If there’s current, there’s a place in any Mississippi waters for the pugnacious spotted bass.
Spotted bass demand respect. They live in a world dominated by larger fish and have no trouble holding their own. A good one will weigh a couple of pounds, while a really nice one will tip the scales at 4 pounds. The current Mississippi record, which has stood since 1975, is 8 pounds, 2 ounces, showing what a rarity that was.
After a long, hot summer, most outdoorsmen are looking forward to sitting in the cool shade of a tree as fall approaches and enjoying a change of pace. Don’t make that mistake; it’s a perfect time to chase spots.
According to Tom Holman, a fisheries biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, spotted bass, also known as Kentucky bass, are river fish, favoring current over slack water. They are found in all of the river systems from Tennessee to the Gulf Coast, and creeks and rivers are a popular destination for anglers targeting spots. Chasing them in small boats with fly tackle is a bigger challenge than it might seem.
“All of the spots I catch are hooked while I am fishing for largemouths,” said Chuck Wade, a bass fisherman from Forest. “They do seem more prevalent up the Pearl River above (Ross Barnett), not so much in the main lake. While I don’t fish just for spots, I certainly welcome the bite. I caught one once that maybe weighed 11/2 pounds but fought like a 4-pound bigmouth. They really put up a fight, and where one is caught, others seem to be nearby.”
Tennessee has separate creel and length limits for spotted bass; however, in Mississippi, a bass is a bass. According to Holman, spotted bass and largemouths are counted and measured the same. While largemouths are regularly stocked in many lakes and impoundments, spots are left to their own devices. A poor spawn could result in a gap in an age class.
According to the Inland Fisheries of Mississippi, the feeding habits of spotted bass may somewhat mimic that of wild trout, with the fish in shallow environs hiding or resting below stumps or stream obstructions in wait for prey. In deeper rivers, they can be found on the deeper inside edge of a curve.
When it comes to bait, nothing special is needed for targeting spots. Lighter tackle will result is good action when using ¼- and ½-ounce offerings. On a recent float trip down the Leaf River, a 3/8-ounce Booyah spinnerbait proved to be the right medicine. A black/silver Rapala was a productive lure on a trip down the Chunky River. A Bill Dance Shad got hammered on the Pearl River at the Low Head Dam, as did a Booyah square-bill crankbait in a bluegill pattern.
When a modified craw trailer was added to a Strike King KVD weedless rattle jig, we thought the spots would go crazy. But that was until a pair of bass double-teamed a River2sea Whopper Plopper where the tailrace of the Ross Barnett spillway becomes the Pearl River again.
A junebug-colored french fry worm wigged wacky style and weedless suspended 18 to 24 inches under a popping cork was the ticket around trees that had fallen off the banks and into the water; don’t be timid about trying this rig with a bit more weight and a stout line and rod. Between the Low Head and MS 43, we caught catfish, gar, bowfin and bass with the wacky rig under a float.
The bottom line is, if it catches bass, it’s the right bait. So far this summer, we have found them just where the experts say to look: in current and around rocks, including a personal-best 5-pound fish on a green Scum frog dragged through grass near Ratliff Ferry.
Mike Giles of Meridian has chased bass across the waters of east Mississippi, and one of his favorite haunts is the spot where Okatibbee Creek joins the Chunky River to form the Chickasawhay River near Emprise in Clarke County. Fishing from a kayak, Giles is so familiar with the spotted bass there that they send each other Christmas cards.
“One of the keys to fishing success on the Chunky, or any other river for that matter, is knowing when the river is right,” Giles said. “On the Chunky, that means around 2.5 on the reporting gage. Lower than 2 feet will require dragging your boat across a lot of shallows, and over 3 feet may be too swift, requiring more time controlling the boat than fishing. A very slow rise or fall is okay. Rainstorms will cause the river to rise rapidly, but then it will fall rapidly.”
Giles keeps a couple of rods handy when floating the Chunky: an ultralight rigged with a Beetle Spin and a heaver rod for bigger offerings. A crawfish-colored Beetle Spin is ideal for spots but also catches the river’s popular redbreast sunfish.
“Just about every bass bait I’d throw in a lake, I’ll throw in the river,” Giles said. “Bass Pro (Shops) has a bait called a Sassy Sally that has the action spotted bass like. It comes in several sizes, but the 41/2-inch is my favorite. Crawfish color is my favorite.”
When not constrained by time, Giles will park his kayak in a place that allows him to fish across water below a shoal. During the cool of the day, the whole stream should be targeted; during the heat of the day, those areas cooled by shade will likely hold the fish.
David Frazier of Cleveland has waded the cool, clear waters of many Mississippi creeks and streams casting his hand-tied creations for spotted bass. He likes to fish when the weather gets warm enough to shed the waders.
“Allow the water to tell you how to fish the current and what bait to use,” Frazier said. “Cast a dry fly above the current and allow it to float through the swift water just as a live bug would. If the spots are holding where the fast water slows, they will have to hit the bait. If streamer is your choice, either strip it through the fast water in the upstream direction or rip it across the current below a shoal”
Frazier uses a 4- to 5-weight rod and line for the 2- to 3-pound spotted bass in Mississippi waters. Wooly Boogers are a good pattern; so are streamers and frog patterns. Anglers will also be wise to have an assortment of popping bugs.
How long is the jaw? Tell a spot for sure
Spotted bass are a unique animal. They resemble largemouth bass only in a general sense. Largemouths, smallmouths and spots are all bass, but that’s where the similarity ends.
Among other defining characteristics, the jaw of the spotted bass does not project rearward past the eye. On a largemouth, the jaw passes the eye. There are some unique scale patterns and subtle differences in the shape, size and number of spines in the spot’s fins, but trust a man who can’t remember a one-item grocery list; if the jaw doesn’t extend past the eye, it’s a spot.
According to biologists, all spotted bass have a toothy tongue patch to help hold prey before swallowing. This is not a definite proof of species, as approximately 30% of largemouths have these patches. Smallmouths do not have tongue patches.
The scale pattern of a spotted bass below the lateral line will consist of definite rows of spots, but this can also be found in some largemouth bass.
Identifying a spotted bass can be tricky, but the jaw-to-eye relationship, combined with coloration and tongue patch, may be all you need to know.
Top streams for spotted bass
Just about every stream in Mississippi hosts a fishable population of native spotted bass.
Before lakes and reservoirs dotted the landscape, anglers used live bait and cane poles to catch them from the flowing waters. They were here when the settlers came and have never needed restocking.
Some of the more-popular venues for spotted bass are listed below. Most maps show boat ramps for fishermen planning a float trip by kayak or canoe, wading and casting fly tackle as well as fishing from the watercraft. There are plenty of options.
In mid-Mississippi, the Pearl, Strong and Chunky rivers are top picks. A bit farther south, the Chickasawhay, Leaf and Bowie rivers offer endless opportunities. Round out the southward trek with the Jourdan River and Black Creek, Little Biloxi and Pascagoula, and your fall will be filled with fantastic fishing.
To the north, Bear Creek, the Coldwater River, the entire Tenn-Tom Lake system and the lazy Luxaphila will keep you casting for the spunky little spotted bass there. And these are just starters. If it is a river system in the Magnolia State, it holds spotted bass.