Written By: Adam Zacharias
Smallmouth bass, affectionately known as ‘smallies’, are a high flying, hard fighting sport fish found in many areas throughout the United States and Canada. Though similar to the Largemouth Bass, they prefer cooler and clearer waters to make their home. They have smaller mouths -hence the name- and grow to a typical length of 14-16 inches, with 18-21 inch smallies being considered trophy sizes. These golden striped warriors can be caught on a huge variety of gear making them a fun beginner fish for new anglers.
Where to Find Them
Smallmouth bass are in many places throughout the United States and Canada, in particular in the eastern and northern states, eastern Canada and the prairies. The Canadian Shield is especially is abundant and across its spread of granite-bottomed clear water lakes it's hard to find a lake that doesn’t have at least a small population of bass.
Finding Smallmouth bass in a lake can be straightforward. Much like their larger cousins (largemouth bass), they relate to structure, shade thrown by cover, and weed lines where food is abundant. Draw them out by casting and retrieving over and through these areas. They are voracious predators that will strike in all levels of the water column from bottom to surface.
Although, like many other fish they will move deeper as the summer water heats up, often this is just for the hottest parts of the day and they will still come shallower to feed. Shorelines with good amounts of shade and pieces of cover are reliable areas to produce all summer long.
Smallmouth Bass Gear
One of the things that makes fishing for smallies so accessible is that you don’t need any special tackle to target them. I personally have used everything from an ultralight spinning rod and reel with 6lb fluorocarbon to a medium-heavy baitcaster with 40lb braid, and everything in between. Most often, I prefer to use a spinning reel on a medium power rod with 15lb braid. This setup is reliable and versatile; it will catch all sizes of Smallmouth bass and any pike that is lurking in the same areas.
Whatever setup you choose, make sure you are familiar with it and have your drag set up appropriately. These fish are pound for pound one of the hardest fighting game fish around, and will make impressive acrobatic leaps out of the water multiple times as you reel them in. Of course, sharp hooks will help keep them on the line while they are flying around!
When it comes to tackle choices Smallmouth bass are much like pike in the sense that they have big appetites and are not too particular. If a lure will fit in their mouth, they will bite it (and often even if it doesn’t fit!). You will have a good rate of success if you bring a mix of crank baits, soft plastics, and spoons. Look for lure lengths of about 3 - 5.5 inches for most waters, or up to 6.5 inches if it’s a trophy bass lake.
Smallmouth bass feed on prey fish as well as large insects. While they will eat crustaceans, the common crayfish style of lure is not as reliable on smallies as it is for Largemouth bass. In my personal experience, they tend to prefer different colors depending on what style of lure you’re casting. This varies from region to region but is a good starting point for a novice angler just starting to target smallies.
Crankbaits/Jerkbaits - Bright colors and bold patterns such as Fire Tiger seem to be the preference here. Colors such as chartreuse, orange, reds, yellows, or patterns that use a variation of those will work wonders on enticing a large bass to bite.
Soft Plastics - When using soft plastics I have the best experience with subdued, more natural colors such as browns, greens, deep blue/purple and blacks. You can never go wrong with either a Senko style or Power worm, or flatter ribbed shapes that mimic leeches.
Spoons - Spoon fishing for Smallmouth bass is similar to fishing for Pike. This is where I go for flashy with baitfish colored lures in blue, silver, or gold. A good wobbling action on the retrieve is more important than the flutter while sinking as you work to cover water and draw them out of hiding.
Go Catch Some Fish!
With all that in mind, the next time you are out on the water, consider targeting these often overlooked species. They will give you a great fight, an impressive display, and keep you coming back for more
Looking for more tips? Check out 5 Tips for Back Country Fishing or 5 Lures to Bring to the Back Country.
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