Suwannee Bass Basics
Suwannee Bass (Micropterus notius)
The average adult suwannee bass weighs between 1-2 lb (0.45-0.91 kg) and measures 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) in length.
The world record suwannee bass was caught in 1985 from the Suwannee River and weighed in at 3 lb 14 oz (1.76 kg).
NT – Near Threatened
Also Known As
Due to its limited geographic range, this black bass species isn’t well-known and only goes by suwannee bass, or suwannees for short.
Typically short in length, suwannee bass have primarily brown bodies with olive mottling across their sides. Their face is decorated with prominent horizontal striped markings, a common feature across other black bass species. Adult males present with a turquoise-blue coloring on their cheeks, underside, and below the gills. This color becomes more pronounced during the spawning season.
A look inside their mouth, and you’ll notice an extra set of small teeth on their tongue, called a tooth patch. Their eyes are generally dark red but appear brown in juvenile fish.
The two dorsal fins are connected, with a shallow notch between the two. Combined, the dorsal fin has 9-11 sharp spines, and there are 57-65 scales along the fish’s lateral line.
You can tell the difference between a redeye and a suwannee bass through the presence of their distinctive turquoise color, which appears in male fish. Redeye bass are also usually lighter/green in color, unlike suwannee bass, which are brown overall.
A captured suwannee bass in the hands of an angler
A Note on Spawning
Suwannee bass spawn in water at or above 65°F (18°C). As residents of Florida and Georgia, this means they have an extremely long spawning season, taking place between February and June.
As with other members of the black bass family, male fish construct nests with gravel bottoms during the spawn. Suwannee bass nests are usually located around sunken trees, weeds, or other forms of protection. Once attracted, females will lay between 1,000-12,000 eggs.
Males will vehemently protect their nest during the incubation period (3-6 days) and up to three weeks after. In this period, almost all their behavior will be driven by their protective instincts, which can even outweigh their need to feed. As an angler, any strikes you draw during and immediately following the spawn will be defensive rather than predatory.
How to Catch Suwannee Bass
Suwannee bass are only found in a very specific pocket of the US, located between central Georgia and central Florida. Their geographical range is tiny compared to other black bass species.
Suwannees cannot survive in still water and are only found in rivers and streams; their small stature enables them to thrive particularly well around river heads. Here, they can outcompete largemouths and other species that are not as well adept at maneuvering such waters.
These small bass fish strongly prefer shallow waters but will seek out deeper areas, even beyond 10 ft (3 m), during intense heat.
Favorite Feeding Spots
Suwannee bass love submerged sandbars, as large numbers of crayfish often inhabit them. Sandbars are also common in shallow water, which is another positive for suwannees; here, their smaller size is a benefit and acts as an adaptative advantage over larger fish species.
Seek out areas with strong currents if you’re hunting for suwannees. Baitfish can become easily overwhelmed here and end up as a quick bite for suwannee bass. These areas are also more oxygenated, increasing fish density and activity. Spillways, rock croppings, and overpasses are hotspots for these conditions.
Low-hanging branches provide fish with protection from predators and the sun, as well as draw in insects. In these areas, watch the water closely to see if the fish are hitting topwater. Consider pulling out the fly rod or reaching for some topwater lures if they are.
Suwannee bass are endemic to Georgia and Florida
Spring is the most productive season for suwannee bass. This period of the year offers the most desirable water temperatures for feeding and brings in the spawning season. Spring is also when crayfish mate, leading to even more activity amongst the suwannee bass population. You won’t find a better time to throw your crayfish-like lure than spring.
During the summer months, search out those cooler waters. Suwannees are likely to be found around inlets or drain tiles that deposit cooler water into large rivers.
During intense summer heat, deeper water will likely hold suwannee bass; it’s common to find them at a depth of 10 ft (3 m) or more. Deep bends in large rivers are especially great spots in these conditions.
During fall, suwannees are likely to lurk at depths between 1-10 ft, with spinnerbaits, shallow crankbaits, and jerkbaits working exceptionally well. You should also consider using poppers and other topwater baits if the fish are focusing their attention on the surface. This is most appropriate during the early fall period.
Although winter fishing for suwannee bass is challenging, for many anglers, this is the season with the most preferable weather conditions. Even in the suwannee’s northern range, the average winter temperature is about 45-52°F (7.2-12.2°C). Great for spending a day out by the water!
If you’re out fishing in late winter and the water is starting to warm, consider trying techniques to mimic crayfish.
Suwannee bass thrive in shallow waters
Suwannee bass are active feeders throughout the year, including winter, when water temperatures are lower.
They have particularly wide throats relative to their size, suggesting they are biologically designed to survive on larger-than-expected prey. This small bass fish species feeds on frogs, other fish, insects, and worms, but their natural diet is primarily made up of crayfish. Like their smallmouth cousins, suwannees lay in wait and ambush their prey.
Lures are an excellent choice for suwannee bass, with some anglers preferring it over live bait. Due to their diet, fishing lures that imitate crayfish are highly effective and present naturally in rivers. Be sure to keep rooster tails, an assortment of small crankbaits, and other spinners in your tackle box when you’re out for suwannees.
If you’re using live bait, reel it in and recast a few minutes after the line has gone tight with the current. Live baits appear more authentic when flowing with the current rather than fighting it.
If fly fishing is more your style, go with streamers, poppers, or anything else a largemouth would strike.
There are plenty of effective techniques for landing suwannee bass
Crayfish for Suwannees
Since crayfish make up most of the suwannee’s diet and are available year-round, they are the ideal bait/lure.
Cranks like the Rebel Wee Crayfish are highly effective and great fun for the angler who loves slinging lures. Most lures have a depth rating that indicates how deep they dive at a given speed – be sure to match your lure with the depth you’re fishing at.
Soft plastic crayfish-mimicking setups are also great. A shakey head setup with your soft plastic lure is ideal for mimicking the natural underwater movements of a crayfish. No shakey head? No problem. Just set it up like a standard Carolina rig.
Support your local bait shop by stopping in and seeing if they have any live crayfish available. When hooking a live crayfish, use the base of the tail to ensure the cray remains alive. Come in from the bottom to expose the sharp hook on top. If the hook is on the bottom, the cray’s tail can wrap around it, preventing it from being exposed.
Spinnerbaits and other lures that imitate baitfish work great for suwannees. During the spawning season, hit those spots most likely to contain nests. This will force male fish to strike out of aggression alone.
Try changing up your colors and speeds at the beginning of any suwannee fishing expedition. Once you’ve figured out what they’re striking, continue with that combination until the fishing slows.
Top Tips for Catching Suwannee Bass
Tip 1: Be Prepared
If you’re traveling south to catch this rare small bass fish species, be ready for the hot weather. Summertime in suwannee territory can easily reach 100°F (37.8°C). Without the right precautions, a day in these temperatures can lead to heat-related illness.
You should also prepare yourself from a fishing perspective. Check the water conditions and other variables in advance to ensure you have a productive trip.
Tip 2: Single Out the Suwannees
Suwannees inhabit areas populated with other river fish and bass species; because of this, you must be prepared to catch other, often larger, fish species too.
As mentioned, when singling out suwannee bass, target the head of a river or stream. Alternatively, small creeks feeding into large rivers are also great. Both locations provide less competition with larger species for food, increasing the chance of a suwannee bass ending up on your hook.
Tip 3: Use a Kayak
Using a kayak or float boat offers advantages you can’t get from shore fishing. Primarily, you’ll be able to cover areas that a shore fisherman just can’t access.
If a section of river is bordered by private land on both sides, it’s impossible to access without using a kayak or watercraft. It also means the fish in this stretch of water will rarely see fishermen and won’t be as skittish.
Enjoy your suwannee bass adventure and stay safe