The Rock Bass

by Fly Fisherman

The Rock Bass
(Ambloplites rupestris)

ORIGINAL HABITAT AND PRESENT RANGE.—The natural habitat of this fish includes the Lake Champlain watershed, the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley, and west of the Alleghenies as far as Texas. The present range through a wide stocking program includes forty of the forty-eight states from coast to coast, and from southern Canada to the Gulf states.

FAMILY.—It belongs to the sunfish family and is the most common of two distinct species. A new species was recently discovered in the South that is so similar in almost every respect that an expert is necessary to tell them apart.

USUAL WATERS INHABITED AND HABITS.—It prefers the flowing streams where there are plenty of rocks, submerged logs, or other obstructions, and objects to furnish cover. It will also thrive in lakes and ponds of gravel or sand bottoms. While it is usually found inhabiting the same streams with the smallmouth black bass it does not remain in the swift water with the bass. However, if there is a large rock in the swift water which creates an eddy this fish will always be found in the pool below the rock. A number of rock bass are usually found together and when one starts biting they all seem to be inclined to see what it is all about.

GENERAL LINES, ETc.—The shape of this fish is very similar to that of the sunfish although the body is not quite so deep. The color is entirely different. On the tip of each scale there is a little black spot which gives the appearance or effect of a series of stripes the full length of the body. This is more pronounced on some rock bass than on others, which may appear to have dark, irregular blotches over the body in addition to the black tips on the scales. The general background color is olive green while other overmarkings seem to produce a brassy effect. The fin construction is practically the same as the sunfish except that the dorsal spines are from ten to eleven in number, and the anal fin spines usually five in number.

SIZE.—It grows to weigh as much as two and one-half pounds and to a length of fourteen inches. Most rock bass of this size arc in captivity. The usual size is about six to eight inches.

Food and feeding.—The feeding habits are about the same as those of the black bass, as it takes food either day or night. It is, however, a constant night feeder. The food consists of other fish, crayfish and other crustaceans, aquatic and terrestrial insect life, mollusca, worms, and minnows. It is more or less cannibalistic and will at times prey upon its own young. The usual feeding time is in the evening when the hatches of flies are on; then it may be seen rising to the surface until dark falls. After that it may continue to feed from time to time during the entire night.

SPAwNING.—This fish spawns late in May or early June in the shallow water. It usually builds a nest where the water is a little swifter than the smallmouth bass selects. The male fish builds the nest and protects it until the baby fish are big enough to take care of themselves. Like all members of the sunfish family the eggs are adhesive and all sediment is kept from the eggs by a constant fanning of the fins as the fish hovers over the nest. The number of eggs ranges from 1,500 to 4,00o, and they hatch in about seven to ten days.

ARTIFICIAL PRoPAGATIoN.—Rarely is this fish artificially propagated because it must spawn under natural conditions, and the same problems of food are involved as with the black bass. This is no doubt a blessing to other waters because where this fish has been introduced with other species of fish the results sometimes have not been too good—especially if there are other carnivorous fish in the same waters.

FISHING AND LURES.—Most fishermen class this fish as a game fish because of its fighting qualities and tendencies to take the artificial lures. It bites at any time of the day or night on either artificial lures or live bait. Small minnows, crabs, hellgrammites or clippers or dobsons, crickets, grasshoppers, and angleworms are good live bait. Of the artificial lures the wet or dry fly, small bass bugs, fly-and-spinner combination are used with great success by the fly fishermen.

VALUE TO MAN.—As a value to man the rock bass ranks among the best wherever it is abundant. Many hours are spent fishing for this scrappy little fellow. It is also of value as food. The flesh is white, firm, flaky, and very sweet.

VALUE TO OTHER FISH.—AS a value to other fish the rock bass does not rate very high because of its carnivorous nature.

LOCAL NAMES.—There are several local names for this fish. Among them are rockie, red eye, goggle eye, and brassy bass.

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