Bass fishing is the sport of angling for the North American gamefish known colloquially as the black bass. There are numerous black bass species considered as gamefish in North America, including largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieui), spotted bass or Kentucky bass (Micropterus punctatus), Guadalupe bass (Micropterus treculii), and many other species and subspecies of the genus Micropterus. Though referred to as bass, all are actually members of the sunfish family (Centrarchidae: order Perciformes).
Modern bass fishing has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry The sport has changed drastically since its beginnings in the late 1800s. From humble beginnings, the black bass has become the second most specifically sought-after game fish in the United States. The sport has driven the development of all manner of fishing gear, including rods, reels, lines, lures, electronic depth and fish-finding instruments, drift boats, float tubes, and specialized bass boats.
All black bass are well-known as strong fighters, and are fished recreationally. Depending upon species and various other factors such as water quality and availability of food, black bass may be found in lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers, streams, creeks, even roadside ditches. Largemouth are known for their overall size and resistance when hooked, favoring short, powerful runs and escape to cover such as submerged logs or weedbeds. Smallmouth bass tend to jump more and fight aggressively on the surface when hooked, in order to throw the hook. Bass are usually fileted when taken for the table, and the flesh is white and firm, with a delicate taste when cooked. However, more bass anglers are adopting "catch and release" angling where the bass are returned to the water after being hooked and retrieved.
Sometime during the mid-1800s, the first artificial lure used for bass was developed in the form of an artificial fly. At first, these artificial fly patterns were largely derivations of existing trout and salmon flies. As time went on, new fly patterns were specifically developed to fish for bass, as well as heavier spinner/fly lures that could be cast by the baitcasting and fixed-spool casting reels and rods available at the time. Floating wooden lures(plugs) or poppers of lightweight cork or balsa were introduced around 1900, sometimes combined with hooks dressed with artificial fur or feathers.
In the United States, the sport of bass fishing was greatly advanced by the stocking of largemouth and smallmouth bass outside their native ranges in the latter portion of the 19th century. As the nation's railroad system expanded, large numbers of 'tank' ponds were built by damming various small creeks that intersected the tracks in order to provide water for steam engines; later, new towns often sprang up alongside these water stops. Shippers found that black bass were a hardy species that could be transported in buckets or barrels via the railroad, sometimes using the spigot from the railroad water tank to aerate the fingerlings.
Largemouth bass were often stocked in tank ponds and warmer lakes, while smallmouth bass were distributed to lakes and rivers throughout the northern and western United States, as far west as California. Smallmouth were transplanted east of the Appalachians just before the Civil War, and afterwards introduced into New England.
Largemouth bass populations boomed after the U.S. Department of Agriculture began to advise and assist farmers in constructing and stocking farm ponds with largemouth bass, even offering advice on managing various fish species. Soon, those who had stocked largemouth bass on their farm ponds began to pursue them on a burgeoning number of new reservoirs and impoundments built in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. These impoundments coincided with a postwar fishing boom, supplying additional funds from sales of fishing licenses for the first large-scale attempts at bass fisheries management. This was especially true in the southern United States, where the largemouth bass thrived in waters too warm or turbid for other types of gamefish.
With increased industrialization and development, many of the nation's eastern trout rivers were dammed, polluted, or allowed to silt up, raising water temperatures and killing off the native brook trout. Smallmouth bass were often introduced to northern rivers now too warm for native trout, and slowly became a popular gamefish with many anglers. Equally adaptable to large, cool-water impoundments and reservoirs, the smallmouth also spread far beyond its original native range. Later, smallmouth populations also began to decline after years of damage caused by overdevelopment and industrial and agricultural pollution, as well as a loss of river habitat caused by damming many formerly wild rivers in order to form lakes or reservoirs. In recent years, a renewed emphasis on preserving water quality and riparian habitat in the nation's rivers and lakes, together with stricter management practices, eventually benefited smallmouth populations and has caused a resurgence in their popularity with anglers.
By the early 1900s, bass fishing had been well established as a sport with its own following. Though the use of artificial lures for bass had begun with the artificial fly and fly fishing tackle, the bait casting rod and reel soon came to dominate the sport. Although fixed-spool reels were introduced in use in the United States as early as the 1870s, spinning reels and rods did not gain wide acceptance as an angling tool until the 1950s. Since that time, most bass anglers have used bait casting or spinning tackle, using either artificial lures or live bait (See Fishing rod, Fishing reel).
During the 1950s and 1960s, the development of specific angling tools for bass significantly increased angler success and helped stimulate the development of the sport. Some of these innovations include the invention of monofilament nylon fishing lines, the fiberglass (later graphite composite) fishing rod, the electric trolling motor, the fish finder/depth locator, and new artificial lures and baits made of various plastics. Recently, advanced electronics that mimic the sounds of schooling bait fish have been introduced, and a controversy has arisen over the proper use of these devices in bass tournament fishing.
Fishermen, conservation groups, and governmental wildlife departments have introduced black bass of various species across the world for the sport of fishing. Outside North America, Japan and South Africa have active programs.
Bass fishing as a sport was helped along by the chase for the standing world record which has held for over 75 years. Though surrounded by controversy it is widely accepted that in 1932 a 22 pound 4 ounce bass was caught by George Perry in Montgomery Lake, Georgia. It is one of the longest standing records in the sport of fishing.
An overpopulated, stunted bass population can best be detected in the spring when all the bass are at least one year old. If virtually all the bass are 4 inches long or smaller, the population is probably stunted. Some indicators that a bass population is overpopulated:
(a) The largemouth bass caught are all less than 1 pound and are "skinny". (b) The bluegills are 1/2 pound and larger (too large for the bass to eat). An overpopulation an/or stunting of bass may be caused by several factors including: (a) Not enough bass being harvested. (b) Too few bluegill or redear sunfish were stocked initially or they are failing to reproduce and the bass population does not have an adequate food supply.
Against letting nature sort it out (which it will) it is posited that the easiest way to control an overpopulation of largemouth bass is by increasing the take of bass. This is clearly an effective method of thinning the bass population providing recreation at the same time - which is more important to American Bass anglers. It may take two to three years to bring the population back into balance. If forage fish are scarce, stock adult bluegill or redear sunfish (7 to 8 inches long). These fish will be too large to be eaten by the bass. The large panfish will spawn in the spring and produce a supply of forage.
One is the Bassmaster Tournament Trail, organized by the Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society (B.A.S.S.). It was started by Ray Scott, the "father" of competitive bass fishing. First held in 1969, today, professionals like Michael Iaconelli, Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens, Rick Clunn, and Luke Clausen are household names to many American sports fans. There are 12 events in which the top 50 anglers compete. The top prize in the Bassmasters Classic is $500,000.
The other is the Wal-Mart FLW Tour. The top prize of the Forrest Wood Cup is $1 Million. Both tours are nationally televised on networks like ESPN and Fox Sports Net (ESPN actually owns and operates B.A.S.S.), and covered extensively by news media.
In modern bass fishing competitions, caught bass are placed in a live well, and released as soon as caught and weighed by officials. Competitors are penalized heavily for dead fish and in some cases dead fish are not weighed. Fish turned in for weighing are immediately released or placed in tanks and treated for stress and glyco-protein (slime coat) injury, then released back into the water.
Competitive bass fishing has also spread to anglers in other countries such as Japan, Australia and South Africa. Takahiro Omori, a Japanese angler living in Texas, won the 2004 Bassmaster Classic title. Australian tournaments are based on a native freshwater fish called Australian bass that is unrelated to largemouth bass.
On February 11, 2008, the Illinois High School Association announced that it would sanction a bass fishing tournament as a part of its state series for high schools in 2009.