When do Smallmouth Bass Spawn? Season and Times Revealed

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If you ask any angler what their favorite fish to watch would be, chances are good many would say the Smallmouth Bass. This fish is one of my favorites as well. Not only is it a very striking looking fish, it’s also aggressive on the line, great to eat, and can be suitable for catch and release programs.

Smallmouth bass spawn throughout the months of April and July depending on their locale. More northern smallie populations will spawn later in the year, such as in June and July. Southern populations will spawn much earlier, in April or May.

What Time of Year Do Smallmouth Bass Spawn?

Smallmouth Bass
Smallmouth Bass start spawning behavior in April after changes in water temperature

Scientifically known as Micropterus dolomieu, smallmouth bass will start their spawning behavior in April and it can continue until July. Breeding behavior is triggered by temperature changes in their native waters with southern populations normally starting weeks before the northern populations.

For example, bass in southern states such as Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee will start showing breeding behavior in early April. It will continue throughout April and into early May. Midwestern states such as Indiana, Missouri, and Iowa will start in mid to late April and continue throughout the month of May. Northern populations in Minnesota and into Canada can start as late as June and continue into July. 

However, each of the months for these regions is a general estimate. Some years have been warmer than others, and some winters have been more harsh, which delays or encourages early breeding behavior. 

If you happen to be specifically targeting smallmouth bass early in the season, try to get out on the water throughout April and May if you are in the southern regions, and June or July in the north. Don’t forget about your local fishing seasons though. Smallies might not be in season during their spawning months.

At What Water Temperature Do Smallmouth Bass Spawn?

Smallmouth Bass underwater shot
Smallmouth Bass will spawn when the shallow water temperature hits 55 degrees

Since the actual months may not be a very good determining factor on breeding times and seasons, you can look at the deep water temperatures in your area instead. Many fish will start their breeding behavior when the shallow water hits at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and will continue as long as the water temperature doesn’t go above 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not only can the shallower water temperature vary from northern and southern regions, but it can also drastically change depending on the size of the lake or pond the bass live in. Smaller ponds will have a much quicker temperature change, while larger lakes will stay cooler later into the year.

Unfortunately, smallmouth bass eggs and fry can be very susceptible to temperature swings. If eggs are laid and fertilized, but a storm moves in and brings a cold snap with it, the pond or lake can dip below the lower end of the temperature range and damage or kill the eggs. The same can happen with fry, though they are somewhat more durable than eggs.

Breeding behavior will continue again once the water warms back up to an acceptable shallow and deep water temp. Late spring and early summer can have a wide range of weather chances which can also fluctuate the water temps in both river systems and deeper water lakes.

What Depth Do Spawning Smallies Prefer?

Like most bass species, Smallmouth bass will look for spawning grounds that are anywhere from 3 to 12 feet in depth. The fish try to find areas where the sun’s rays can reach the eggs, but not too much that they will overheat.

Where Do Smallmouth Bass Spawn?

Smallies will search for a shallow flats area that has small pebble pea gravel since this type of substrate is favored ground for nests. If your local pond or lake has a patch of pea gravel or small pebble flats, you can be sure there will be spawning smallies there during the breeding months.

Can You Target Smallmouth Bass During Spawning?

Smallmouth Bass Caught Fly Fishing 1
Pre spawn smallies are more likely to strike a lure than during the spawning season

Like most gamefish species, especially bass in my experience, getting strikes on your lure during the spawning months is a definite lesson in patience. While they may strike if you wait long enough, you will simply have much better luck if you wait until after the spawning season or target them in advance of it.

While smallies are spawning, they will be much more focused on the act than they will be on searching for food. Throughout the early spring months before the spawning season, smallies will be stocking up on calories to provide them enough energy for the spawning act itself.

Pre-spawn smallies are your best option for early season catches. Before they start spawning, smallmouth bass will be on the lookout for plenty of prey items in order to build up their energy reserves after winter and before the breeding season starts.

You will have extremely good luck catching pre-spawn smallmouth bass, especially the bigger females. However, in order to maintain the population in your area, it’s always suggested that you return large breeding females back into the water safely so they can create the next generation.

Smallmouth before the breeding season starts will go crazy for the more flashy and attractive baits and lures you have. If it has bright colors, glitter, or rattles, give it a try for pre-spawn smallies. If your experience is anything like mine, you will definitely get some quick and aggressive strikes from hungry bass.

For me, the best lures to use for post-spawn smallmouth bass fishing are spider jigs and lipless crankbaits (see our list here). If you stay around the spawning areas, you are sure to catch some big females that have just made their deposits and are starting to move away from the area and back into flooded bushes and other heavy vegetation spots.

See also: World Record Smallmouth Bass

How Do Smallmouth Bass Spawn?

Smallmouth Bass Caught Fly Fishing
Smallmouth Bass are a great fly fishing target

Smallmouth bass will create actual nest-type areas in the water. These nests are often on small pebbles or sand, but can be in larger rock beds or around sunken vegetation. It is usually the males that will locate the nesting areas. Once they find a suitable spot, they will start clearing it out with their fins and tail until it is roughly 1 foot in diameter.

After the male is satisfied with his nest, he will alternate between guarding it from other males, and courting nearby females. His courtship dance will include a lot of flashing and bumping the female with his face in order to make her accept him.

Once the female accepts the male’s attempts, she will quickly inspect the nest and deposit her egg cluster into it. I’ve found that the females aren’t very picky about the nest size or design, they simply want to drop their egg cluster and leave the area.

The female will spread her eggs around the nest and the male will move in to release his sperm or milt in the same area. This external fertilization is only possible due to little or no current. If there is too much water flow, the milt will be washed away before it reaches all of the egg cluster leaving many of them unfertilized.

After the process of egg laying and sperm spreading is complete, the female will leave the area. She does not remain behind to guard the egg cluster or the nest. This job falls to the males, and is one of the most fascinating natural phenomena in the fish world in my opinion! 

The male will guard the nesting area and the egg cluster until the fry hatch, at which point he will defend the babies for up to three weeks so they get a good head start on life. After this point, the male will swim away from the nest and leave the small larval fish to their own devices.

How Long Does the Smallmouth Bass Spawning Season Last?

On average, smallmouth spawn behavior in any given area of the United States or Canada will last no more than 2 weeks. However, if storms are passing through the area and changing the water temperature, this can halt the active breeding behavior and extend it for a week or more.

How Many Eggs Do Spawning Smallmouth Bass Lay?

The amount of eggs a female smallie can produce will depend on her age and her size. On average, you can see anywhere from 1500 to 2000 eggs from a single female in a season. Of course, smaller females will lay less, and larger females can lay more.

In some areas, extremely large trophy females have been found to carry up to 15,000 eggs, but this is definitely not the norm and shouldn’t be expected. In most areas, 2,000 eggs is a great amount that can be a huge boon to the smallmouth fishing population in your area.

Do Smallmouth Bass Spawn More Than Once a Year?

While there are exceptions to the rule, most smallmouth bass females are only physically able to spawn once per year. However, if predators are in the area or other disruptions disturb their egg laying, they can retain some of their eggs and release them at a later date.

Male smallmouth bass, on the other hand, are very opportunistic and can often be seen spawning with multiple females in a season. This is especially true if the male’s first batch of eggs were not properly fertilized, or if something chased him away from the nest and original spawning area.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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