Smallmouth Bass Basics
Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
Smallmouth bass usually come in between 1-3 pounds but can reach up to 10 pounds or more. If you manage to land a beast in the 6-7 pound region, you’ve caught yourself a trophy and need to get a photo next to that monster! Most smallmouth bass reach 12-16 inches in length (30-40 cm).
Also Known As
Bronzebacks, Smallmouths, Smallies, Smallmouth Bass Fish
LC – Least Concern
Smallmouth bass fish have brown bodies with thick, dark stripes that begin behind the gill plate and terminate just shy of the base of the tail fin. Smallmouth bass tend to have 7-11 stripes and often present with distinctive bright red eyes.
The shape of the bass’s body will differ depending on the sex of the given fish. Females will take on an oval shape, similar to an American football, while males will have a more elongated shape, typical of most black bass species. They are toothless, and so are safe to handle by the lips.
Their pectoral fins start from just behind the gill plate, and the dorsal fins begin in the front-middle portion of their back.
A stunning bronzeback in the hands of an angler
A Note on Spawning
Smallmouth breed during the spring period as water temperatures reach 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The females migrate to shallow water to make a bed, usually out of small rocks and mud. After laying their eggs, the smaller males then move in to fertilize them. At this point, the female is usually present, and the male will often have to fight her away. The eggs hatch in 4 to 6 days and remain around the nest for 2 to 3 weeks before heading out to deeper water.
How to Catch Smallmouth Bass
When considering bait for bass fish, selecting something that resembles what bass typically consume is essential. For this purpose, you have both live and artificial options to consider. Smallmouth bass are carnivorous animals, so crawfish and live shad are very effective for live bait fishing.
Artificial lures, jigs, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, and soft plastic worms that are either crawfish patterned or bright and vibrant in color are also very effective. Topwater lures are particularly useful during the spring and fall periods.
A crankbait for smallmouth bass fishing
In most parts of the United States, smallmouth bass are caught year-round, even through winter, when ice fishing comes into its own. However, mid-spring and late fall are when they are most active.
For the most part, smallmouth bass are evenly distributed throughout the entirety of North America, excluding the arctic and subarctic regions of the continent.
You will find them slightly more densely populated in the central northern portion of North America but expect larger specimens in southeastern regions of the United States.
Favorite Feeding Spots
Smallmouth bass love rocky points and brush piles that they can use as cover to ambush their prey. In the spring, smallmouths often take shelter in shallow water near the shore, typically around grass or lily pads. Conversely, during the heat of the summer and the cold of winter, smallmouth bass will seek out deep ledges and river channels to hunt baitfish funneling through.
Boat fishing for smallmouth bass is highly effective as you can cover more water and find different angles from which to fish ledges and rock piles. Additionally, you have access to rarely-fished areas that offer reduced competition from other anglers.
Shore fishing can be highly productive if done at the right time of the year and in the correct conditions, especially during the early morning and late evening feeding times.
When fishing in areas with heavy cover like lily pads or grass, topwater lures – especially hollow-bodied frogs or other frog lures – are your most effective choice. Other topwater lures, such as a naturally colored Pop-R or Spook, are highly productive when fishing open water. A fun and exciting method for catching smallmouth bass involves using frog lures and mastering the technique known as ‘walking the dog’.
A hollow bodied frog for bass fishing
Swimming lures such as crankbaits and swimbaits are very useful when smallmouth feed aggressively around rock piles and ledges. A heavy swimbait or a deep-diving crankbait is a sure-fire lure to toss during the heat of the summer when the bass have moved out to deeper water. The newly produced glide bait can be used during the winter, presenting a larger but more natural look in cold water.
Spinnerbaits and chatter baits are always a fan favorite for smallmouth anglers. These lures can work well both in daylight and at night. However, if you’re using one when it’s dark, choose a brightly colored option. These lures often produce aggressive bites from smallmouth bass lying in ambush, especially when they’re presented near the bottom of the lake/river.
A spinnerbait – suitable for day or night bass fishing
Live Bait Fishing
The two most popular live baits for smallmouth bass are crawfish or shad. Paired with a ½ weight to get the bait into the strike zone, this is the most effective method of catching fall and wintertime smallmouths. Given that live bait is as realistic as it gets, using a smaller hook paired with a clear line will almost guarantee bites.
Top Tips for Catching Smallmouth Bass
- If you’re fishing in an area with lily pads or grass, it’s crucial to use a heavy braided fishing line and a strong, stiff rod to successfully reel in a smallmouth. Often, you’ll need to haul the fish through the dense cover before it wraps your line around a submerged structure and either breaks you off or makes it impossible to reach the fish. When fishing these heavily covered areas, try to cast topwater lures in holes with no lily pads or grass. Since smallmouths like to ambush from cover, presenting your lure in plain sight is a great way to entice a bite.
- Live bait fishing is often the most effective method, but if it’s not done well, you may lose more fish than you catch. The tight-lining technique is essential for making a good hook set, as live bait can easily slip off the hook. To prevent this, it’s important to drop the bait to the bottom and then raise it a foot or two. This ensures that there’s no slack in your line. When tight-lining, make sure you pass on the rod holder, as you will only have a split second before setting the hook.
- If available, a depth finder or fish finder can dramatically increase your rate of fish production. If your depth finder identifies a steep drop that looks like a ledge, there’s a good chance that smallmouth bass could be lurking nearby. These modern tools help you discover offshore areas that might not seem promising from the surface, and would otherwise remain undiscovered or only known to experienced local fishermen.