Missouri’s little-known Rock Bass are true gems

While fishing the lakes and streams of Missouri, have you ever caught a Rock Bass? I’ll bet you have.

Most people don’t know them by that name. Most people just call them goggle-eye.


The goggle-eye is a thick-bodied member of the sunfish family with a large mouth and very large eyes. It’s a very sporty fish that I think is one of the most gorgeous that swims in our waters.

Most specimens will reach about 8-9 inches in length but some can get up to 11 inches. The state record is 2 pounds, 12 ounces caught in the Big Piney by William Rod in 1968.

There are actually three species of rock bass found in the streams of Missouri — the Northern, Shadow, and Ozark. And it depends where you are fishing, which one you will catch.

Northern Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris

The Northern is the most abundant of the three and can be found in most of the streams flowing north out of the Ozarks, such as the Gasconade, Niangua and their tributaries, to the Missouri River.

They can also be found in the Meramec and its tributaries. The Northern is the most common rock bass and is found throughout a large portion of the United States.

Ozark Rock Bass ( Ambloplites constellatus)

It wasn’t until 1971 that an MDC fisheries biologist, William Pflieger, first pointed out that the rock bass in the upper White River in Missouri had a striking color pattern and suggested this might represent a yet undiscovered subspecies.

After years of research and genetic studies it was confirmed that indeed the upper White River region of Missouri and Arkansas and its tributaries did hold a separate specie of Rock Bass.

The Ozark Bass is only found in the upper White River system and its tributaries, such as the James River, and nowhere else in the world.

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The Shadow is the second most numerous of the three. They can be found in most southeast Missouri streams, such as Spring River, and some ditches in the boot heel.

There is also a small pocket of Shadow Bass in some streams of southwest Missouri. They are also found in the southeastern United States.

All three are beautiful and have slight differences in color and patterns. The Northern is the most drab, if you can call it that. It is a very deep bronze with black spots on scales in parallel lines along its side.unknown-2

The Ozark has the same black spots but in a freckled like pattern and not in parallel lines like the Northern. They also are more slender bodied and the eyes are not as large.

Shadow Bass can be identified by also having the blackish spot on the scale in a parallel pattern. In addition, they will have vertical blotches in a vertical pattern along their sides that will resemble camo.

Though they live in different river systems, they enjoy the same type of habitat and same forage. Boulders, rock ledges, and brush piles in deep pools are most often where can be found. They prefer to stay away from strong current but can occasionally be there.

A large percentage of the Rock Bass diet consist of crawdads. Small fish such as minnows and juvenile perch and the occasional bass fry will round out the diet with aquatic insects.

Ulta light rods with light line, like 4 pound test, is all one really needs to pursue these scrappy fighters. They will eagerly devour small crankbaits such as Rebel Teeny Wee Craws.unknown-1

I prefer to use a variety of small soft plastics. Any type of grub or tube on a 1/16 jig head will give you hours of fun. Colors don’t really seem to matter, but I usually use greens and browns that match the local crawdad colors.

If you decide to take home a few to eat, don’t forget there is a limit of 15 in the aggregate. And on some rivers there is also an 8 inch length limit. Be sure to check the Wildlife Code of Missouri for the regulations on the waters you will fishing.

So next time you are out and you catch one of these true gems of the flowing waters of the Ozarks, take a closer look at the beauty you are holding in your hand. These are true treasures.

By Britt Graber

(Britt Graber can be reached at crazyduk1@aol.com.)

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