Smallmouth Bass

There are many species of bass fish that are popular with anglers, including the largemouth bass, the white bass, and the striped bass. The smallmouth bass are particularly popular and they can be found in many places around America. For a complete guide to this particular species of bass, keep reading.

What is a Smallmouth Bass?

This species of freshwater fish is so-called because of its small mouth, which unsurprisingly, is smaller than the mouth of the largemouth bass. However, this isn’t to say this type of fish is particularly small. In some instances, the smallmouth can also be as big as a largemouth. The maximum recorded length for a smallmouth bass is 27.2 inches, although typically, they are around 12 -16 inches. 

You can distinguish a smallmouth from a largemouth by the clearly connected dorsal fins, the upper jaw bone which extends to the middle of the eye, and the scales on the base portion of the second dorsal fin. Coloration varies depending on the habitat and water clarity but typically, smallmouth bass are greenish-bronze in appearance. The smallmouth’s eyes are red or orange in color with dark brown horizontal bars radiating back from them on the head.


There are two recognized subspecies of smallmouth bass: the Northern smallmouth bass and the Neosho smallmouth bass. 

You are more likely to find the former subspecies when out fishing as the Neosho smallmouth are mostly confined to the Central Interior Highlands in the lower Midwest of America. 

While there are similarities between the two fish, there are also subtle differences. The lower jaw of the Neosho extends past the upper lip to the point where its teeth can almost be seen. The Opercular spot on the gill plate is larger on the Neosho, and its body is sleeker and more trout-like than the Northern smallmouth.

Where To Fish For Smallmouth Bass?

When in the Midwestern part of the US, popular fishing spots for the smallmouth include the Great Lakes and the northern end of the Mississippi River. However, you can also find the smallmouth at lakes around the western end of the US, including Lake Powell and Lake Tahoe. Other locations include Millie Lacs Lake in Minnesota, which is one of the best bass lakes in the US, Lake Michigan, and Lake Erie. They can also be found in many other spots in North America so it’s worth committing to research if you’re interested in this type of fish.

Location tips

The key to finding smallmouth bass is to look for areas of clean water, as they tend to avoid bodies of water that are polluted. They can often be found in rocky lakes, streams, rivers, and other places where cold water is flowing, and they tend to reside at depths of around 20-30 feet. However, smallmouth bass will get closer to the surface of the water when temperatures are warm, which makes it easier for anglers to spot them. 

Look at how well the water is moving when you go fishing. Smallmouth bass will often stick around areas where the water is flowing quickly, as this makes it easier for them to catch their food. Narrow sections of lakes and the mouths of rivers and creeks are the best areas to spot and catch a smallmouth.

When water temperatures fall below 60 degrees, smallmouth bass tend to migrate towards deeper pools, where they will then enter a state of near-hibernation. They will congregate at the bottom of rivers, lakes, and ponds, and will move more slowly than normal. 

Smallmouth Bass Fun Facts

Think you know all there is to know about smallmouth bass? Well, here are some interesting pieces of information that may be new to you. 

– As with all types of bass fish, smallmouth bass are rather smart. They learn from their mistakes, which is why you will struggle to catch the same fish twice if you are using the same type of line and lure. 

– The diet of the smallmouth will depend on the surrounding habitat. Essentially, they will eat anything they can comfortably swallow, including small fish, aquatic insects, and crayfish. 

– Smallmouth bass excrete a chemical that mimics the scent of crayfish. The smell will cause crayfish to leave their rocky hiding spots where they are then gobbled up by the hungry smallmouth.

– The average lifespan of the smallmouth is 5-7 years, but in the right habitat, they can actually live up to 20 years of age. 

– The habitat plays a role in the shape and look of the smallmouth. River smallmouths tend to be torpedo-shaped with a dark brown back, while lake smallmouth are more oval-shaped, with a light brown color. 

– The Atlantic Whitefish is under threat because they are regularly eaten by smallmouth bass. The population of the Atlantic Whitefish is decreasing year by year and extinction is a very real possibility thanks to the voracious appetite of the smallmouth. 

Top Smallmouth Bass Fishing Lures & Tips

You can go fishing for smallmouth bass at any time of the year but the summer season is when these fish are more active. This is because their metabolism increases during the summer, as does their appetite. As such, they will be more interested in your lures!

It’s during the summer season when water levels drop too, so it will be easier for you to catch these fish. As they tend to come to the surface, fly fishing is an option if this is your preferred method of fishing. 

Gear and lures

Getting the best equipment ready is essential if you want to catch smallmouth bass. You will need the right rod as well as the proper lure to attract them to your line. 

Rod and reel

The rod needs to be long enough to support the weight of the smallmouth bass, which is generally around 2 pounds. A 7-inch rod will usually suffice, as this also allows you to extend your line out further. Be warned, however. Smallmouth can put up a terrific fight, so ensure you buy a rod that is easy for you to control. 

For fish in this size range, a 6-pound reel is often the best option. This is because it’s lightweight and easier to use when shifting your lure around. It can create a natural motion that the smallmouth will be interested in, making it easier for you to attract and catch the fish. 

This is just a general guide as anglers tend to use different rod and reel combinations, depending on the fishing situation. 


The lure should be small, usually around 2-6 inches in length, as this will make it easier for the smallmouth to grab it. As they love food, you can choose most kinds of lures, including aquatic insects, crayfish, and tadpoles. There have even been instances where anglers have used French Fries as a lure on their fishing lines!

Of course, you can also use artificial lures, such as jugs, spinners, plugs, and spoons. Some of these will have a built-in action that can cause a vibration in the water. Smallmouth will be attracted to these as the movements can mimic wounded fish bait or other types of prey. 

If going fly fishing, choose flies that are 1-2 inches in length to make it easier for the smallmouth to spot them. Apply a small weight to the lure to make it move deeper down into the water as this will improve your chances of catching the smallmouth. 

Can You Eat Smallmouth Bass?

Yes! Most people tend to catch and release smallmouth bass but if you’re looking for a healthy and delicious fish dinner, you can catch and cook this type of fish. However, care does need to be taken. All kinds of bass are safe to eat but it depends where you catch them. Freshwater can be high in mercury and minerals such as copper which are dangerous if consumed in high quantities. Check with your local Department of Conservation of Natural Resources for information regarding water quality. 

What does smallmouth bass taste like?

Many people prefer the taste of smallmouth bass to largemouth bass because it tastes less fishy. It has a cleaner and sweeter taste with a mild flavor. Seasonings and spices can be added although you don’t want to drown out the taste entirely. 

Preparing a smallmouth for cooking

Before you cook the fish, you need to scale, debone, and clean it first. Simply take the back of a knife, remove the scales and keep going until the fish is smooth. Rinse the fish in cold water to clear it of any remaining scales. Then cut under the head with a sharp knife and run the knife down until you reach the anal vent. Repeat this process on the other side of the fish. Hold the fish vertically and cut through the rib cage to separate the bones from the meat.

Finally, trim any excess fat, soak the fish in water, and then rinse it before cooking. You can then pan-fry the fish until it is ready for eating.