Smallmouth Bass vs Largemouth Bass – What Is The Difference

By Get Fishing •  Published: 01/05/23 •  7 min read

Freshwater sports fishermen everywhere know and love the Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass. But what’s the difference between these two species? Is one better than the other? We delve into what makes them unique in this post. 

smallmouth bass vs largemouth bass

Is a Smallmouth Bass the Same as a Largemouth Bass?

The Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) is related to the Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), however they are two different species of fish. Both species reside in fresh water and belong to the Sunfish family. But if you’re fishing in certain areas of North America, you’ll be better off knowing how to identify each species. 

What’s the Difference Between Smallmouth Bass vs Largemouth Bass? 

The main differences between these two fish have to do with habitat, appearance, native distribution, size, and diet. That’s a big list, but it makes a big difference. If you know even a few items on this list, you’ll be able to differentiate between a Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass. 

We’ll give you your first hint here: pay attention to the names. 

What is a Smallmouth Bass? 

smallmouth bass

The Smallmouth is a favorite fish for many game fishermen, and the species has been introduced world wide. This freshwater fish is a picky eater and, despite being smaller in size than the Largemouth, isn’t considered a panfish like other Sunfish are. Their bodies are just too long and not the right size to fry in a pan. However, many anglers still eat Smallmouth Bass as they have a mild taste and are great deep fried. 

What is a Largemouth Bass?

largemouth bass

If you’re cruising the fishing channels, you’ve probably seen a Bass fishing competition-and Largemouths are the preferred catch. Some of the biggest fish in the Sunfish family, Largemouth Bass are known to pack a punch when they hit your line. They have a varied diet and can also live comfortably in brackish water, so even fishermen in southern Florida have a shot at catching the big one. 

How to Tell the Difference Between Largemouth Bass vs Smallmouth Bass

how to tell the difference between a smallmouth bass and largemouth bass

Our list above was a long one, but here are some of the key ways to tell these two species apart:

While at first glance it might seem like these species are so similar you’ll never be able to tell them apart, all it takes is a quick read through this article to be able to identify these fish.

Smallmouth Bass vs Largemouth Bass Size Differences

Despite having “small” and “large” in their names, this might not be the first feature you want to use to differentiate the Small and Largemouth Bass. It’s true that Largemouth Bass are larger, but the average size of both species overlaps a bit, making identification tough.

Largemouth Bass: 13-20 inches, 5 lbs

Smallmouth Bass: 10-20 inches, 2-5 lbs

Smallmouth Bass vs Largemouth Bass Mouth Size

This is a much easier feature to gauge on both species. The name is a dead giveaway, and if you have a Smallmouth and Largemouth side by side, it’s pretty obvious.

The Smallmouth Bass gained its name because these fish have smaller mouths than their cousins, and the jaw-where it hinges-does not go past the eye socket. On Largemouth Bass, however, the jaw does extend past the eye socket. 

Smallmouth Bass vs Largemouth Bass Dorsal Fins

Another feature more reliable than size to go off of, dorsal fins are a great way to separate a Smallmouth and Largemouth.

The Smallmouth Bass’ dorsal fin appears to be one continuous fin, without a break in the middle. However Largemouth Bass do have a break in the middle of their dorsal fin, which makes it appear to be two separate fins. A quick glance at the dorsal area will likely tell you which fish you’re holding. 

Smallmouth Bass vs Largemouth Bass Coloration Differences

The coloration of both species is distinct enough that if you pay attention, you’ll notice the difference.

Smallmouth Bass range in color from a golden-dark green to dark brown toward their dorsal side, fading to a pale yellow on their abdomen. Dark brown vertical bars break up the body and it’s common to see blotches of darker coloration as well. This coloration acts as camouflage for the fish.

Largemouth Bass, on the other hand, have olive-green to gray-green bodies with dark horizontal blotches. Their bellies are white or light green in color. 

Where Can You Find Largemouth Bass? 

Largemouth call the eastern and central parts of the US home when it comes to native territory, however they’ve spread to southeastern Canada, northern Mexico, California, Illinois, and countries like Japan, Russia, and France.

Largemouth Bass need deep water to thrive and can be found in lakes and reservoirs. They’ll also dip into rivers, but prefer slower moving water. 

Largemouth Bass Fishing Tips

The key to catching Largemouth Bass is variety. These fish are carnivorous and will eat just about anything, so the best thing you can do is stock up on a variety of bait and lures. Whether you go with natural or artificial bait, make sure you also have the right gear on board. Largemouth can get big and they’ll fight when on the line, so an abrasion-resistant line and sturdy rod will go a long way.

Where Can You Find Smallmouth Bass?

Smallmouth Bass are native to the Mississippi River basin, the Great Lakes, and the Hudson Bay area. They’ve been introduced throughout most of North America, including Canada, and are often illegally stocked.

Smallmouth prefer clear water, unlike the less picky Largemouth Bass. They can be found hanging out in rivers, streams, and reservoirs. Smallmouths are considered slightly invasive as they quickly take over new habitat. They like rocky and sandy bottoms with underwater features such as stumps to hide around. Smallmouths will put up with stronger water currents and cool temperatures. 

Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips

What is a smallmouth bass

Smallmouth are pickier when it comes to prey. Be aware of what they like to eat: minnows, crawfish, small amphibians and juvenile fish. Look for lures that mimic their preferred diet and have great action in the water, to draw attention. 

As with the Largemouth Bass, you’ll want to make sure you have line and a rod that can hold up to stronger, bigger fish. 

What is a Spotted Bass?

The Spotted Bass is another species of bass that belongs to the Sunfish family. They’re also called spotties or spots and have earned its name from the row of dark spots below their lateral line. This fish is native to the Mississippi River basin and throughout central and southern North America. They prefer streams and reservoirs. 

What is a Mean Mouth Bass?

Because the Largemouth and Smallmouth bass share so many characteristics, it’s not surprising that they’ve crossbred to create the Mean Mouth Bass. This bass is a hybrid species that frequents the same habitat as the Smallmouth, and can be found in Georgia and Missouri. However, Mean Mouths are considered rare and you’ll be lucky to see one. 


If you’re out looking for a fight, chances are you’ll come across a Small or Largemouth Bass. Hopefully this post will help you be able to confidently identify which species you’re fishing-and catching. 

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