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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.


The Texas Study

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: What has been proven in the state of Texas about aggression in bass?

Answer: Some studies in Texas have proved one of the same things that we knew all along -- that the characteristic of aggressiveness in bass is hereditary. In other words, you can breed aggressiveness into a bass population by selecting those aggressive individuals and breeding them. The biologists conducting the Texas study marked each bass that they caught while fishing. Then they took all the bass that had more than one mark and began breeding them.

Question: What percentage of bass in that angler study were never caught?

Answer: Thirty to 40 percent of the bass never bit a lure. The biologists also bred those fish that they couldn't catch. They discovered that the fish that were easier to catch made babies that were easier to catch, and those that were harder to catch made babies that were harder to catch. That substantiated the fact that this link was hereditary in bass.

Question: How many generations of bass have you bred to get the Gorilla Bass?

Answer: We've been selectively breeding for this Gorilla Bass for about 12 years. This process is long and drawn-out. We go through and separate the males and females of the Florida strain largemouth and the aggressive northern strain we've developed -- the Tiger Bass. Then we pair these fish. We usually spawn a female Florida bass with a male Tiger Bass. After we spawn them, we separate them again.

Question: These fish will take pelleted food, won't they?

Answer: Yes, the F1 Gorillas will have a tendency to take pelleted food. That tendency comes from the northern strain influence in the Gorilla.

Question: How fast do the Gorilla Bass that feed on pellets grow?

Answer: They grow fairly rapidly. We expect them to gain a pound a year. Once, we found a year-old Gorilla that weighed 4 pounds.

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


What To Feed A Gorilla

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: Once you stock the Gorilla Bass in your lake, what other kind of food do you put in the lake to grow them to 8 pounds in 3 years?

Answer: To get a bass to grow, it has to have a large food supply. The bigger the fish that it eats, the faster it will grow. If you put shad in a lake, you'll increase the amount of intermediate-size bluegills. If you want to grow a big bass, you need bluegills that are 5- to 7-inches long for the bass to eat.

Question: So should you exchange shad for bluegill and bet on that?

Answer: If you are interested in growing big bass and increasing the growth rate of your smaller bass, then shad are the way to go. If you want to grow big bluegills in a lake smaller than 5 acres, I would not recommend threadfin shad.

Question: How many threadfin do you stock, and do you stock the threadfin shad every year?

Answer: Typically, you don't have to stock threadfin shad every year. When you first stock them, you can expect the bass to eat many of them. You need to stock enough so that there will be plenty to survive and spawn. Typically we stock 8 to 10 pounds of threadfin shad for lakes ranging between 5 and 25 acres.

Question: If you live north of Tennessee, and you want to grow Gorilla Bass, how big should your bluegills be before you start putting in these super bass?

Answer: You can start stocking the bass in the spring if you stocked the bluegills in the fall. You just need to make sure you have enough food for the Gorilla Bass to grow.

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


More On Gorilla 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: Once you stock the Gorilla Bass in your lake, what other kind of food do you put in the lake to grow them to 8 pounds in 3 years?

Answer: To get a bass to grow, it has to have a large food supply. The bigger the fish that it eats, the faster it will grow. If you put shad in a lake, you'll increase the amount of intermediate-size bluegills. If you want to grow a big bass, you need bluegills that are 5- to 7-inches long for the bass to eat.

Question: So should you exchange shad for bluegill and bet on that?

Answer: If you are interested in growing big bass and increasing the growth rate of your smaller bass, then shad are the way to go. If you want to grow big bluegills in a lake smaller than 5 acres, I would not recommend threadfin shad.

Question: How many threadfin do you stock, and do you stock the threadfin shad every year?

Answer: Typically, you don't have to stock threadfin shad every year. When you first stock them, you can expect the bass to eat many of them. You need to stock enough so that there will be plenty to survive and spawn. Typically we stock 8 to 10 pounds of threadfin shad for lakes ranging between 5 and 25 acres.

Question: If you live north of Tennessee, and you want to grow Gorilla Bass, how big should your bluegills be before you start putting in these super bass?

Answer: You can start stocking the bass in the spring if you stocked the bluegills in the fall. You just need to make sure you have enough food for the Gorilla Bass to grow.

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