Florida Strain Largemouth Bass vs. Northern Strain; What’s the Difference?

Florida Strain Largemouth Bass vs. Northern Strain; What’s the Difference?
11-9-17

Dakota Jones Fishing

Texas Fishing Guide | Outdoor Industry Professional

Florida Strain Largemouth Bass vs. Northern Strain; What’s the Difference?

The black bass family has always been one of the most sought-after game fish in freshwater. This group includes Smallmouth, Largemouth and Spotted bass, just to name a few. But what fish is the “top dawg” of them all? This can be an argument of personal preference for some, but most hardcore bass anglers would say the Florida Strain Largemouth Bass is the undisputed champ. The reason being, Florida Strains grow much faster than a Northern Strain Largemouth. For this, the Florida Strain bass have a reputation among anglers as “monster” bass; the trophy fish of a lifetime that every property owner wants to stock their ponds with. And while it’s true, Florida Strain bass do grow bigger than a Northern strain, there are some other differences that are often overlooked. To begin with, identifying a Florida Strain from a Northern can be difficult. Florida’s and Northern’s often have different preferences in habitat and feeding habits. And lastly, Florida bass may not even exist in some regions of the country we fish. I myself had many questions about the Florida/Northern Strain conundrum, so I personally contacted specialist Richard Ott at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to help me understand these differences. I will include some of his insight below as it was quite helpful!

How can you tell it’s a Florida bass?

The Florida Strain bass hype is pretty common among Southern anglers (we will cover regional stocking later in this article) but few know how to properly identify these fish. Florida Strain bass are non-native to Texas waters. It was not until 1970 that the first Florida Strain bass were stocked in Texas lakes. Considering this, most lakes should still have a fair population of Northern Strain Largemouth. Pre 1970, the Texas state record Largemouth bass weighed roughly 13lbs. That record was shattered with an 18lb fish from Lake Fork after Florida bass were introduced. But outside of catching a bass over the 14lb mark, it is almost impossible to identify a Florida Strain from a Northern bass. Only advanced genetic analysis can truly identify species. The reason for this is “cross-breeding.” After Florida Strains were stocked in 1970, several generations of Florida and Northern bass spawned together creating a large population of “hybrid” Largemouth Bass. In the past, scale counting was a valid way to identify Florida bass. A pure Northern Strain Largemouth will have between 67-69 scales located on its lateral line. A Florida bass may have between 70-73 lateral line scales. But with the mixing of genes in hybrid bass, the number of scales could vary between the two, making this form of identification invalid. “There is really no reliable way to differentiate between Northern and Florida strain Largemouth Bass.  We used to try to do it with lateral line scale counts but it did not really work.  It becomes even more difficult when Florida’s and Northern’s cross and backcross though multiple generations.” – Richard Ott.

Do different genetics mean they have different behaviors?

I will be the first to admit, I am no biologist, but from what I understand, Northern Strain and Florida Strain bass do act differently. Florida Strain bass (hence the name) come from the shallow, grass-filled lakes of the “Sunshine State”. They prefer to live shallow and ambush their prey, rather than chase it down in open water. While almost all bass have the ability to change color to match their habitat, it is very common to find a very dark colored Florida bass because it prefers such shallow, thick habitat to hide in. Florida’s evolved in highly vegetated shallow natural lakes.  They are often more of an ambush predator and more frequently use vegetation to hide in.  Northern’ s are more likely to use rock or structural habitat.  However, there is overlap of habitat use by both sub-species and (as stated above) hybridization continues to mix everything up.” – Richard Ott. I am sure many anglers, including myself, have their own ideas of how the two species act differently, but for the sake of this article, I will save my hunches and only highlight the facts. Knowing Florida’s are ambush predators, anglers can plan accordingly when fishing a lake known to have a lot of Florida Strain bass. Ambush predators are more likely to set up shop in a good hiding spot and feed when the opportunity comes, as opposed to chasing down a bait from afar. This means covering a lot of water until you find the fish, then it’s game on!

Where can you find Florida bass?

Unlike the Northern Strain Largemouth, Florida’s seem to do better in warmer water. This could be directly related to their region of origin. Unfortunately, the Florida Strain “super fish” cannot be enjoyed by anglers north of the Mason Dixon line. The cold temperatures make it hard for Florida bass to survive. “Florida’s are more dominant in the overall fish community when water temperature is higher.  Frequently the percentage of Florida influence increases as you travel south and decreases to the north.  Power plant lakes frequently maintain high levels of Florida influence without additional stocking.  More northerly lakes require stocking of pure Florida strain fish to maintain Florida influence in that population.  North of a Missouri, Kansas, Ohio line it is very difficult to maintain any significant Florida influence in the population.  This phenomenon is known as genetic swamping and is the result of reproductive success relative to environment.” – Richard Ott. This is also why many believe Florida Strains are more affected by cold front conditions than Northern’s. While this may or may not be true, Florida’s do not like cold water, so much like me, they like Texas waters.

Florida Strain bass are well known for their size, and rightfully so. It seems that only a fish with Florida Strain genes could have a chance of breaking the 18.18lb Texas state record Largemouth. I hope reading this article will help shed light on what these fish are all about. Florida Strain Largemouth populate the freshwater lakes in the southern states, are ambush predators, and may not be as easy to identify genetically as some may think. Odds are that big bass you caught at Lake Fork or Lake Athens could be a “hybrid” Largemouth with both Northern and Florida genetics. But regardless of the family tree, they are all still just as fun to catch as the next. I hope you enjoyed reading this article. I would like to thank Richard Ott – Management Supervisor at the Inland Fisheries Tyler South District TPWD – for his valued insight into this topic. If you liked what you read, let us know in the comments section below! I look forward to fishing with you all soon.

Lake Fork | Lake Athens

Phone: (509) 309-5252

Email: dakotajonesfishing@gmail.com

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