Spotted Bass vs. Largemouth Bass: Do You Know the Differences?

Last Updated: December 20, 2021

Both largemouth and spotted bass are at the top of the popularity charts in terms of species that are pursued by anglers throughout the United States.

Both species look very similar to one another, which may confuse anglers, and to complicate things further, both species are commonly found in the same bodies of water in the regions where both are found.

Let’s take a closer look at what separates these two species and how you can identify them, as well as the difference or preferences in habitat and the distribution of both species.

Spotted Bass Range and Habitat

small caught spotted bass

Range

Spotted bass can be found throughout the Ohio River and Mississippi River basins, as well as the Gulf coast states from Texas east to Florida.

The spotted bass has also been introduced to other states where they are not native, such and North Carolina and Virginia. Spotted bass has also been introduced in South Africa, where populations have been established in isolated waters and are now considered invasive species.

Author Note: The range of the spotted bass is far smaller and more localized than that of the Largemouth bass.

Habitat

Spotted bass, while being found in the same bodies of water as largemouth bass in the regions they inhabit, still have slightly different preferential habitats.

The spotted bass prefers waters with more current than largemouth bass, and compared to other types of bass, like smallmouth bass, they prefer water that is much warmer than what the smallmouth bass prefers.

Other areas within their habitat are the same as most predatory fish, and they will congregate around aquatic vegetation, submerged logs and timber, riprap, rocks, docks, and other areas.

While largemouth bass can be found suspended around deepwater areas, spotted bass can actually be found deeper in the water column and will venture to areas that are up to 30 feet in depth.

Largemouth Bass Range and Habitat

largemouth bass fighting

Range

The largemouth bass is widespread throughout the Continental United States in nearly all bodies of water.

 Along with being one of the most widespread freshwater fish species in the Continental United States, the largemouth bass can also be found in the northern regions of Mexico as well as the southern provinces of Canada.

The Largemouth bass has been introduced into many other areas of the world; some of the regions that have populations of largemouth bass include Japan, Europe, Central America, and Africa.

Author Note: In some regions of the globe, Largemouth bass has become an invasive species, and their introduction has had severe negative impacts on native wildlife.

Habitat

As mentioned earlier in this post, largemouth bass can and will inhabit the same habitats as spotted bass, but the largemouth bass also inhabits many areas where spotted bass are absent as well.

Largemouth inhabits areas with submergent and emergent vegetation like weed beds and lily pads, along with areas containing timber, stumps, and brush like the shorelines of rivers and lakes.

Deeper water is also a place that bass inhabits, and deep shelves, rock bars, and rockpiles can all host bass, along with the basin of the lake itself, where largemouth bass will suspend and feed on schools of baitfish.

Anatomical Differences

man holding up a largemouth bass

Spotted and largemouth bass both have a similar appearance, but there are anatomical differences between the two. Let’s look at these differences so you can see the difference between the two species while on the water.

Jawline

The jawline of the spotted bass is one way to tell it apart from a largemouth bass. The jawline on a spotted bass will not exceed the eye of the fish; if you imagine a line going vertically from the eye, the jaw will stop there.

Largemouth bass have a longer jawline that will go past the eye of the fish.

Dorsal Fin

Observation of the dorsal fin is probably the easiest method to determine whether or not you have a spotted or largemouth bass in your net or hands.

The dorsal fins are connected into one fin on a spotted bass, and although the shape of the dorsal fin looks very similar to largemouth bass, the largemouth bass has a clear separation of the two top fins.

If you fish on bodies of water that have both species, and you see the two dorsal fins on what appears to be a largemouth bass are connected, you are likely holding a spotted bass.

Cheek Scales

While this difference is pretty hard to compare unless you have both species side-by-side with each other, the cheek scales on each species are different and are another observation an angler can make to determine whether they are handling a spotted or largemouth bass.

The Cheek scales on the spotted bass are considerably smaller in size than those on the largemouth bass.

Coloration

While the coloration on the two may be fairly similar to the uneducated angler, they are actually different, and once you know what to look for in terms of markings and coloration, you will easily be able to distinguish the two species from one another, and it will likely be the easiest way to tell them apart.

Spotted bass have a prominent and dark-spotted lateral line that is very noticeable, and while largemouth bass have markings that run along the sides of their bodies, they are not nearly as pronounced.

The lower side scales below the lateral bar leading to the belly of a spotted bass have dark markings on them. This is absent in largemouth bass.

Spotted bass also have prominent dark markings on their upper sides leading up to the back. These are either absent or very faint on largemouth bass.

Other Differences

While not something you can simply observe while fishing, it’s interesting to learn that the lifespan of largemouth bass is around 16 years of age, while the lifespan of spotted bass is less than half of that at 6 years.

Largemouth bass are also very acrobatic when you hook into one and fight it to the boat or shoreline, while spotted bass tend to dive in an attempt to reach deep water.

Feeding Behavior

The feeding behaviors of both are very similar, but there are slight differences.

Spotted bass feeding behavior is in the middle of the largemouth and smallmouth species, with spotted bass actively feeding on other fish being only about half that of the largemouth bass. This makes them much less predatory by nature when it comes to consuming other fish species.

Author Note: The spotted bass is more likely to eat crustaceans and insects over small fish, whereas largemouth bass prominently feeds on small fish.

Other than the small differences in diet, both species will eat the same prey for the most part and consume prey such as insects, crayfish, and small fish.

Angling for Largemouth and Spotted Bass

Since the diets of both species are virtually the same, you can catch spotted bass on the same lures you would catch largemouth bass on.

There is a general guideline for spotted bass when it comes to lure selection, and that is to use smaller-sized lures, as spotted bass have smaller mouths compared to largemouth bass.

Since spotted bass prefer bodies of water like small rivers and streams with a large amount of flowing water, they can be fished similarly to trout. Many of the lures that work for trout will also catch spotted bass if you are fishing in these types of habitats.

Final Thoughts

These fish are neighbors, and many anglers fishing in the areas where both species live will catch both regularly. And while they may seem to be the same fish, there are slight differences, and these differences are enough for them to be determined separate species.

It’s important to know that difference as an angler, as many of the rules and regulations for each species can be different depending on the state that you live and fish in.

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