About the Size and Age of Bass in Georgia

Largemouth and Spotted Bass Growth Rates

Nate Rosson With Big Bass
Nate Rosson With Big Bass. 2009 Nate Rosson licensed to About.com

Ever wonder about the age of the bass you just caught? How long has it been swimming around, avoiding bigger fish, ospreys, and frying pans? Just how fast do Georgia bass grow? The answer is: "It varies."

I will never forget a presentation I saw years ago that included a picture of five largemouth bass lying on a table. They ranged from 6 to 15 inches long and weighed from a few ounces to over 2 pounds. All those bass were taken from a young lake (one created only a few years earlier) and were all the same age.

There are a lot of things that influence bass growth, especially in their first year or two, including the fact that bass spawn at different times during the spring. If bass fry hatch early, which means in March or early April in most Georgia waters, they will grow faster than those hatched in late April or May. Early hatchers are big enough to eat the fry of shad and bluegill when they spawn later, so they get lots of high protein food. Late hatchers are too small to eat them and actually have to compete with the fry of other species for the same food.

Genetics may play a role. Just like some families seem to produce a lot of tall people, some female bass may produce offspring that grow faster than others. But since females produce offspring with different males each year, and often in the same year, that genetic factor can be diluted.

Fertility of the lake or pond a bass lives in greatly influences its growth rate. A well fertilized farm pond  will produce fast-growing bass while a very infertile lake will produce slow-growing bass. And water temperatures make a difference. That is one reason South Georgia lakes like Seminole and Eufaula produce so many quality bass. They have a longer growing season with a longer period of warm water in which bass feed.

How do you determine how old a bass is? Just like trees produce annual rings in their wood, bass produce annual rings in their scales that provide a good indication of their age. You can look at a scale under a magnifying glass and count the rings. A more accurate way to measure bass age is to examine the otoliths, or "ear bones," and count rings in them, but you need special training to extract the bone, cut it, and examine it, which is why this technique is only used by fisheries biologists.

By the Numbers

So how old is that bass you just caught? In some studies, on average, largemouth bass from reservoirs in Georgia are about 7 inches long when one year old, 11 inches at two, 14 inches at three, 16 inches at four, and over 17 inches at five years old.

Spotted bass in Georgia grow slightly slower. On average they will be 6 inches long when one year old, 10 inches at age two, 13 inches at age 3, 15 inches at age 4, and a little less than 17 inches long at age 5.

We all know how much a bass can vary in weight related to its length, so some three-year-old largemouths just barely weigh a pound, while others will be well over 1½ pounds. Spotted bass can vary even more.

Only a small percentage of bass from the same year class live five years or longer, which most anglers can verify by the number of bass 17 inches long or longer they land. This means that a 10-pound bass might be ten years old or even older, and one that size is rare.

Release Older and Larger Bass

Many bass anglers don't eat their catch, preferring to promptly release all their bass. They may choose to release even a trophy fish, perhaps having a taxidermy replica made. Others will eat a bass from time to time. If you choose to keep and eat a bass, consider the above information to get an idea how old it is. Keep a smaller fish, and return the larger and older ones to the water unharmed.

This article was edited and revised by our Freshwater Fishing expert, Ken Schultz