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Smallmouth bass closely resemble their cousin, the largemouth bass, but can be identified by looking at the mouth and body color markings. Unlike the largemouth, the upper jaw of a smallmouth bass does not reach beyond the rear edge of the eye. A smallmouth also has 8-11 thin, dark, vertical bars on its side.
Smallmouth bass prefer clear water in colder lakes and streams, and are found in areas with gravel or rock bottoms near moderate vegetation. They are efficient predators, and eat whatever live prey is available to them. Their diet usually consists of insects, fish, and crayfish, but they will occasionally eat tadpoles and frogs. Here in Oneida Lake, smallmouth bass are known to eat yellow perch, gizzard shad, crayfish, and even zebra mussels. Early morning and evening are the most active feeding times.
Smallmouth bass spawning takes place from late May to early July. Unlike other members of the sunfish family, smallmouth bass build nests many feet apart from each other. Males build round nests on sand, gravel, or rock bottoms near the protective cover of rocks, logs or vegetation. The female smallmouth carries 5,000-7,000 eggs and may deposit them in more than one male’s nest. The male guards the nest, and the young hatch in 4-8 days. After 2-3 weeks, the young smallmouth bass leave the nest and feed on zooplankton.
Found throughout New York, smallmouth bass are one of this state’s most important game fish. Though originally found only in the Great Lakes and in the St. Lawrence watershed, smallmouth bass have been popular sport fish in Oneida Lake since the nineteenth century. Increased water temperatures, clearer water from zebra mussels, and productive gizzard shad populations may have benefited the smallmouth populations. Smallmouths are famous for their fighting ability when hooked, and have the reputation for being, inch-for-inch, the best sport fish around. During winter, smallmouth bass stay near the bottom and do not feed, making them unavailable for ice fishing.
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