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Would you rather be a Canadian or an American Smallmouth Bass?

Would you rather be a smallmouth bass living in Canada or in the heartland of the United States?

It is an interesting question that Nova Scotia bassin’ buddy, Mark Weare and I have been discussing of late.  It relates to something I mentioned to Mark last year when I was down in the Maritimes and it is the fact that a five year old smallmouth bass in Kentucky is routinely approaching four pounds in weight and has spawned at least once and possibly several times.

The same smallmouth bass swimming in most lakes in Canada, however, would weigh only about a pound and would not be sexually mature.

So, you’d rather be a Kentucky smallmouth, right?   Well, not so quick, because here is the rub.

The Kentucky smallmouth will be dead of old age by the time it approaches 10 years, whereas the Canadian bass will be enjoying mid-life.

What ten-year old Campbell Whetter may not realize is that the 4 1/2 pound smallmouth bass he caught in Lake of the Woods is almost twice as old as he is   
What ten-year old Campbell Whetter may not realize is that the 4 1/2 pound smallmouth bass he caught in Lake of the Woods is almost twice as old as he is

What is going on?

Perhaps the best way to think about the difference is using what I call the “heart beat analogy“.  In both cases, in terms of life expectancy, the bass are given roughly the same number of heart beats when they are born.  The Kentucky bronzeback, however, burns them up quickly swimming in warm water for much of the year, whereas her Canadian counterpart, who sleeps for almost half the season under the ice in winter, uses them up much more slowly.

So, at the end of the day, at least from a heart beat perspective, it is pretty much a draw.

But it highlights a unique dilemma for the Canadian bass and that is the fact that in order to avail itself of the same bundle of heartbeats and to accomplish the same things as its Kentucky cousin – such as successfully spawn numerous times – it needs to be able to survive the 15, 16, even 17 or more years necessary without being caught and killed.

Something else to consider is the fact that many American bass waters are man-made reservoirs that lack the species diversity of most natural Canadian lakes.  My home water of Lake of the Woods in Northwestern Ontario, for example, has 47 different species of fish including walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, muskellunge, lake trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, black crappies, lake trout, whitefish and a whole host of others competing for a limited supply of energy.  So, if the lake produces 10 pounds of sustainable/harvestable fish flesh per acre per year, the amount apportioned to smallmouth bass (or any other species, for that matter) is shockingly small.  Typically, only ounces per acre (or grams per hectare) per year.

It is why lakes, rivers, reservoirs, pits and ponds need to be manage in ways that respect their unique geographic and climatic conditions and why “one regime fits all” strategies rarely, if ever, work.

Which brings us back to our original question.  Would you rather be a smallmouth bass living in Kentucky or one swimming in Canada?

Gord Pyzer

Gord Pyzer

Fishing Editor Gord Pyzer is widely regarded as Canada's most scientific angler. Known in fishing circles as Doctor Pyzer, he worked for 30 years as a senior manager with Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources before devoting all his energies to fishing. A member of the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame, the award-winning writer is also an internationally sought out speaker, tournament angler and field editor with In-Fisherman Magazine and Television. As well, he co-hosts the Real Fishing Radio Show with Bob Izumi. Catch Gord on the Outdoor Journal Radio Show live every Saturday morning 8:05AM EST. If you're in southern Ontario, tune your radio to Sportsnet 590 The FAN AM or visit and listen live online.