Redeye Bass were described in 1940, from Fisher Creek, a tributary to Big Will’s Creek in the Coosa River system, in Alabama. In examining redeye bass from several locations, the authors noted that the Black Warrior River Redeye Bass do not completely align with Redeye Bass from the Coosa River or with Alabama Bass and that they may in fact be a different species or subspecies (Hubbs and Bailey 1940). Since Hubbs and Bailey’s Revision of the Black Basses in 1940, Redeye Bass have not been studied in any great detail and although they exist in multiple drainages, all of them were referred to generally as Redeye Bass. Redeye Bass were originally described in 1941 and although they occurred in several isolated stream systems, they were assumed to all belong to the same species. In 2013, a group at Auburn University published a paper (Baker et al. 2013) formally splitting redeye bass into five different species based on genetic and morphological differences. These fish were reclassified as Coosa Bass from the Coosa River system, Tallapoosa Bass from the Tallapoosa River system, Cahaba Bass from the Cahaba River system, Warrior bass from the Black Warrior River system, and Chattahoochee Bass from the Chattahoochee River system. Later studies (Freeman et al. 2015; Kim et al. 2022) have confirmed these findings and offer genetic and morphological evidence for two additional forms of redeye bass that merit species status. These are Bartram’s Bass from the Savannah River system and Altamaha Bass from the Altamaha River system. Work is ongoing to formally describe those two species which will bring the total number of species within the redeye bass group to seven!

Although these fish are commonly called “Redeye Bass” or “Redeye” for brevity, this creates a lot of confusion as a common panfish, the Rock Bass (Amboplites rupestris) are also commonly called “Redeye”. In addition, all species of bass (Micropterus spp.) can have red eyes as a result of water temperature and/or stress. The presence of a red eye is therefore not diagnostic or sufficient for identification. The vertical blotch patterns along the lateral side of redeye bass can also fade or disappear rapidly making counting them an uncertain way to diagnose species of redeye bass. In general, all redeye bass species have a crescent on the posterior half of the upper eye that is silver or blue and white edges on the upper and lower margins of the caudal fin.

The fact that these species of redeye bass are unique to a particular river system means that their native range is small, making them susceptible to extirpation and extinction. Redeye Bass in the Mobile Basin have already lost some of their historical range due to habitat disturbance and pollution. The Chattahoochee, Savannah, and Altamaha River populations face the same issues, but also have an additional threat from hybridization with introduced Alabama bass (M. henshalli).

While redeye bass face many challenges that threaten their very existence, we know so little about their life history characteristics. When do they spawn? Do they migrate? How fast do they grow? What do they eat? What kind of habitat do they need? These basic life history traits have not been researched in these species besides a few snapshots of diets during only one season (ie.- Spring) or inferences from studies with limited sample sizes from one river system being applied to all the species.

Redeye bass are the slowest growing black bass species and rarely reach lengths of 11 inches. Anything over 11 inches or close to a pound is the equivalent of a 22-inch smallmouth bass. Due to hybridization with Alabama bass across their native range, many hybrids that resemble redeye bass can grow to be over 12 inches, but genetically pure redeye bass at a foot in length are few and far between.

We hope that we can continue to grow the love and appreciation for this special fish as a way to learn more about them.