It is a noteworthy accomplishment to catch various subspecies of the same genus on the same body of water, perhaps even on the same day like pike, muskie and tiger muskie, or walleye, sauger and saugeye—the list goes on.
Unbeknownst to many, the same opportunity exists today for hardcore bass anglers as they pursue largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and even meanmouth bass. The meanmouth? This predatory beauty has been around for decades, but just recently it is gaining an almost mystical status among American bass anglers.
During the 1970s, fisheries biologists created various black bass hybrids, including a cross between a male smallmouth bass and a female largemouth bass. Reports that reached the mass media suggested that these off spring, dubbed “meanmouth”, had a reputation for attacking swimmers and dogs that ventured into the reproduction ponds. Probably 10 parts hype for each part reality, this particular cross likely derived the prefix “mean”, as this fish represented a midpoint between the large- and smallmouth bass—as opposed to any suggestion that the fish needed to take anger management courses.
For reasons unknown, research on hybrid black bass was halted. Oftentimes, hybrids are expensive to produce and result in high mortality rates. The meanmouth bass simply slipped from the angling consciousness. More recently, widespread introductions of spotted bass into reservoirs with embedded smallmouth populations have created fisheries with just enough niche overlap to allow the emergence of smallmouth/ spotted bass hybrids, which has actually become fairly common.
This particular black bass amalgamation has now hijacked the meanmouth moniker in angling circles. This fish is known for being a ferocious fighter, but is even more recognized for its stunning beauty and tiger-like patterns. Perhaps adding to the mystique is the fact that the only thing tougher than proving your fish is a meanmouth, is proving that it isn’t. Smallmouth bass and spotted bass are similar genetically and morphologically. So, just about any oddly colored smallmouth or spotted bass could fall into the meanmouth category, if you so choose. It’s human nature to create buzz from controversy, so analysis of fish photos and stories can easily lead to disagreements in the local coffee shop, bar fights and the occasional divorce.
Proof Positive Unlike aliens that live at Area 51, the government is actually willing to admit the existence of this hybrid bass. Both Missouri and Oklahoma recognize hybrid black bass records, with the Missouri record weighing 5 pounds, 10 ounces, and the Oklahoma record is listed at a staggering 8 pounds, 5.6 ounces. Both fi sh are generally accepted to be the result of smallmouth and spotted bass intermixing.
One of the advantages of hybridization is the ability to grow huge individuals because the resulting sterility means more time and energy devoted to growth and less time and energy spent spawning and rearing fry. The hyper-agitation demonstrated by nest-guarding bass is replaced by time spent feeding. The hybrids do however already lurk in our waters and landing one of these beauties, and capturing a high-quality catch-and-release photo could be a feather in the cap of any serious angler. So next time you catch a golden-colored, striped/spotted demon, take a nice sharp photo. The fight from the fish will only be exceeded by the fight over the identification.
Perhaps we will soon see the establishment of a formal “bass slam” where fanatics worldwide can have a basscentered objective to fulfill and enjoy. At the very least, if you can prove you caught a legitimate meanmouth bass, your buddies will hopefully forget about the chupacabra sighting you reported last fall.