Coleman Spotted Bass is a Record-Breaker - sort of...

Friday, July 22, 2011 - by Richard Simms
<i>Chris Coleman caught this "record" spotted bass on Chickamauga Lake in February.</i>
Chris Coleman caught this "record" spotted bass on Chickamauga Lake in February.

Chickamauga bass angler & fishing guide Chris Coleman caught a record fish... sort of.

Back in February (2011) Coleman captured a huge spotted bass (also called Kentucky bass) on Chickamauga Lake. The fish weighed in officially at 6 lbs. 1 oz. A spotted bass more than five pounds is virtually unheard of in these parts.

Unfortunately Coleman's fish did not eclipse the current Tennessee State Record Spot caught by Wesley Strader that weighed 6 lbs. 7 ozs. (see below) However Coleman's fish captured the attention of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Biologist Mike Jolley.

There is a conundrum among fisheries biologists in that there are actually two different sub-species of spotted bass which now exist in Tennessee.

One sub-species is known as the Northern Spotted Bass and is a true native to Tennessee waters.

There is another sub-species known as an Alabama (or Coosa) Spotted Bass. They are not however, true natives to Tennessee waters. Biologists believe they have been introduced by anglers who caught the fish in lakes to the South such as Lake Lanier, Allatoona or Carters Lake... then carried them to Tennessee and released them in areas where they have proliferated.

One of those areas is Parksville Lake (also known as Ocoee #1) in Polk County. The Ocoee area is where both of the last two record spots have been taken... and DNA analysis revealed that both were the Alabama strain, not the true native Northern Spotted Bass.

But Coleman caught his fish in the mid-lake area of Chickamauga... far, far away from the Ocoee River drainage. That's what caught Jolley's attention and he decided to send samples off for DNA analysis.

Jolley just got those results back and lo & behold, it turns out that Coleman's fish is indeed, a true native Northern Spotted Bass.

However in its record books TWRA follows the same guidelines outlined by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA). That organization does not recognize the two sub-species of spotted bass as separate records. Therefore, for record-keeping purposes, TWRA does not distinguish between the two sub-species.

That means while Coleman indeed caught the largest "Northern" Spotted Bass on record in Tennessee, it won't be formally recognized as a record.

"It is kind of weird," said Coleman. "But I do sort of understand why they do it that way. It is virtually impossible to tell the two apart by just looking at them."

Jolley agrees. He says there are a few potential clues that might distinguish the two sub-species to a trained eye... clues such as scale counts or dorsal ray counts. But he says even those are not foolproof and only expensive DNA analysis can confirm the distinction between the two sub-species.

So for now Coleman's name won't be in the record books... all he can do is bask in the glory of knowing he has caught the largest "Northern" Spotted Bass in Tennessee history.

<i>Wesley Strader holds the current state record for spotted bass with this 6 lb. 7 oz. fish taken from the Ocoee River.</i>
Wesley Strader holds the current state record for spotted bass with this 6 lb. 7 oz. fish taken from the Ocoee River.

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