Shoal Bass

shoal bass - spotted bass fishing tips

Micropterus cataractae

Other Names: Shoal bass

Description: 

The shoal bass (Micropterus cataractae) is a freshwater fish species in the sunfish family, order Perciformes. It is one of the black basses that are native to the subtropical waters of Georgia and Florida. The shoal bass is easily confused with the redeye bass, even though they have nonoverlapping ranges. Shoal bass are also often confused with the Suwannee Bass.

Genetically, shoal bass are closest to the spotted bass, enough so that there is a possibility of hybridizing the two.

The Flint River remains the best place in Georgia to fish for them, along with the Chattahoochee River and Ocmulgee river. The Chipola and Apalachicola rivers are decreasing in numbers, but of the two, the Chipola remains the best place to fish for shoal bass in Florida.

History

Until October 1999, this species was variously considered to be a redeye bass or subspecies of the redeye bass. James Williams and George Burgess published the official description of the new species in Volume 42, No. 2 of the “Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History,” which was printed on October 8, 1999. The shoal bass is the seventh black bass clan member; it was only recently given a proper scientific name, Micropterus cataractae. Before acquiring its Linnaean name, the fish had been called the Chipola bass by Dr. Carl Hubbs. Other ichthyologists considered it a variety of redeye. 

Subspecies – No known subspecies.

Appearance

The red-colored eyes associate this species with the redeye and Suwannee bass at first glance. However, it is more closely related to the spotted bass morphologically. Shoal bass generally are dark olive-green to nearly black along the back. A dusky dark blotch about 50-67 percent of the size of the eye occurs on the back edge of the gill cover. Three diagonal black lines radiate along the side of the head, looking like war paint. In addition, 10-15 vertical stripes and dark blotches appear along the sides, with tiger stripes often appearing in between.

Adult shoal bass are primarily dark olive green to black with creamy or white on the belly, and wavy lines may appear slightly above the white belly on the sides. The dorsal, caudal, and anal fins are dark olive green to grayish black. Pelvic fins may have a cream-colored leading edge with dark spots.

The shoal bass has scales on the base portion of the soft-rayed dorsal fins, clearly connected first and second dorsal fins, and an upper jaw bone that does not extend beyond the eyes.

Sometimes the vertical stripes on shoal bass can get them confused with smallmouth.

The dark spot on a shoal bass is the most significant distinction between them and a smallmouth. Shoal bass have a dark spot, whereas a smallmouth bass does not. The main difference between a shoal bass and a largemouth bass is the size of their mouth; a largemouth bass mouth will reach all the way to its eye, whereas the mouth on a shoal bass does not.

Range

The native range of shoal bass is the Apalachicola drainage of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. The shoal bass is most known for being in the Apalachicola, Chipola River, and Flint River. The Chattahoochee River and Flint river drainages, as well as the Ocmulgee River, are the most common places to catch shoal bass in Georgia.

The shoal bass numbers are decreasing in the Chipola River and Apalachicola river system because competition with non-native spotted bass has been increasing. However, the shoal bass are still thriving in the Flint River in good numbers as well as in the Chattahoochee River drainage and lakes such as West Point and Lake Blackshear.

The conservation status of the shoal bass is currently vulnerable throughout its range. There is still good fishing on the Flint River, but anglers are encouraged to release any shoal bass caught quickly. On the other hand, anglers that catch spotted bass on the Flint River are encouraged to keep them because of their competition and potential of hybridizing with the shoal bass.

Shoal Habitat

Shoal bass are closely associated with rocky shallows and are uncommon in other habitats. Unlike smallmouth and largemouth bass, the shoal bass is much more particular about its forage and habitat. Shoal bass are only found in a handful of cool, southern streams and rivers with rock shoals. They cant survive in deep largemouth bass lakes or rushing smallmouth rivers. In general, shoal bass tend to prefer a moderate current.

Age and Growth

Shoal bass grow much faster than redeye bass. Shoal bass length ranges from 12 to 24 inches long, with 24 inches being the maximum recorded length and a maximum recorded weight of more than eight pounds.

A five-pound shoal bass is considered a trophy, but ones over seven pounds are caught every year. The most common size shoal bass is about two pounds.

Behavior and Spawning

Shoal bass typically spawn in coarse gravel areas at the heads of creek pools in April and May to early June. Shoal bass tend to prefer spawning in temperatures of 64 to 73 degrees. Like the largemouth, the male prepares the nest and guards the eggs and fry.

Feeding Habits

Shoal bass feed mainly on aquatic insects on the surface. However, they also feed on larval insects, crayfish, and fish.

In general, shoal bass will eat almost anything. They will usually go for most baits or lures that resemble anything that could be present in the water. Similar to largemouth bass and other members of the black bass family, the shoal bass will strike for one of two reasons, either because they are hungry or in order to defend their territory. They also tend to go for baits that are larger than their mouth.

Shoal Bass Fishing

Shoal bass are one of the top fighters in the black bass family, giving them a reputation for having good sporting quality. In addition, it’s known to be a more formidable fighter than its largemouth cousin and have more stamina.

The Shoal Bass is a good game fish and a scrappy fighter that is often difficult to catch. Anglers can catch shoal bass on worms, minnows, or crayfish, as well as small spinners and a wide variety of small surface lures.

Anything that may be used to catch largemouth bass will likely work to catch shoal bass. Shoal bass are also popular targets among fly fishermen fishing in their preferred river environments since shoal bass occupy a niche similar to that of the smallmouth in northern rivers. Both hold behind current breaks like boulders and snags in mid-depth holes and tailraces. Then, they disappear from impounded waters.

Shoal bass caught on light tackle provide the ultimate freshwater game fishing experience.

Fishing Tips

Look for current breaks near the flowing water; these are often spots holding shoal bass and a great place to cast. This can be a spot in the middle of big rock shoals, on the bank behind a tree, or in a deepwater bend spot of the river with large boulders.

The best lures to use to catch shoal bass are generally soft plastics. Buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, topwater baits, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and jigs can all produce quality shoal bass. However, when fishing for shoal bass, plastic worms are always a go-to that anglers should have with them.

The top flies to use are closer minnows, wooly buggers, topwater poppers, and crayfish patterns.

In general, shoal bass feed on a variety of larval insects and small fish without being extremely picky. They will often go after any food they see close to the river bank or in the shallows, including a small snake, a toad, or a frog.

The best time to fish for shoal bass is at night under a full moon, especially if looking for a lunker shoal. The size of the river doesn’t make much of a difference in determining whether there will be larger shoal bass present, so fishing both large and small rivers can be good. The best time of day to shoal bass fish is either dawn or right after the sun has set. Wait to fish a few minutes after the sunset for the fish to get used to the dark; then, anglers often expect about three to four hours of good fishing before the activity slows down. After that, the action will typically remain slower for a few hours before picking back up before dawn.

Florida and Georgia Spots

At this time, minimal numbers of shoal bass fish are found on the Apalachicola downstream from Jim Woodruff Dam, where only a few shoal areas remain. Therefore, the best place to catch shoal bass in Florida is the Chipola River.

The Flint River is still the best spot to catch shoal bass. The Ocmulgee River has excellent numbers of shoal bass north of Macon. Most of the shoal bass areas are immediately below Lake Jackson. Shoal bass can be caught in the Chattahoochee as well below Morgan Falls dam during the summer when the Georgia water temperatures are warmer and wade fishing is possible.

More Information

Some shoal bass have been known to reach more than eight pounds. As a sport fish, specific bag and size limit regulations apply, and you can register a qualifying catch as part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s “Big Catch” program. 

The taxonomic process moves slowly, but anglers on the rivers in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, where this fish is found, have long recognized its unique qualities and appreciated its size and smallmouth-like behavior. For example, on Georgia’s Flint River, local anglers call it the “Flint River smallmouth.”

Edibility

Good eating quality. Shoal bass has white, flaky meat and tends to be drier than that of a spotted bass or largemouth bass.

Records

Florida State Record: 8 pounds, 12 ounces caught October 23, 1977, according to the International Game Fish Association. This record shoal bass was caught in the Apalachicola River in Florida. The catch was initially reported as an Apalachicola River form of redeye bass but was, in fact, a shoal bass. (Please check the link for updates)

Unfortunately, record-keeping organizations have lumped together with the shoal bass and redeye bass, a practice that may have prevented record-sized redeye from being recognized since they are much smaller than shoal bass.

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