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The Birth of the Super Bass

Editor's Note: Barry Smith of Montgomery, Alabama, a longtime fisheries biologist, co-owns American Sport Fish in Pike Road, Alabama, one of the largest private hatcheries in the Southeast, with his partner Don Keller. Smith and Keller have developed several breeds of fish that landowners enjoy stocking in their ponds that may find their way to public waters one day.

To keep the readers of Strike King's Webpage updated on the newest information and the future of bass fishing, Strike King talked with Smith about the two, new strains of super bass that have been developed and now are being stocked into farm ponds, the Tiger Bass and the Gorilla Bass.

Question: Tell me about these super strains of bass that you and your partner, Don Keller, at American Sport Fish have developed. How did they evolve? Why are they super bass? Why are they called the Gorilla and the Tiger?

Answer: We've found that even if you can grow a 20-pound bass in a lake, if you can't catch the fish, it has no value. No one wants to hear, "Yep, I've got some 12 or 14 pounders in that pond, but I don't think you can catch one."

We started out stocking the Florida strain of black bass when we got in the stocking business because we knew the Florida bass had good growth rates, especially after year three, and they lived a long time. However, we also knew from the beginning that Florida bass were hard to catch. But we tried to push that thought back in our minds because we really wanted to grow big fish.

Seven or 8 years after we stocked the bass, lake owners said they wanted to drain their lakes because they hadn't caught a bass for 2 or 3 years. They thought all of the bass were gone. When we took our electrofishing boat with the monitor out onto the lake, we saw huge quantities of 6- to 10-pound bass. The pond owners were amazed, but they just couldn't catch those bass.

Once Florida bass get bigger and older, they don't want to bite a lure. We knew this was a little bit of a problem, but we didn't realize the scale of the problem. If you want to catch Florida bass, your best bait is live bait and even then catching the older, bigger bass is difficult. When they get older, they're reluctant to bite artificial baits. One thing we tried to determine was how we could grow large bass quickly that would be easier to catch.

To solve this problem, we've been breeding two strains of largemouth bass for 12 years. We call the super-aggressive northern strain the Tiger Bass, and the hybrid, which is a cross between the Tiger Bass and the Florida strain of black bass, the Gorilla Bass. These bass both are subspecies, meaning they are genetically different from the northern strain. The Tiger Bass are much more aggressive feeders and are easier to catch than the Florida bass. You actually can selectively breed these fish to be more aggressive over a period of time.

Question: How did you discover that?

Answer: Even during the early days of our work, we learned that certain bass exhibited aggressive feeding behavior in a group. Certain fish would be the first to go after food that you threw out to them. We selected the most-aggressive bass from that group of the northern strain of bass and started breeding them. Then we selected their most-aggressive offspring and bred them. We continued this selection and breeding process over a long time until we developed a super-aggressive bass -- the Tiger Bass.

Question: How long have y'all been doing this selective breeding process?

Answer: We've been doing this about 12 years.

Question: So exactly what is the difference between a Tiger Bass and a Gorilla Bass?

Answer: The Gorilla Bass is what we call an F1 hybrid. This term is used for what occurs when you take two different subspecies and breed them. When we breed the really-aggressive northern bass with a pure Florida-strain bass that have been selectively bred, (the Tiger Bass) we get the Gorilla Bass, which has the Florida strain's genetics, which enables them to grow to very large sizes at a rapid rate and have the aggressiveness of the northern bass.

The resulting F1 fish the Gorilla Bass -- is extremely aggressive and extremely fast-growing. So, when Gorilla Bass reach 3 to 5 years old, they weigh anywhere from 6- to 10-pounds each. They'll continue to exhibit that aggressive feeding behavior, and anglers can catch them on artificial lures.

Question: What size bass do you stock?

Answer: We stock 2-inch-long bass in new ponds.

Question: How long does an F1 (the Gorilla Bass) take to reach 8 pounds? 2w

Answer: They'll weigh 8 pounds in about three years. We've seen some of these fish reach 2-1/2 to 3 pounds in size in one year.

For more information about American Sport Fish, write P.O. Box 20050, Montgomery, AL 36120, or call (334) 281-7703.