|When Pennsylvania anglers think of bass, two principal species usually come to
mind: largemouth and smallmouth. Both of these species belong to a genus (or family group) of fishes
that scientists call "black bass."
In fact, there are six species within the black bass genus in North America. Three of these species inhabit
Pennsylvania and include our most popular group of warmwater game fish: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass,
and spotted bass. Black bass which do not occur in Pennsylvania include the guadalupe bass, suwannee bass, and the
redeye bass. Within Pennsylvania largemouth bass and smallmouth bass occur throughout the state, whereas spotted bass
are restricted to the Ohio River drainage.
The name "black bass" was used by early frontiersman and explorers to describe this group of fish. Fishes
within the black bass genus are distinguished by a dark green back as adults with juveniles of some exhibiting a unique
dark appearance, whereas the adults and juveniles of other types of bass the are silvery and light in color. These
differences in appearance likely led to the general classification of black bass. In his classic work Book of
the Black Bass, Dr. James A. Henshall wrote in 1881 that "bass" is a very vague term and that "the
term Black Bass...is distinctive and should always be used when referring to the genus." The terminology has
persisted to this day.
If you think that is confusing, consider this: black bass are not really bass at all. They are members of the sunfish
family, more closely related to pumpkinseeds and bluegills than to members of the temperate - or "true" -
bass family. And while many people apply the term sunfish only to the smaller species of the family, crappie bass
(sometimes called calico bass) and rock bass are also misnamed sunfish.
You're not alone in your bewilderment. For many years, scientists though smallmouth and largemouth bass actually
belonged in the perch family. Furthering the irony, the white perch is technically not a perch at all,
but rather a member of the temperate bass family. Only three true bass are found in Pennsylvania. Along with white
perch, white bass and striped bass round out the group.