What is Countershading?

What is Countershading? Counter Shading

Largemouth bass – and many other species of fish – exhibit an interesting coloring on the upper and lower portions of their bodies, called countershading.

This is extremely important for a number of reasons.

As we mentioned in our article on The Physical Makeup of Largemouth Bass:

Largemouth bass also blend in with their habitat. In most instances they exhibit countershading – their backs are dark, and their bellies light. This helps them blend in with the darker bottom when you look down in the water, but their light bellies blend in better with the surface when you look up at them from below. The body colors are accentuated even further depending on the environment in which the bass is living. The combination of chameleon-like coloring plus countershading offers both protection from predators, and camouflage aiding in their ability to remain undetected by their prey. This is very important as bass are opportunistic predators that will wait to ambush any food that passes by.

vaughn hauser largemouth bass countershading counter shading
My brother with a nice largemouth with very distinct countershading, caught on an inline spinner in a backwater area next to Alder Lake, Wisconsin.

Here is another example of a bass taken out of shallow water with a lot of algae and mucky cover, but relatively clear water and decent visibility:

AJ Hauser Illinois Largemouth Bass Fishing
Illinois largemouth bass

This bass was taken from shallow murky water with poor visibility with no mucky cover. Notice the lighter coloring which helps the bass blend in with it’s surroundings – not stand out. (This is why anglers will use dark plastics and lures in murky water, the dark coloring silhouettes and stands out better – that’s the opposite of what these bass want to do, whether for protection or camouflage while hunting prey.)

Light Coloring on Largemouth Bass Illinois AJ Hauser
Illinois largemouth bass in the jon boat

If fish weren’t countershaded but simply a single, solid color, they would appear like this in the water under normal light conditions:

Bass without countershading color example

This is the opposite of what we are used to seeing when observing bass from above the water.

When light is projected from all sides, fish appear like this (below) with countershading. This is the way that we normally see fish, because light is reflected off of the bottom. Fish become less visible when viewed from above or below.

Bass with Proper Countershading and Light from Above and Below

In reduced light conditions, countershading can completely conceal a fish while they are holding still. Countershading is therefore even more effective in low light conditions, in the morning or evening, at twilight or after dark, even in dingy, deep water.

Bass Coloring at Twilight or in Dim Light

The next time you’re out, look around and see if you can spot any bass standing out against the bottom of your lake. Now that you know how and why bass exhibit this coloring pattern – maybe look a little harder.

Tight lines!

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