How to Catch Smallmouth Bass: A Complete Guide

Tackle Village is reader supported. If you buy a product through links on the site we may make a small commission

Updated on:
How to catch smallmouth bass feature image

When it comes to freshwater fishing, smallmouth bass are a very popular American game fish to put on your list of species to catch. While not as eager to take bait as their largemouth relatives, catching smallmouth bass can still give anglers an exciting fight on the line.

These fish are found in a variety of areas around North America, and can be found in many of the same areas largemouth bass as well. They gather in large numbers which means you’ll have a good chance of reeling in a nice trophy smallmouth on your next fishing trip.

About Smallmouth Bass

Distribution

Smallmouth bass have a vast distribution range which shares many of the same spaces and areas that Largemouth bass can be found in. Smallmouth fishing is found throughout the Great Lakes basin as well as the Mississippi River basin.

When going north, they can be found in North Dakota, and after crossing into Canada can be found in the southern area of Quebec. Back into the United States, they can be found as far south as Alabama with a huge population being found in the eastern part of Oklahoma.

Central Texas holds a rather high population of smallmouth bass as well, with the fish being common in all of these areas for both casual and professional anglers. If you love fishing in cool water temperatures for big smallmouth bass with deep diving crankbaits, this is an excellent spot to look for them.

Size Range

Smallmouth can reach trophy sizes of 12 pounds, with 4 pound catches being the most common. If you are smallmouth fishing for length, trophy females can reach 28 inches, while the average and more commonly found size is right around 12-14 inches and is possible to hook on finesse jigs, jerk baits, and tube baits.

Habits

Similar to their largemouth relatives, smallmouth bass will spawn in shallow water where there is plenty of sandy or gravel to create a small divot as a nest in. This spawning behavior and nesting usually happens in the spring to summer months which is a great time for catching smallmouth .

Outside of the spawning season, smallmouth bass will stick to rocky areas such as shorelines and rock piles. They will dart in and among the rocks and boulders to find crayfish and other invertebrates to prey on. If you see crayfish, shrimp, or small minnows in an area, smallmouth bass are sure to be nearby.

Where to Find Smallmouth Bass

An excellent place to look for smallmouth bass throughout the season, most large lakes have various suitable habitats for these fish to gather.

Rivers

If you’re fishing for smallmouth bass in rivers and creeks, look for areas where the current of the water is broken. This can be wedged logs, partial dams, and small coves. Smallmouth will gather in this area as it is high in oxygen content and delivers a steady flow of fresh water.

Other areas where smallmouth may hide is along sand banks and rock outcroppings. If you notice sandy areas with a decent overhang from trees and other vegetation, smallmouth and other species may be hiding out below it making this a great spot for bass fishing.

Lakes

An excellent place to look for smallmouth bass throughout the season, most large lakes have various suitable habitats for these fish to gather. Normally they will stay close to the shore and other areas of heavy cover, especially during the spawning season, but may chase their prey into open water.

Look for areas of the lake that are protected from wind and water changes such as coves, bays, and areas protected by a windbreak of trees or hills along the edge of the water. Smallmouth will use these areas in search of their natural prey such as minnows, crawfish, and aquatic insects. 

Ponds

Similar to lakes, ponds that offer a decent sandy bottom and some nice thick weed beds in deeper water with cooler temperatures will make outstanding areas for small schools of smallmouth to gather. During the spawning months, look for shallow areas with rocky points and rock piles or thick brush cover for smallmouth to guard their eggs in.

How to Fish for Smallmouth Bass: Key Tips

When fishing for smallmouth bass with a plastic lure, try to toss it towards the rocky shorelines around the lake or pond where you are fishing.

Live Bait Fishing

Many anglers say fishing with live bait is one of the best ways to attract smallmouth bass if your soft plastics aren’t working. Smallmouth will respond to a wide range of live baits, but their natural prey items are the most successful.

This can include small shad, small freshwater shrimp, small worms, grubs, or maggots, and crickets. These live baits can be secured to a wide range of different hook styles and fished with your preferred method in order to get smallmouth to take notice.

Lure Fishing

When fishing for smallmouth bass with a plastic lure, try to toss it towards the rocky shorelines around the lake or pond where you are fishing. Smallmouth bass will gather in this deep water area for feeding and spawning.

If a standard plastic lure isn’t to your liking, you can also use small spinnerbaits and jigs for both shallow and deeper water to have smallmouth bass strike your lures. Landing big smallmouths is possible with these finesse techniques.

Fly Fishing

If you’re an angler that loves working with some lightweight tackle and gear, fishing with flies is probably your preferred fishing technique. Luckily for you, smallmouth bass are rather easy to attract with this style of fishing as well.

Buzzing flies, as well as those with sparkling streamers are great to use for smallmouth bass. Not only do these flies grab the attention of the fish, but they are perfectly sized for average to large smallmouth bass.

In addition to buzzers and streamers, popping flies are a superb way to imitate a larger topwater prey item such as a larger insect or a frog. It’s not uncommon for hungry bass to strike with speed and aggression on a topwater frog or other fly you may have sitting on the surface or slowly moving over it.

Best Times and Seasons to Fish for Smallmouth Bass

In the early spring before the fish start spawning, smallmouth will have ravenous appetites. Coming out of the thin months of winter and into water that is warming up and becoming more abundant with prey items, the smallmouth bass will be eager to chase anything that resembles a prey item.

Smallmouth Bass FAQs

picture of a smallmouth bass being help by a fisherman
When holding a fish, you should keep their body vertically when holding them from the mouth to prevent damaging the lower jaw and ensuring it is not injured.

Are Smallmouth Bass Hard to Catch?

If you compare smallmouth bass fishing to their largemouth bass relatives, the smallmouth are much more difficult to catch. However, once you have located a spot that is suitable for smallmouth bass, chances are good you will find some fish too.

Once you find the fish, they are usually pretty willing to accept a wide range of different baits and small lure types. While they aren’t as ravenous as largemouth bass, they will still take worms, craws, creature baits, crickets, grubs, maggots, fly lures, jigs, and much more.

How Do You Hold a Smallmouth Bass

When holding any fish, you should keep their body vertically when holding them from the mouth. This prevents damaging the lower jaw and ensuring the fish is not injured before being placed back into the water.

You should never stick your fingers under the gills when holding a fish of any size as this can severely damage the delicate membranes just under the main scales. 

When taking a photo of your catch, support the fish’s body weight with one hand while you secure it with the other. Holding the bottom jaw and supporting the weight of the body is a good way to display your catch horizontally for a good photo.

Can you Eat Smallmouth Bass?

Northern smallmouth bass fishing is a great way to get some delicious fish on your table for your next meal. They are high in protein, are very clean, and have a flaky flesh that can be prepared in a variety of ways. Whether you enjoy your fish grilled over an open fire, or baked in the oven, smallmouth can be a great fish for the purpose.

Golden Rules for Smallmouth Bass Fishing

Northern smallmouth bass are very easy to find in natural lakes, ponds, and rivers. When searching for these fish, try using live bait for the best results. When smallmouth bass fishing, these fish will respond to a wide range of live bait including worms, minnows, crickets, grubs and more.

Whether you are an experienced bass angler or a novice focusing on smallmouth bass for the first time, these northern lakes fish can be an exciting species to reel in and can also make a delicious meal for yourself and your family. 

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

Photo of author
AUTHOR
Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village.