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Guadalupe Bass  at Cabela's

Guadalupe Bass

Author: Craig Springer

Texans are proud. They grow everything big in their big state, except Guadalupe bass. Though little is known about this agile, spirited fighter, Texans have every reason to be proud of their official state fish.

Guadalupe Bass artwork by Joe Tomelleri
This fish was mistakenly categorized as a variety of largemouth bass in 1874, when in fact it is more closely related to the spotted bass. Considered a subspecies of spotted bass until 1953, Guadalupe bass were assigned full species status when they were discovered living with a population of spotted bass without the two interbreeding--the truest test for species separateness.

The clear, spring-fed streams and reservoirs of the Edwards Plateau of central Texas are the only place where this fish naturally occurs. These include the headwaters of the Guadalupe, Brazos, Colorado, and San Antonio river basins. An additional introduced population occurs in the Nueces River system. They are still commonly caught in the headwaters of the San Antonio and Llano rivers but are becoming less common in downstream sections or these rivers.

The Guadalupe bass looks most like the spotted bass. Its overall green color extends much lower on its sides, and what appears as rows of spots on the spotted bass are a series of continuous bands in the Guadalupe bass. It lacks the vertical bars of the smallmouth bass and the jaw doesn't extend past the eye as in the largemouth. It also has tongue teeth not found on the latter two species. Adapted to fast water in small streams, Guadalupe bass are usually found in gravel riffles, runs, and in the eddies adjacent to swift-flowing water. The biggest fish typically station themselves where riffles fall into pools with large rocks and tree roots nearby. In winter they move into deep pools where they remain until spring. Populations are established in a few reservoirs but have not flourished, probably from stiff competition by largemouth bass. Guadalupe bass live naturally among spotted and largemouth bass in streams. Largemouths take up residence in the sluggish waters, spotted bass in the fast water of large streams, with Guadalupe bass staying in the smaller streams.

The diet of young fish is made up mainly of insects such as mosquito larvae, mayflies, bees and wasps--and probably most any other type of insect that washes downstream. Adult Guadalupe bass eat shiners and small channel catfish, but hellgrammites and crayfish comprise most of their diet.

Though Texas is renown for growing everything big, the Guadalupe bass is the rare exception. The rigors of life in flowing water prevents them from reaching the large sizes of their cousins. Reaching about five inches after one year, a 10-inch Guadalupe bass is a trophy fish. Rarely does this gem grow beyond 12 inches or live past four years.

Both sexes mature at one year of age and females just under three inches long bear ripe eggs. Spawning starts in March and may continue through June. But there is some indication that they spawn a second time in early fall. Similar to other sunfishes, the Guadalupe bass builds a nest in shallow, slow-flowing water. When a males entice potential mates to his lair where several thousand eggs are laid. The male along guards the incubating eggs.

Ironically, previous attempts to improve fishing in central Texas have harmed Guadalupe bass. Smallmouth bass, not native to central Texas have hybridized with Guadalupe bass, threatening their long-term survival. However, Guadalupe bass continue to provide exceptional sport fishing in a splendid and alluring setting. Current conservation efforts, like stringent harvest regulations and restricted stocking of non-native smallmouth bass, should afford future anglers the opportunity to catch Guadalupe bass.

--Springer is a fisheries scientist in New Mexico

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