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Out There: Largemouths around the world

8/17/2005

Editor's note: Watch for Keith "Catfish" Sutton appearing on "The Casting Couch," a one-minute commentary on the wild world of fishing that airs on Saturdays during "BassCenter" on ESPN2.

Sometimes we think we know pretty much everything there is to know about our favorite fish. Then someone or something comes along to prove us wrong.

Take catfish, for example. I didn't get my nickname "Catfish" by chance. I've written two books on this group of whiskered gamefish. Nearly every week, however, someone passes along a new tidbit of information I'd never heard before.

For example, I just learned that a program called the All Catfish Species Inventory is underway. Scientists say that information gained from this study could result in the discovery and description of 1,750 new species of catfish. It's hard to believe there are that many fish in the world yet to be discovered!

Recently I've learned some surprising information about another one of my favorite fish, the largemouth bass.

I already knew largemouths had been stocked in countries outside their natural range. I've fished on several Mexican lakes — Huites, Guerrero and El Salto among them — where largemouths now thrive, yet previously didn't exist.

On a recent trip to Brazil, however, when a friend told me about a good largemouth bass lake nearby, I was surprised. I had no idea largemouths had been stocked in South America.

I didn't have a chance to fish that Brazilian bass lake. But when I returned home, I decided to learn more about the countries where largemouths have been introduced. I was surprised once again.

Originally, largemouth bass were found only in the eastern United States, areas of southern Canada and perhaps parts of northern Mexico.

But since the late 1800s, their range has expanded to include portions of every state except Alaska. Largemouths are now available to more U.S. anglers than any other species of fish.

According to FishBase.org, a World Wide Web electronic publication full of interesting scientific data about fishes, Belgium and France were probably the first foreign countries where largemouths were stocked. Bass were exported to those countries in 1877.

England got largemouths in 1879, Germany in 1888 and Italy in 1897.

The first South American fish were stocked in Brazil in the early 1900s. And more American bass were exported to Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia.

In 1907, the Philippines became the first Asian nation to get bass. Largemouths made it to Japan and Hong Kong in 1925, to Fiji in 1962 and to Korea in 1963.

Africa received its first stockings in 1928, which also is when bass from the Netherlands were stocked in South Africa and bass from the U.S. were stocked in Kenya.

Hawaii received its first imports in 1897, 62 years before it became a U.S. state. Among the many island nations to receive largemouths were Cuba (1928), Puerto Rico (1946) and Madagascar (1951).

Soon other countries where bass had been introduced were introducing bass to their neighbors. European countries started stocking other European countries. African nations stocked other African nations.

Fish from Germany, for example, were stocked in Poland, Finland, Denmark, Hungary and Austria. South African largemouths were spread to Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Botswana.

And the U.S. continued exporting bass to countries around the world.

The trend continued throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, with largemouths finding new homes in Panama, Spain, Cyprus, Russia and many more countries. In all, at least 61 countries have received exports of North America's favorite sport fish.

Largemouths didn't thrive everywhere they were stocked, and you may be surprised to learn they weren't welcomed everywhere they did.

Introduced bass have, in some places, affected populations of native fishes through predation, sometimes resulting in the decline or extinction of such species. In some lakes, introduced largemouths wiped all the native fish that had previously existed.

Here's another fact I found rather astounding: Largemouth bass are on the list of "100 of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species" created by the New Zealand-based Invasive Species Specialist Group, a branch of the World Conservation Union.

According to the ISSG, alien invasion is second only to habitat loss as a cause of species endangerment and extinction. And the largemouth bass is among the worst alien invaders.

Other species in the top 100 list include the feral pig, Indian mongoose, zebra mussel, house cat, gypsy moth, kudzu, black rat, European starling, fire ant, avian malaria, Asian tiger mosquito and common carp. I had no idea bass kept such company.

In some countries — Japan, for example — wars are being waged between bass fishermen who consider largemouths desirable and other groups who contend bass are alien nuisances that should be eliminated before they further damage fragile ecosystems.

Ol' Micropterus salmoides is no more highly regarded in some areas than snakehead fish are in American waters.

Nevertheless, there still are many exotic destinations where an angler can try his hand at catching largemouths. These faraway bass havens include:

  • Moncoutant, a fishing-oriented center in France, which encompasses 250 acres of bass waters.

  • Lake Ashi, Japan, which lies almost in the shadow of Mt. Fuji

  • Lake Caspe, Spain, site of the 2004 European Bass Classic.

  • Lakes Odeleite, Beliche, Funcho and Santa Clara in southern Portugal.

  • Midmar and Inanda dams, South Africa.

  • Darwendale Lake in Zimbabwe, which produced an 18-pound, 4-ounce largemouth in July 2004.

  • Lake Ait Aadel in Morocco.

  • Lucchetti and Guajataca reservoirs in Puerto Rico.

  • Lakes Caliraya and Lumot in the Philippines.

Largemouths may not be welcome introductions everywhere, but isn't it remarkable to know that the most popular sport fish in America can now be found not just in the eastern U.S., but throughout the world?

To contact Keith Sutton, email him at catfishdude@sbcglobal.net.