Here in Central Tejas, within the highland lakes area, people are always asking me how fast bass grow. Well, a lot of that depends on Mother Nature and what she provides for the fish as far as shelter, forage, water levels, etc.
Anyway, based on being asked so much, I decided it’s time to involve all those fish biologists and really see what they could tell me on the subject. I was very surprised at some of the information I learned. What we are going to look at in this article will cover the two most prominent species located in the Central Texas lakes — the largemouth and the smallmouth.
Now, before I go on, I want you to check your own knowledge. I want you to take a sheet of paper and write down what you think the length of a largemouth and the length of a smallmouth will be at ages 1 through 7 years of age. Then I want you to guess how old a “keeper” (14-inch) bass is. Once you have written both down, continue to read the article.
I think you may be surprised. I know I was when I did it myself.
As you all know, the smallmouth is the first to spawn, and I discussed the water temperture and conditions in a previous article. Generally spawning begins when the water temperature reaches the mid- to upper 50s.
They will stage in places where the lake narrows and provides ledges and drop-offs in the 20- to 30-foot depth ranges.
They will use gravel flats, humps and long rocky points in the 8- to 15-foot range on which to spawn when the water temperature reaches 58 degrees or higher.
Experts also think the moon phase has more to do with the smallmouth spawn than it does with the largemouth. The best days to catch a large Bronzeback is the two days just before the full moon.
Smallies do not relate their nests to a specific structure like a stump or log like the largemouth does.
Forget trying to catch a female once they have gone on the bed. They are much less aggressive than a largemouth. Once the female lays the eggs, she will immediately move off the flats and hold in deep water ledges until she has recovered for the spawn.
The male stays with the eggs and fry for about 10 days, then moves off the flat as well.
The largemouth generally begins to move out of its winter haunts when the water temperature begins to rise above 45 degrees. They will move to prespawn areas in the northwest corner of the reservoir and feed until the water temp reaches 55 to 58 degrees.
Their prespawn areas will be between 8 to 12 feet deep around a drop off but close to the spawning flats. Once the temperature reaches 55 to 58, the male begins the search for the bed he wants to use and prepares it for the female.
These are generally in water 2 to 12 feet deep based on water clarity. They will also be close to deep water access. The bigger the largemouth the earlier and deeper it will spawn.
Now, back to our original question, have you written down the lengths you think they will be for years 1 to 7? How old is a 14-inch keeper for both largemouth and smallmouth?
Now, let’s look at three categories: Average bass, bottom 10 percent and top 90 percent for both the largemouth and smallmouth populations.
- Average largemouth (by age): 1 = 4.5 inches, 2 = 8.5 inches, 3 = 11.3 inches, 4 = 13.4 inches, 5 = 15.2 inches, 6 = 16.8 inches, 7 = 17.8 inches,
- Bottom 10 percent (by age): 1 = 3.1 inches, 2 = 6 inches, 3 = 8.3 inches, 4 = 10.4 inches, 5 = 12 inches, 6 = 13.6 inches, 7 = 14.8 inches,
- Top 90 percent (by age): 1 = 7 inches, 2 = 11.3 inches, 3 = 14.2 inches, 4 = 16.5 inches, 5 = 18.2 inches, 6 = 19.9 inches, 7 = 21 inches
- Average smallie (by age): 1 = 3.5 inches, 2 = 6.5 inches, 3 = 9.3 inches, 4 = 11.4 inches, 5 = 13.3 inches, 6 = 14.8 inches, 7 = 15.7 inches
- Bottom 10 percent (by age): 1 = 2.9 inches, 2 = 5.5 inches, 3 = 7.2 inches, 4 = 8.7 inches, 5 = 10.4 inches, 6 = 11.6 inches, 7 = 12.2 inches
- Top 90 percent: 1 = 4.4 inches, 2 = 8.3 inches, 3 = 11.7 inches, 4 = 14.1 inches, 5 = 16.5 inches, 6 = 17 inches, 7 = 18 inches
So now check what you wrote down and see how accurate you were. Sure hope it was better than I did on my quiz.
Now, what can we glean from the information I found out from the experts?
- For a largemouth to reach keeper size here in the great state of Texas, they are somewhere between 3 and 7 years old at 14.2 to 15.2 inches.
- For smallmouth to reach keeper size here, they must be somewhere between 4 and 6 years old.
First, I must say that Mother Nature has a way of changing statistics routinely.
If it’s a bitter cold fall and winter, it will take longer for the lakes to warm, we are going to have a greater than average forage kill, and the spawn will occur later than usual. This will produce a slower growth rate for the fish during the next season and greater numbers will not survive.
If it’s a warmer fall and winter, then the opposite will occur. The spawn will occur earlier, there will be more forage and the growth rate will increase.
So what have we had in Central Texas for the last couple of years? Warmer falls and winters.
So in both species we are seeing larger than the top 90 percent growth rates, and that’s why our lakes are producing more keeper fish than a couple of years ago.
Like you, I am more interested in catching keepers than doing research, but sometimes the research can tell us things we didn’t know that will help each of us go out there and catch more fish.
So get out there and catch a big ’un and guess its age when you get it to the boat. Also send me the pic at Hook_up66@yahoo.com, and I’ll feature it in another article. Hope this has helped you as much as it did me in understanding the growth rate of our fish.
JASPER JOHNSON is retired from the U.S. Army and is the Copperas Cove Bass Club secretary. To contact him about the club or for any questions, call 318-218-0358 or email Hook_up@yahoo.com.