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Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass: Small in Size, Big in Bite

Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) are one of the most exciting freshwater fish species to catch. They belong to the sunfish family (Centrarchidae) and are native to the upper and middle Mississippi River basin, the Saint Lawrence River – Great Lakes system, and the Hudson Bay basin. They have been introduced to many other regions by stocking and illegal introductions.

What do they look like?

Smallmouth bass have a slender but muscular body shape that makes them strong swimmers. They have a protruding jaw that does not extend past the eyes, which are red or brown. They have two dorsal fins that are separated by a shallow notch. The front dorsal fin has 9-11 spiny rays and the back dorsal fin has 13-15 soft rays.

The coloration of smallmouth bass varies depending on their age, habitat, water quality, diet, and spawning cycle. Generally, they have a golden-olive to dark brown back that fades to a yellowish white belly. They have dark brown vertical bars or blotches along their sides and dark brown horizontal bars on their head. Some common names for smallmouth bass based on their color are bronzeback, brown bass, brownie, bronze bass, and bareback bass.

Smallmouth bass can also differ in size and shape depending on whether they live in lakes or rivers. Riverine smallmouth bass are usually longer and slimmer than lacustrine smallmouth bass, which are shorter and deeper bodied. Riverine smallmouth bass that live in dark water tend to be very dark brown and torpedo-shaped, while lacustrine smallmouth bass that live in sandy areas tend to be light yellow-brown and oval-shaped.

What is the biggest one ever caught?

The world record for smallmouth bass was caught in 1955 by David Hayes in Dale Hollow Reservoir, Tennessee. It weighed 11 pounds 15 ounces (5.41 kg) and measured 27 inches (69 cm) in length. This record was challenged in 1996 by Paul Beal, who claimed to have caught a 12-pound 9-ounce (5.67 kg) smallmouth bass in Lake Erie, but his claim was rejected due to evidence of tampering with the fish’s weight.

The following table shows the top five biggest smallmouth bass caught in the United States according to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA):

Record Smallmouth Bass | Top 5

111 lb 15 oz (5.41 kg)27 in (69 cm)David HayesDale Hollow Reservoir, TNJuly 9, 1955
210 lb 14 oz (4.93 kg)N/AJohn GormanLake Erie, PAJuly 31, 1997
310 lb 8 oz (4.76 kg)N/APatrick HildenbrandSt. Lawrence River, NYAugust 28, 2016
410 lb 6 oz (4.69 kg)N/AAndrew KarteszLake Erie, PASeptember 22, 2005
510 lb 4 oz (4.65 kg)N/ARobert Bruce Shroyer Jr.Lake Erie, PAMay 24, 1997
These records show that Lake Erie and the St. Lawrence River are among the best places to catch trophy-sized smallmouth bass.

What do they eat and what should I use to catch them?

Smallmouth bass are opportunistic predators that eat a variety of prey items, including insects, crayfishes, fishes, tadpoles, frogs and plant material. Their diet varies depending on their size, season and habitat.

Smallmouth bass typically feed near the bottom of the water column during the day and near the surface at night. They use their keen eyesight and lateral line system to locate prey. They also use their sense of smell and taste to detect chemical cues from their prey.

Smallmouth bass can adjust their feeding behavior depending on the water temperature and the activity level of the prey. They can be caught with a variety of baits and techniques, but some of the most effective ones are:

  • Blade baits: These are metal lures that vibrate and flash when retrieved. They can be fished vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, depending on the depth and activity level of the bass. They are especially good for cold water conditions and deep water structures.
  • Spinnerbaits: These are wire lures that have one or more blades that spin and create flash and vibration. They can be fished fast or slow, shallow or deep, and over or through cover. They are great for covering water and triggering aggressive strikes from smallmouth bass.
  • Jerkbaits: These are hard plastic lures that have a slender body and a lip that makes them dive and dart when twitched. They can be fished with pauses or steady retrieves, depending on the mood of the bass. They are excellent for imitating injured baitfish and provoking reaction bites from smallmouth bass.
  • Crankbaits: These are hard plastic lures that have a curved body and a lip that makes them dive and wobble when retrieved. They can be fished at various depths and speeds, and they are good for bouncing off rocks and wood. They are effective for mimicking crawfish and baitfish that smallmouth bass feed on.
  • Soft plastic baits: These are rubbery lures that have a realistic shape and texture. They can be rigged on various hooks, weights, and jig heads, depending on the desired presentation. Some of the best soft plastic baits for smallmouth bass are tube baits, grubs, craws, swimbaits, and worms. They are versatile for fishing in different situations and conditions.
  • Jigs: These are weighted hooks that have a skirt or a soft plastic trailer attached to them. They can be fished with a hopping, dragging, or swimming motion, depending on the type of jig and trailer used. They are ideal for fishing on the bottom and around cover. They are one of the best baits for catching big smallmouth bass.

Where do they live and what do they like?

Smallmouth bass prefer clear water with rocky or gravelly bottoms and moderate to strong currents. They can be found in streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and ponds that have these characteristics. They are usually more active and aggressive in cooler water temperatures than largemouth bass.

Smallmouth bass can be found in different depths and locations depending on the season and the water temperature. In the spring, they move from their wintering areas in deep water to shallow areas near spawning sites. They prefer to spawn in gravelly or sandy areas with some cover and current.

In the summer, they may stay in shallow areas or move to deeper areas with cooler water and more oxygen. They often seek out rocky points, ledges, humps, islands, reefs, and drop-offs that have access to both shallow and deep water. They also like to use cover such as weeds, wood, docks, and bridges.

In the fall, they become more active and feed heavily to prepare for winter. They may roam around in search of baitfish or crayfish, or they may stay near their summer haunts. They often school up and chase baitfish on the surface or near the shore.

In the winter, they slow down and move to deeper water with stable temperatures and oxygen levels. They may suspend near the bottom or near structure such as rock piles, ledges, or creek channels. They feed less frequently and less aggressively than in other seasons.

Smallmouth bass are a fun and challenging fish to catch. They are native to eastern North America but have been introduced to many other regions. They prefer clear water with rocky or gravelly bottoms and moderate to strong currents. They can be found in different depths and locations depending on the season and the water temperature. They are opportunistic predators that eat a wide range of prey items, including insects, crayfishes, fishes, tadpoles, frogs and plant material.


IGFA | Field and Stream | Canada | Tackle Village

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