Quick Description of Smallmouth Bass
The adult smallmouth bass is generally brown, appearing sometimes as black or green with red or brown eyes, and dark brown vertical bars, rather than a horizontal band along the side. There are 13–15 soft rays in the dorsal fin. The upper jaw of the smallmouth bass extends to the middle of the eye. The smallmouth’s coloration and hue may vary according to environmental variables such as water clarity or diet.
Males are generally smaller than females. The males tend to range around two pounds, while females can range from three to six pounds. Their average sizes can differ, depending on where they are found; those found in North America tend to be larger due to the longer summers, which allow them to eat and grow for a longer period of time.
Their habitat plays a significant role in their color, weight, and shape. River water smallmouth that lives in dark water tends to be rather torpedo-shaped and very dark brown to be more efficient for feeding. Lakeside smallmouth bass, however, that live in sandy areas, tend to be a light yellow-brown and are more oval-shaped
Understanding the habitat differences between largemouth and smallmouth varieties is the first step to learning how to target and catch more smallmouths.
Largemouth bass nest in shallow underwater grasslands. They prefer the warmer water near the top, and only dive when the surface temperature gets extremely hot or extremely cold. In those cases, you can find largemouth at varying depths, seeking a constant temperature.
Smallmouth bass nest on rocky shoals at the bottom of bodies of water, primarily rivers and streams. Smallmouth territory often looks more like trout habitats than bass. The smallmouth bass is found in clearer water than the largemouth, especially streams, rivers, and rocky areas and stumps, and also sandy bottoms of lakes and reservoirs.
It can also survive in a stronger current than other black basses. The smallmouth prefers cooler water temperatures than its cousin the largemouth bass and may be found in both still and running water.
Because of the difference where they live, most of the bass fishing techniques we learn that are geared toward largemouth need to be tweaked for smallmouth. For largemouth bass, you can spend a lot of time in the shallows, casting topwater lures all day long, unless it gets really hot.
For smallmouth bass, you need to work on your deepwater techniques. Use a Tokyo rig or Drop shot on a long braided line to put a rubber crawfish on the bottom. Walk it along and wait for them to attack. Use creature baits that should be on the bottom—in addition to Crawfish, frogs and even lizards can get good results.
The only consistent exception to this deep-water rule for smallmouths is early in the morning.
Smallmouth comes up to feed on things like insects early, often before sunrise. This is the time to break out all your topwater technique. Buzzbait is a great option for early morning fishing. Since it will be first light, the noise helps them find your bait, and the flashing propeller will draw them in when they are aggressively seeking food.
Smallmouth may overlap habitat with Largemouth in some areas, but if you want to focus on smallmouth specifically, you can venture beyond your lakes and ponds. Smallmouth thrives in colder water. Look in clearwater streams and small rivers. The cold running water from spring-fed creeks means that the bass will exist much closer to the surface.
Fishing streams can be much easier for focusing on smallmouths. Since big game fish of any species tend to be lazier, the fast-moving water of a stream or river is easy hunting for them. Target narrow areas where the current accelerates. You can often find smallmouth and trout congregating in such areas.
Smallmouth bass love areas with chunky rock bottoms. Look for rocks the size of a soccer ball in the bottom of clear lakes and streams. These medium-sized chunks of rock can harbor crawfish, a favorite of smallmouth. By seeking out these areas, you increase your likelihood of catching a smallie that is looking for food.
It cannot be overstated how much smallmouth bass prefer clear water. If you can’t see the bottom, unless a body of water is very deep, it probably doesn’t have smallmouth bass in it. Keep looking for clear flowing water.
Smallmouths live in virtually every state, but they are not as common as largemouths, especially in the deep south. The hot summers can heat up some bodies of water to the point where even the deeper water is too warm for smallies to comfortably survive all year.
If you are in the south, look for smallmouths at higher elevations. Mountains and their foothills are good places to look, and spring-fed streams are sometimes cold enough to keep the lakes they feed cool enough for smallmouth. Seek out the cleanest bodies of water you can find, and you may find them.
Prey – What They Feed On
The key to catching any fish is knowing what it wants to eat. If you are using corn, you might catch catfish, but you probably aren’t going to bring in a lot of bass. Bass are obligate carnivores. They eat frogs, lizards, insects, crawfish, and other fish.
The size of prey animals that a bass wants to eat depends on the size of the bass, but don’t be deceived by the name smallmouth. Smallmouth bass can still have pretty big mouths, they just aren’t bigger than the fish’s whole body. If you want to catch bass, use bait that is big enough to be appealing.
Fly fishing is a totally different style, but if you are experienced with it, it can be a great way to bring in smallmouths. They will strike at flies, as long as you use the proper size flies. Flies should be large enough to be easily seen, and heavy enough to sink a bit. Smallmouth don’t climb as well as trout do, so the fly needs to get to them.
Smallmouth responds well to attractants. Garlic is a popular additive that they find pleasant. Since smallmouths don’t have fantastic vision, they are much more strongly driven by smell and sound.
If you are able to fish early in the morning, swim jigs and other topwater lures work just fine.
Basically, scale down any bait you could use with a largemouth and it will likely work on smallmouths.
Smallmouths require clean cool water. The problem with this type of habitat, from an angler’s standpoint, is that when the temperature drops, they disappear. When water temps go below about sixty degrees, smallmouth bass hibernate.
Since the waters they prefer are already on the cool side this means that smallmouths spend a decent chunk of the year either diving very deep or hibernating.
Smallmouths tend to be rarer in the south, due to their affinity for the cold. Smallmouth bass in the south are relegated to very deep lakes and spring-fed streams. Since smallmouths are also unable to spawn in dirty water, those clean cold mountain streams are vital for them.
Smallmouths tend to come to the surface for feeding very early. In shallow streams, they can be found all day with visible depths.
Be careful about casting a shadow, either with your body, or a boat. The contrast between light and dark disorients them, and they will swim away. It is difficult to catch a fish that isn’t there.
Avoid Pressured Fish
Fish that have been hooked, tend to avoid it. Going to the fishing hole that everyone knows about means that the same fish keep getting fished over and over. Fish that have been fished repeatedly eventually learn that the funny looking crawfish is not really food. These fish become very difficult to catch.
This is the reason why fishermen hide their honey holes so carefully. Once you have found a place where you can get a strike, you tend to protect those places, so they don’t end up overfished.
Follow the Calendar
There are some important calendar factors that will also help with knowing when and where to fish.
During the spawn, bass will seek out their spawning grounds. This means that your normal fishing locations may be useless, and other areas that normally are not heavily populated end up covered up. Fish behaviors change behavior and after they spawn, so knowing the spawning season in your area will help you to be a more successful angler.
Aside from the spawn, there are behaviors that change with the seasons. If smallmouth are in lakes with largemouth, they tend to be deeper than whatever layer the largemouth are in.
Be aware that you might not be able to fish for smallmouth at certain times of the year, as their hibernation drives them too deep. When these seasonal changes occur, it may be time to switch to largemouths for a season.
When it comes down to it, smallmouth aren’t that different from largemouth bass. If you can modify your techniques just a little bit, your successful bass tactics will work just as well on the largemouth’s less familiar cousin.
Use the same lures (or slightly smaller copies), and pretty much the same casts. Trade the hook on your Tokyo jig to run down a size for their smaller mouths, and switch out your crawfish for the next size down. Make these few simple changes to your normal bass fishing routine, and you will be slamming smallies like a pro.