most fish never reached the statewide 12-inch minimum size limit.
Also, biologists felt that allowing anglers to remove more spotted bass would increase growth rates for largemouth and smallmouth bass.
The IGFA all-tackle world record spotted bass weighed 10 pounds, 4 ounces, and was caught from Pine Flat Lake in California on April 21, 2001. For information on current world record fish, click here.
Spotted bass are fun to catch on light tackle and are tasty eating when deep fried and served with hush puppies and coleslaw.
Some of the best live baits are minnows and nightcrawlers, or artificial baits such as small jigs and plastic grubs. Fish deep and hang on. Spotted bass can often be caught from depths exceeding 30 feet in deep, clear lakes.


1Art Lander Jr.Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.
To read more from Art Lander, click here.

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