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Should Bass be regarded as a "problem species" in South Africa?


1. Bass under attack in South Africa!

We know that Bass as a species (to use the word "species" rather loosely) is on the "hit list" of the national and provincial governments in South Africa being regarded as an "alien" and "invasive" species.

To ensure the continued existence of Bass as a species and the sport of Bass fishing we love in South Africa, please read the report below, mobilise and register as individuals and organisations to ensure that a catastrophe (from a Bass fishing point of view) is not forced on us!
Closing date for Registration is 15 September 2004!


See  for further details. You can also download the legislation referred to in the report from or just click on the name of the Act below for the legislation in .pdf format.

"The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (No. 10 of 2004) was signed into law on 31 May 2004 and it is set to enter into force, by Presidential proclamation, on 1 September 2004.

Chapter 4 of the Act contains provisions for the protection of rare and threatened species and species protected under international agreements. It makes provision for the listing of species that are threatened or in need of protection to ensure their survival in the wild and also regulate the activities, such as trade, which may involve such listed species.

Chapter 5 provides for the management of alien and invasive species through the control of their introduction and spread, as well as the control and eradication of those already established. It provides for the listing of alien and invasive species and also regulates the activities, which may involve these listed species.

The Act compels the Minister to follow a public consultative process before publishing lists of threatened and protected species and lists of alien and invasive species. Recognising the need for consultation to develop and approve these lists and to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are consulted and involved in the developmental process, the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is initiating a process to register stakeholders.

Stakeholders are requested to register as one of three categories as appropriate, viz. institutions, experts or individuals. Individual members of the public, experts or relevant organisations may apply to register either for the purpose of consultation regarding: 1) the listing of threatened and protected species and/or, 2) the listing of alien and invasive species. A database of stakeholders will be developed and maintained by the department and will be used for consultation purposes during the listing process.

Scientific and technical expertise required for the listing of threatened and protected species and alien and invasive species will be sourced form experts registered on the stakeholder database and other identified experts. Ad hoc expert groups to assist in the compilation of species lists will be formed from the roster of experts on the database. For example, ad hoc expert groups will be set up on: (a) developing categories and criteria for the listing of species, (b) birds, (c) mammals, (d) plants, (e) marine species, (f) freshwater fish species, (g) reptiles and amphibians, and (h) invertebrate, but may not necessarily be restricted to these.

Draft lists will be circulated to all registered stakeholders, on the departmental database, for comment and input.

Enquiries can be directed to, and registration forms can be obtained from the following departmental officials:

Ms Sonja Meintjes
Tel: (012) 310 3575

Ms Thea Carroll
Tel: (012) 310 3533

For more information contact: Mava Scott
Mobile: (082) 411 9821/(012) 310 3849 | E-mail:

A concerted effort is needed to make our voice heard!


Click here to download Registration Forms in respect of the species listing referred to in Chapters 4 and 5 of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (No. 10 of 2004).



2. Types of Bass in South Africa

The following types (species and strains) of Bass are currently present in South Africa:

Northern strain Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)

The Largemouth Bass has a very large mouth and a large upper jaw that extends behind the eye; its colour ranges from greenish to black.

Largemouths prefer shallower, warmer water than other Bass species and are most at home in weeds and other thick cover such as brush and timber. If given the option, Largemouths will opt for still water and are more at home in dams and impoundments than rivers.

Largemouths prefer to spawn in shallow, protected areas with hard, dark bottoms near or next to wood. Reedbeds usually make for the best spawning habitat.

Their diet consists primarily of baitfish. Insects, crustaceans, frogs, rodents and small snakes will also be taken.

The world record for Largemouth Bass is 22lb4oz (probably had some Florida strain genes!)



Florida strain Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus)


This is Bobby Flaxman with a 4,575kg (10.065lb) pure Florida strain Bass caught at Goedertrouw Dam in KwaZulu-Natal in 1987.


See description for Northern strain above.

The two subspecies (Northerns and Floridas) are visually indistinguishable, although the Floridas are generally darker dorsally and tend to have a black "trim" on the outer edge of the tailfin (check out the above photo). The scale count along the lateral line also differs from that of the Northerns, but the only way to positively identify a Largemouth Bass as being Northern or Florida strain is through genetic testing.

Interbreeding between Northerns and Floridas where they occur in the same waters may also complicate the identification process.


* The latest thinking in the USA is that the Florida strain is not a strain, but should be classified as a new distinct species, see:,19912,640503,00.html

Nine geneticists from universities and state conservation agencies in the USA recently published their research in the book Black Bass: Ecology, Conservation and Management. Using biochemical analysis, the team essentially took DNA fingerprints of nearly all the known black bass species and presumed subspecies and created a map that shows the distance of relation among them. The study's most significant finding states in effect that the Largemouth Bass is to Florida Bass what a rainbow trout is to a cutthroat trout: a similar but a distinct and even distant relative.

Anecdotal evidence from anglers also seem to indicate that the Florida Bass are harder to catch (less aggressive - less voracious feeders - and more suspicious and cautious) than the normal Northern Largemouths.


This would mean that the Florida strain Bass should have less impact than other species of Bass (including the Northern strain Largemouth) on vulnerable fish species where the Florida strain  shares the same waters with vulnerable species.


Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

The Smallmouth is bronze or brownish in colour, and it has side markings like vertical bars. It has a smaller mouth than the Largemouth, and its jaw does not extend beyond the eye. The eye is reddish, while the Largemouth's eye is yellowish. Smallmouths prefer deeper, clearer, cooler water with rocky structure. They are seldom found in stagnant ponds or murky waters shallower than 25 ft.
In addition to clear waters, the Smallmouth Bass prefers a moderately swift current. In rivers and streams they stay away from the swiftest sections, where the trout might hold, but prefer pools with a noticeable current to those that are completely stagnant. Like their Largemouth cousins, Smallmouths gravitate towards structure, such a boulders, rock beds, tree trunks and bridge abutments, but stay away from the weedbeds that Largemouths generally love. Most Smallmouth live in water deeper than 15 ft if they have access to it.

Smallmouths eat insects, crustaceans and baitfish.

The world record Smallmouth weighed 11lb15oz.


Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus)

Spotted Bass (a beautiful fish with striking markings - see photo below) fall somewhere between Largemouths and Smallmouths in many respects, including appearance, and depth, temperature and habitat preferences. Spotted Bass do not grow as large as the Largemouth, and unlike the Smallmouth, do not have vertical bars on their sides. They have smaller mouths and jaws like the smallmouth, but are marked with rows of spots below the lateral line. Spotted Bass are often misidentified as Largemouths. If you catch a Bass which looks like a Largemouth, but with a smaller mouth, a thinner tail "wrist" and "teeth" (a rough area) on its tongue, it will definitely be a Spotted Bass. The "teeth" on the tongue is the most reliable identification indicator to distinguish Spotted Bass from Largemouths.

Spotted Bass swim in schools more frequently than the other Bass species and can often be found around deep, rocky structure. In North America, they have been known to "outcompete", or otherwise be detrimental to Largemouth Bass, where the two species occur in the same waters.

The world record Spotted Bass weighed 10.27lb.


Quick visual comparison between Spotted Bass (top photo)

and Largemouth Bass (bottom photo)

All the above species and strains of Bass may, where they occur in the same waters, also "hybridise" to a limited extent. Interbreeding between the Northern and Florida strains are not hybrids in the true sense.



3. Bass in relation to other fish (indigenous and alien) in South Africa

We do need to protect and conserve indigenous fish stocks and recognise that certain river systems (mainly in the upper reaches of those systems) are sensitive, but Largemouth Bass (both the Northern and Florida strains) and trout, which are now being branded as "undesirable aliens" do have a legitimate place in many waters in South Africa, especially dams and impoundments.


The lack of a suitable indigenous "predator" to attempt to control population explosions of (alien) carp, (indigenous) moggel and mudfish (Labeo) and (indigenous) bream (Tilapia and Oreochromis) is evident in many waters resulting in masses of small and stunted fish and silted or muddy waters. What sane angler would be satisfied with catching 20 half pound bream as opposed to a couple of 4-pounders? Surely the specimen carp angler would sacrifice the opportunity of catching a dozen 2lb - 6lb carp for a chance of latching onto a brace of 20 - 40lb fish? Largemouth Bass (especially the Florida strain) can form part of an appropriate management programme for such waters which may not only improve angling for other species, but would also have a positive effect on water quality.


Is it a co-incidence that waters which contain Bass produce far better quality bream and carp? In relation to excellent specimen carp fisheries, just think of Florida Lake (near Roodepoort), Rietvlei Dam (outside Pretoria), Buffelspoort Dam, Klaserie Dam and Kwena Dam - the list goes on ... Compare this to other waters where you may catch a lot of carp, but the chances of a specimen carp being produced are remote: Vaal Dam, Bloemhof Dam, Baberspan, Leeupan ...



4. Are Largemouth Bass the villains they are made out to be?

Largemouth Bass (both the Northern and Florida strains) relate strongly to structure, avoid moving water and are opportunistic feeders which use ambush tactics - they are not built to chase and "run" down their prey. Healthy and naturally speedy yellowfish relating to moving water and current would not, in the normal course of events, end up as a Largemouth Bass's meal. In open or  moving water Largemouth Bass would have little predatory advantage.


Smallmouth Bass are more suited to moving water and current and it is unfortunately the Smallmouth Bass which has contributed to placing stain on populations of indigenous minnows in the upper reaches of some rivers, especially in the Western Cape. This has been publicised widely in the media and Bass, generally, have been given the blame.


Spotted Bass tend to "school" more than Largemouths and Smallmouths and Spotted Bass have, in North America, been known to "outcompete", or be detrimental to Largemouth Bass, where the two species occur in the same waters. Fortunately this has not happened in South Africa.


Largemouth Bass (both the Northern and Florida strains) are the more "well-behaved" of the Bass species and deserve a place in the South African aquatic environment.


Largemouth Bass (both the Northern and Florida strains) are not the villains when it comes to declining yellowfish or indigenous minnow populations in certain areas in South Africa. Let it not be forgotten that industrial, mining and agricultural pollution also contributes significantly to the stress on indigenous yellowfish and minnow (and all other fish) populations.


Furthermore, the fact that there is currently not one properly functioning state (national or provincial) fish hatchery in South Africa which produces the various indigenous yellowfish species for stocking and replenishing waters in our country is a disgrace!


National and provincial nature conservation authorities are not doing enough to stamp out illegal gill-netting and overharvesting (by other means) of sensitive and vulnerable indigenous fish populations such as yellowfish, by subsistence fishermen who catch and kill indiscriminately.


5. A Conclusion?

Smallmouth Bass and Spotted Bass should perhaps not be actively protected or promoted in South Africa, but Smallmouth Bass, together with trout, are alien species which could play a role in clear, deep impoundments (where there are no vulnerable indigenous species) in the cooler parts of South Africa (Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and portions of KwaZulu-Natal).


Largemouth Bass (both the Northern and Florida strains) have taken the flack for some damage done (especially in the upper reaches of river systems in the Western Cape) to vulnerable indigenous species by Smallmouth Bass and Spotted Bass. This perception must be corrected by making people (and "the authorities") aware that all Bass species are not the same and have different preferences, habitats, feeding habits and effects on their aquatic environments and the organisms in those environments. 


Largemouth Bass (especially the Florida strain) should not be targeted as undesirable in South Africa. As has been stated above, the Florida strain Bass should have less impact than other species of Bass (including the Northern strain Largemouth) on vulnerable fish species where the Florida strain  shares the same waters with vulnerable species.


As stated in 3 above, Largemouth Bass (both the Northern and Florida strains), can contribute to improved carp and bream fisheries and can be employed as useful tools in managing certain waters (such as large and small still water impoundments across the country where no vulnerable or endangered indigenous species are present).


Appropriate management of our inland waters and fisheries is currently sadly lacking in South Africa. Simply targeting Bass, generally, as a convenient scapegoat is both simplistic and not scientific.










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