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Utah’s Game Fish: Largemouth Bass

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Lou Ann Heller, Deseret Morning News


The largemouth's coloration is dependent on its environment. In clear lakes, the largemouth is brightly colored — dark green on the sides flowing to a light or silvery color on the belly. There is a dark band along the side, running from nose to tail, of irregular dark patches. In lakes, where the water is muddier, the colors are less vivid. As the names imply, the mouth of the largemouth is larger than that of the smallmouth and extends farther back. The largemouth is also referred to as the black bass, green bass, bigmouth bass, oswego bass and green trout.


The largemouth was, for years, the best known of the warm-water fish. Now it shares the distinction with the smallmouth. It is the largest member of the sunfish family, which includes smallmouth, bluegill and crappie. In addition to being a good meal, the largemouth is also a game fighter when hooked. Originally, the largemouth was found on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, in the Mississippi Valley and into Florida. Now it is found in every state except Alaska, and even in Mexico. The largemouth was introduced to Utah in 1890. In the 1930s it was popular both as a game fish and for commercial purposes. After the 1930s, its popularity started to fall. It bounced back in the early days of Lake Powell when it was not uncommon to catch more than 100 fish in a day. Most of the largemouth in Utah range from 1 to 3 pounds, but it's not uncommon to catch a fish weighing up to 5 or 6 pounds. The world record is 22 pounds, 4 ounces. The Utah record is 10 pounds, 2 ounces and was caught in Lake Powell in 1974. During the spring spawn, it is the male fish that builds the nests and protects the eggs. Like the smallmouth, the largemouth is an aggressive fish noted for acrobatic maneuvers when hooked.


Largemouth bass prefer warmer water and relate more to woody cover and thick aquatic plants than smallmouth bass. Largemouth do very well in weedy, pond-type lakes and in new reservoirs where there is typically flooded timber and brush. Most of Utah's largemouth fisheries are lower to midelevation reservoirs such as Lake Powell, Gunlock, Sand Hollow, Quail Creek, Deer Creek, Mantua, Red Fleet, Steinaker, Hyrum and Pineview. Pond-type fisheries such as Pelican Lake, Cottonwood and Huntington North often are easier to fish, especially for wading anglers, and provide reliable, year-round action. Most of Utah's community fisheries have largemouth bass populations.


Largemouth bass, as the name implies, have a very big mouth and will eat just about anything. Favorite foods include other fish, insects, worms, mammals, crustaceans, reptiles and birds. They are also very curious and often attack a lure just to find out what it is. Bait fishing is a popular way to catch really large bass in parts of the country where anglers suspend large minnows below floats or allow live minnows to swim back under weed beds, but most bass are caught on lures. What lure to use depends on where the bass are holding. In the spring, largemouth bass make a redd or nest on a shallow gravel bed and lay eggs. The male bass stays around to protect the eggs and will attack anything that approaches the nest. Casting surface lures such as Rebel's Pop-R or Lucky Crafts G-Splash provoke splashy strikes. Soft plastic baits that imitate nest raiders like sunfish or crayfish work well in attracting fish. After the eggs hatch the bass move back to cover and deeper water to feed. Unlike smallmouth, which move about following food, largemouth stay in the heavy cover as long as food is available. Spinner baits can be fished in heavy cover and at any depth, as can soft plastic baits rigged Texas style or "Split Shotted." Increase the sinker weight as the fish get deeper. The best colors are green, olive, brown and smoke mixed with colored flakes. Sinking soft plastic baits like Gary Yamamoto's Senko or Yum's Yum Dinger can be fished to any depth and will often catch fish in summers heat when other baits fail. Mouse or frog lures rigged weedless and fished at night often catch the biggest fish, especially when cast onto weed beds or back into overgrown tangles. Unlike smallmouth bass, largemouth bass stay active in winter and can be caught through the ice, whether fishing small ponds or big reservoirs. Look for largemouth in the heaviest cover available.

Note: Years of low-water conditions at Lake Powell have allowed lots of brush to grow back. As the water level rises and floods this brush, it creates perfect largemouth cover. Watch for a rebirth of largemouth at Lake Powell.

Byron Gunderson, Fish Tech Outfitters, contributed to this story