Bass fishing is one of the most popular recreational sports in the United States. Though largemouth bass tend to be the most popular type of bass game fish, there are quite a few different varieties that might appeal to anglers. Understanding the differences among these types of bass is crucial to enjoying a successful fishing trip.
Black bass is a general term that could refer to the American black bass (Northern largemouth bass), the black bass family of fish (largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass), and the black sea bass. In terms of color, the darkest of these is the black sea bass.
Comparing black bass and largemouth bass is challenging. There are several types of black bass, and the largemouth bass is a member of the black bass family. However, by comparing the black sea bass to the largemouth, we can begin to see some dissimilarities. In this article, we’ll explore these two types of bass fish and discover what differentiates them.
Black Bass Overview
There are several types of fish that go by the moniker “black bass.” However, there are only two fish species that should hold this title. The first is the American black bass (also known as the Northern largemouth bass). The second is the black sea bass (Ambloplites rupestris), also called rock bass.
Additionally, bass fish are often organized into distinct families based on genetic and phenotypical information. One of these families is the black bass family. There are three specific types of bass within this family, and they are:
- Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
- Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
- Spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus)
In total, the term ‘black bass’ could refer to six distinct species. Still, most people who use the term ‘black bass’ refer to the black sea bass. While largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass varieties may belong to the black bass family, they don’t exhibit a body of black scales.
Instead, these fish are often a mixture of green, brown, yellow, and white. The only type of bass with primarily black scales is the black sea bass. Because we’ll be comparing black bass against largemouth bass, we’ll be referring to the black sea bass when we talk about black bass fish.
After all, the only two notable differences between the American black bass (Northern largemouth) and the Florida largemouth bass are scale size, body length, and weight. Florida-grown largemouth tends to be larger and slightly heftier due to the absence of a full winter season.
The black sea bass is covered in dark grey or black scales. Scattered among these dark scales are brighter ones, giving the fish an almost white-spotted appearance. For this reason, the spotted bass and the black sea bass are often confused with one another.
However, the spotted bass typically has a white or cream-colored belly, and the black sea bass does not. Generally, black sea bass can grow to become 8lb adults, though the average weight for this species tends to be about 4lbs.
Black sea bass has several spiny fins that help protect them from larger predatory fish. Unlike largemouth bass, the black sea bass has a joined, elongated dorsal fin that’s fully-spined. Anglers should wear protective gloves when handling this fish due to the overabundance of fin spines.
Another notable aspect of the black sea bass is its mouth and gill area. While most of the black sea bass’s body is dark, its mouth is often a soft gray or inky white. This feature may help anglers better identify the black sea bass.
Of course, you aren’t likely to catch a black sea bass while fishing in a river or lake. Understanding where the black sea bass lives is just as crucial to identifying it as understanding how it looks.
Though black sea bass live in saltwater habitats, they’re not necessarily deep-sea fish. The relatively small size of this species makes it a poor survivor in colder, deeper ocean environments.
You can find the black sea bass in coastal areas, shoals, and rocky shorelines along the US’s eastern coast. You can also find them off California’s coast, though they don’t typically frequent the colder, rougher waters off Oregon and Washington’s shores. Due to these trends, we can theorize that the black sea bass prefers warmer waters.
Much like other types of bass, the black sea bass seems to enjoy living in the shadows. Many anglers catch these fish from piers, as the bass tend to congregate near structures where shadows and weeds are plentiful. And just like the largemouth bass, the black sea bass is a creature of opportunity.
The black sea bass lay its eggs in weedy, hidden locations, but it will also hunt from similar spots. While floating silently among a pile of weeds or seagrass, the black sea bass is keeping an eye out for any shimmering fry or wriggling morsels.
Black sea bass eat what’s available. If a bit of food is too large to fit into its mouth, it might allow other fish to come portion it out before scooping up as much as it can.
But unlike most bass, the black sea bass doesn’t live in freshwater environments. Standard live baits used to catch largemouth (crickets and nightcrawlers, for example) aren’t likely to interest black sea bass.
Instead, anglers might want to invest in shrimp, crabs, and small shiners when reeling for black sea bass. Clams are also an excellent bait option, as this species tends to eat from the bottom of the ocean floor. Anglers choosing the perfect lure for the black sea bass should consider something weighted, shiny, and fluttery.
Flutter-tail lures work well, though anglers can benefit from using various hooks and lures along the line. However, soft plastics (like the ones used to catch Florida largemouth bass) don’t tend to attract these fish as much as live bait does.
Because black sea bass are opportunistic feeders, you can potentially increase your catch rate and reel in more fish by using a wide variety of lures and baits. Don’t be afraid to use squid, octopus, or bits of perch fillet to bait your lines. Black sea bass might not be quite as aggressive as largemouth bass, but they’re just as eager to go after chum.
When examining the black sea bass’s behaviors, it’s crucial to remember that this species doesn’t truly belong to the bass family. Instead, it’s a type of grouper. As such, the black sea bass tends to exhibit more grouper-like tendencies than bass-like behaviors.
Firstly, there are many types of sea bass, and some can be just as aggressive as their freshwater cousins. But grouper tend to be a little more mellow, calm, and passive. They’re still relatively carnivorous, but they won’t fight your line quite like a largemouth will.
Typically, black sea bass spend the first year or so of their life living in the shallow shoreline in which they are born. As they grow, they become more adventurous, traveling further away from the shore and into deeper waters. However, black sea bass are hardly ever found at depth below 50ft (15.24m).
As bottom feeders, black sea bass tend to feel the full weight of the ocean’s pressure when they descend. If they were to travel deeper into the ocean waters, their bodies might struggle to handle the increased pressure. They’d also become easy targets for larger fish, including sharks.
Largemouth Bass Overview
The largemouth bass comes in many varieties. However, there are only two officially-recognized subspecies of largemouth bass. The first is the Northern largemouth bass (or American black bass), and the second is the Florida largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus).
In nearly all aspects, these two largemouth bass varieties are identical. Their primary differences are their overall size and their scale size. The Florida largemouth bass tends to grow larger than its Northern equivalent, and its scales tend to be slightly smaller.
Otherwise, the two types of largemouth bass have the same scale coloration, live in the same general habitats (lakes, rivers, creeks), and enjoy similar diets. Their behavior patterns are also identical, with both varieties being known for their aggressive eating behaviors and powerful fighting ability.
While the black bass is remarkable for its dark scales, the largemouth bass looks far more like a stereotypical freshwater bass. It often has a dark green or brown shade of plates along the spine, dark brown or black vertical striping along the body’s sides, and a pale cream-colored abdomen.
Largemouth bass can grow up to about 39 inches (73.66 cm), and they can weigh up to 20lbs (9.07 kg). Still, the average adult largemouth bass is likely to weigh about 15lbs (6.8kg). These fish can live for more than two decades, and older specimens may be the largest. They are the largest of the black bass family.
The size of a fish’s habitat can also contribute to its overall size, so largemouth bass fished from deep, wide rivers or massive freshwater lakes are bound to be more trophy-worthy than those found in gurgling creeks and streams.
Speaking of habitats, one of the most significant reasons why largemouth bass are so popular is their extreme abundance. Unlike rarer species, you can find largemouth bass pretty much everywhere.
Their popularity as a game fish has ensured their survival, and some fish farms specialize in producing largemouth bass fry to stock ponds, lakes, and rivers. If there’s a freshwater current or body of water near you, then there’s also likely largemouth bass in your area.
The Florida largemouth bass is native to the Sunshine State and can be found throughout the Southern US. The Northern largemouth bass (also called the American black bass) is endemic to the Great Lakes region, the St. Lawrence River System, and the Mississippi River System.
Still, largemouth bass are prevalent in pretty much all parts of North America, thanks to a notable increase in bass fishing as a recreational sport. If there are areas around the US where largemouth bass can’t naturally wander, local anglers may have very well stocked those spots with largemouth bass juveniles.
Unfortunately, the black bass family (which includes both largemouth and smallmouth bass) can be fantastically predative. This means that the introduction of largemouth bass can negatively impact native fish populations.
That’s because largemouth bass will eat nearly anything smaller than themselves. Fish species that don’t have naturally aggressive predators may find themselves under constant attack when met with largemouth bass species.
From a small fish’s point of view, the aggressive largemouth bass is a terror. But from an angler’s point of view, this type of eating makes for reliable and exciting fishing.
Young largemouth bass might eat aquatic insects, crawfish (crayfish), minnows, and smaller fish (typically the fry of other species). As these juveniles grow, their prey also becomes more immense. It’s not uncommon to find adult largemouth bass feasting on frogs, perch, bluegill, and golden shiners.
The best type of live bait that bass anglers can use is either crawfish or nightcrawlers. If angling for Northern largemouth bass, it’s often better to use crawfish. Florida largemouth bass tend to prefer darker, slimy baits like flukes and worms.
When choosing a lure for bass fishing, anglers must consider their preferred fish’s diet. In general, all types of largemouth bass will respond well to spinnerbaits and crankbaits. However, the Florida largemouth tends to go after darker lures, especially if living in brackish, murky environments.
Essentially, largemouth bass are opportunistic eaters. They pounce on the chance to eat anything alive and slightly smaller than themselves. Bottom line: If it can fit into the largemouth bass’s mouth, it’s food.
Largemouth bass are known for their aggressive behaviors. Unlike smaller, more docile freshwater fish species, the largemouth bass prefers to chase and consume live prey. When presented with the opportunity to eat its own juvenile young, a hungry largemouth bass won’t hesitate.
This makes largemouth bass some of the most popular among anglers, as they tend to resist being caught, making for exciting fishing every time. The Northern largemouth subspecies react well to spinnerbaits and crankbaits, but the Florida variety generally prefers flukes, worms, jerkbait, and swimbait.
Anglers hoping to reel in the most impressive largemouth bass will want to consider their fishing location when choosing their lure. After all, largemouth bass caught in lakes tend to be slightly different from those caught in rivers. Many largemouth bass prefer to hide in murky waters when on the hunt, only lunging out from their hiding spot when prey is near.
As such, anglers often use reflective lures (like spinnerbaits). Another thing to consider when discussing largemouth behavior is breeding season. Many largemouth bass spawn during January and February, when the weather is coldest.
The fall season (September through late October) might be the smartest time for anglers to reel in adult, trophy-sized largemouth bass. However, local fishing guidelines and restrictions can help you choose the most appropriate bass fishing season for your area.
Black Bass vs. Largemouth Bass: How Are They Different?
The black sea bass is perhaps the most commonly recognizable black bass due to its coloration. Unlike largemouth bass, it has almost entirely black and dark grey scales. These fish can grow past 20 inches (50.8 cm) in length, though the average catch is far smaller. Their preferred diet consists of crabs, worms, and smaller fish, which is very similar to the diet of largemouth bass.
The largemouth bass consists of two subspecies, one of which is the American black bass. The other subspecies is the Florida largemouth bass. These two types of largemouth bass differ from the black sea bass in several ways. Firstly, these largemouth bass are freshwater fish.
They inhabit lakes, rivers, and streams. You can occasionally find largemouth bass in brackish environments like estuaries, but their primary habitats are freshwater. The black sea bass, on the other hand, lives in saltwater environments.
When they’re young, you can find them in rocky shoals and coastal areas, but adults often inhabit waters that are between 20 and 70ft (6.1 and 21.34m) deep. As such, anglers hoping to catch black sea bass will need to head out to open ocean waters, while those angling for largemouth bass will want to stick closer to land.
Additionally, the average adult black sea bass might only weigh about 4lbs. Compare this to the 10lb+ largemouth bass adults, and you’ll quickly notice a sizable difference. Therefore, the two essential differences between black basses and largemouth basses are:
- Where you find them
- Their size and appearance
These two different species’ general behaviors and diet are strikingly similar, which may help anglers reduce their lure load. After all, if the same worm lure that works for the Florida largemouth bass enables you to catch black sea bass, you’re saving time and money while reducing the amount of tackle you need.
Black bass is a generic term that could refer to largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, or black sea bass. Because the American black bass (Northern largemouth bass) is very similar to the Florida largemouth bass, we chose the black sea bass for comparison.
What we found was that the black sea bass has two significant differences from the largemouth bass. Firstly, it’s located in saltwater environments. Secondly, it’s typically smaller and lighter than the largemouth bass. Of course, the American black bass and the Florida largemouth also have their differences, but those differences are also location- and size-related.
- Animal Diversity Web: American black bass
- Bass Fishing and Catching: Largemouth Bass
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts | Division of Marine Fisheries: Learn about: Black Sea Bass
- Encyclopædia Britannica: Black bass
- Encyclopædia Britannica: Sea bass
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Black Sea Bass
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | Fish and Aquatic Conservation: Largemouth bass
- Wikipedia: Black bass
- Wikipedia: Largemouth bass
- Wikipedia: Rock bass