with Tommy Sanders

Q: Which is it, spotted bass or Kentucky?

- Tom Simmons, Houston, Texas

A. A Kentucky is a spotted bass. Just like a crappie is a white perch is a sac-au-lait is a calico bass is a speckled perch. In the East, a blackfish is a tautog is an oysterfish -- and so on. It just depends on where you live.

Photo of an angler holding a spotted bass

I’ve known folks in Kentucky who call the species Micropterus punctulatus a spotted bass and people in Arkansas who call it a Kentucky, so go figure.

More interesting is which came first, the spotted bass name or the Kentucky. It wasn’t until 1927 that the spotted bass was recognized by fisheries biologists as a separate species from the largemouth. But there’s a back-story to that one.

In 1819, an eccentric professor named Constantine Rafinesque wrote about a species that was similar to a largemouth bass but had substantial differences, such as a jawline that doesn’t extend beyond the eye going back and a two very separate dorsal fins. And despite his Frenchified name, Rafinesque was working and writing in, you guessed it, the state of Kentucky.

But the freshwater fish science community wasn’t inclined to make the official distinction until a century later. A Michigan ichthyologist named Dr. Carl Hubbs finally convinced the scientific world that the spotted bass was a true distinct species, separate from largemouth and smallmouth bass. Hubbs also did his research on the subject in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky and in fact gave the fish the unofficial name of Kentucky Bass.

Photo of a Kentucky Bass

It became official in 1956 when the Kentucky Legislature declared the Kentucky Bass to be the state fish and Gov. Albert “Happy” Chandler happily signed the bill into law.

An interesting side note: Both Hubbs and Rafinesque believed that the spotted was exclusive to the state of Kentucky. Now we know that they are found naturally in the Ohio and Mississippi drainages south of Ohio and all the way to Kansas and Texas in the west.

It’s either or on the name, Tom. But if you want to honor a bit of the history of this hard fighting fish, you might want to go with Kentucky.