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What is a Channel Bass?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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A channel bass is a medium-sized fish that lives in the Atlantic Ocean, usually relatively close to the coast of the United States. It is scientifically known as Sciaenops ocellatus, and is the only species within its genus. This type of fish can live for 60 years and weighs around 100 lbs (45 kg) in its old age. Younger fish — around three years old — normally weigh closer to 6 to 8 lbs (2.7 to 3.6 kg). These fish are bottom feeders, meaning they find food on or near the bottom of the body of water they live in.

Channel bass do not vary much in appearance. They generally have rust-colored scales along their back and sides, which earned them the common names red drums and redfish. A sure way of identifying this bass is by the black spot on the tail, however. Almost all channel bass have at least one distinct black spot on the very tip of the tail, which is believed to fool predators into thinking it is their head rather than their tail. Sometimes the fish have multiple spots, but it is extremely rare for this bass to have no spots at all.

Due to over-fishing for both recreational and commercial purposes, the population of channel bass noticeably diminished in the 1970s. The United States, the country which the bass are usually closest to, imposed restrictions to allow the fish population to reach healthier levels. These restrictions banned commercial fishermen from harvesting channel bass in certain regions of the country. Even so, the fish could usually be legally caught when fishing recreationally.

The flavor and texture of channel bass varies depending on the age and size of the fish. Fish around 10 lbs (4.5 kg) tend to have a moderate flavor and flaky texture similar to that of more commonly caught fish, such as catfish. If the fish is over 15 lbs (about 7 kg), not only is it difficult to clean but it usually loses its flakiness for a more solid texture.

Though these fish do not have close relatives, the black drum could be considered the channel bass's cousin. In general, the black drum's appearance can be very similar to channel bass. These fish have black scales on their back and sides rather than red- to rust-colored scales. Black drum also tend to weigh more compared to channel bass at the same age. Despite their differences, both species of fish are usually found in close proximity, can interbreed, and tend to have a similar taste when cooked.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Channel Bass?

A Channel Bass, commonly known as the Red Drum or Redfish, is a game fish found in the Atlantic Ocean of the Americas. It's distinguished by its reddish-bronze body and a distinctive black spot near the tail. Anglers prize Channel Bass for their fighting spirit and are a popular target in sport fishing.

Where can you find Channel Bass?

Channel Bass are primarily found in the western Atlantic Ocean, from Massachusetts to Florida in the United States, and down to Northern Mexico. They inhabit coastal waters, estuaries, and lagoons, often frequenting shallow flats where they feed on crustaceans and small fish.

What do Channel Bass eat?

Channel Bass are opportunistic feeders with a diet that includes crabs, shrimp, and small fish such as mullet and menhaden. Their predatory behavior adapts with age and size, with larger Red Drums often hunting more substantial prey and even consuming smaller Red Drums.

How can you identify a Channel Bass?

To identify a Channel Bass, look for its reddish-bronze body, a sloped forehead, a large mouth, and a distinctive black spot near the tail. Juveniles may have multiple spots, but these typically consolidate into one as they mature. The body shape is elongated with a broad, slightly forked tail.

What is the size range for Channel Bass?

Channel Bass can grow quite large, with lengths of up to 61 inches and weights reaching over 90 pounds. However, most caught by anglers are between 24 to 30 inches long. According to the International Game Fish Association, the world record for a Channel Bass is 94 pounds, caught off the coast of North Carolina.

Are Channel Bass good to eat?

Yes, Channel Bass are considered excellent table fare. Their flesh is firm, with a mild, sweet flavor and a medium flake. They can be prepared in various ways, including grilling, broiling, and frying. However, due to overfishing concerns, there are regulations on the size and number of fish that can be kept.

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