What Is A Smallmouth Bass Fish – Everything You Need To Know

By Get Fishing •  Published: 12/31/22 •  11 min read

Anglers who enjoy going after game fish love the Smallmouth Bass, cousin to the Largemouth. This species is compact but packs a punch. 

What is a smallmouth bass

What is a Smallmouth Bass? 

smallmouth bass

The Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) is a freshwater fish that belongs under the sunfish family umbrella, although that might seem strange at first as they don’t quite look like other sunfish. The Smallmouth is a game fish, a type of fish pursued for sport by anglers. Game fish are often edible but some fishermen also enjoy catch-and-release. 

Why is it Called a Smallmouth Bass?

The Smallmouth earned its name due to how it can be differentiated from the Largemouth Bass. Smallmouths have jaws that do not extend past their eye sockets. These fish also go by the common names smallie, brown bass, brownie, bareback bass and lake bass. 

What Type of Fish is a Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouths are freshwater fish that belong to the sunfish family. Sunfish, by definition, are native to North America and have rayed fins. Unlike the majority of sunfish, Smallies aren’t considered panfish – meaning they don’t fit easily into a pan to be fried. They can get quite large. 

What is a Smallmouth Bass’ Habitat? 

Smallmouths prefers clear water and can be found in rivers, streams, and reservoirs. They’ve been introduced to many water sources, but can easily become invasive. Smallmouths like rocky and sandy bottoms as well as stumps in the water. They can put up with stronger currents and like cool temperatures, especially in the summer months when temperatures rise. 

Can Smallmouth Bass Live in Brackish Water? 

Yes – like their cousin the Largemouth, Smallmouth Bass are able to live in brackish water. But it isn’t necessarily their preferred environment. 

Where Can I Find Smallmouth Bass? 

This species is native to the Mississippi River basin, the Great Lakes, and the Hudson Bay basin. However, they’ve been introduced throughout almost every other part of North America, including Canada. In some cases this is intentional and done by stocking water sources. However some anglers have illegally introduced this species. 

What Do Smallmouth Bass Eat? 

Compared to other fish in the Sunfish family, Smallmouths can be considered picky eaters. They subsist mostly off of crawfish but will also feed on insects, small amphibians, and juvenile fish. 

How to Catch a Smallmouth Bass Fish

When it comes to catching Smallmouth Bass, keep in mind that they won’t eat just anything. Because of this, you’ll want to have a few different kinds of bait on your hands. Look into live bait to start – minnows or crawfish are a great option. You can pick live bait up right off the shore. 

Alternatively, many hard and soft baits mimic Smallmouth prey in a lifelike fashion and will probably draw their attention. Jigs that provide a good amount of action are also a great option. 

Best Smallmouth Bass fishing rigs?

Tube Jig

Tube Jigs work well with Smallmouths because they mimic one of their favorite prey crustaceans: crayfish. Although they look simple, tube jigs are well-known for catching Smallmouth Bass. 

Drop Shot Rig

Drop Shot Rigs allow anglers to send the line where they want it and keep bait hovering just over the bottom of the water column. They’re very effective in clear water, where fish can get a good look at what they’re hitting on. 


A type of lure meant to be a showstopper, Spinnerbait rigs are hybrid designs that usually flash and spin underwater to catch fishes’ attention. 

Best Smallmouth Bass fishing Lures?

Z-Man TRD TubeZ

Z-MAN 10X Tough ElaZtech TRD TubeZ

Z-MAN 10X Tough ElaZtech TRD TubeZ

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Z-Man’s EZ Tubez play off of the basic tube bait design, but give a realistic touch of prey coloration. Made of durable Elaztech, this bait will hold up against multiple bites. The design also allows for a spinning action when descending and buoyant material keeps it floating off the bottom. 

Mule Minnow 2.2 and 3.3

Mule Fishing Mule Minnow

Mule Fishing Mule Minnow

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The Minnow 2.2 and 3.3 are the perfect size for Smallmouths. This soft bait comes in a variety of colors and has amazing action. We love Mule Minnows for all kinds of sunfish, but going up a size allows you to catch larger bass. Try the Minnow out on drop shot rigs. 

Booyah Blade Spinnerbait

Booyah Blade SpinnerBait

Booyah Blade SpinnerBait

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Booyah Blade Spinnerbaits will make it tough for you to choose just one! This company has created and perfected a spinnerbait available in a wide variety of colors and styles. With flashy lures and balanced bodies, you’ll get eye-catching action out of this bait. 

What Kind of Gear Do You Need for Smallmouth Bass Fishing?

When it comes to Smallmouth Bass fishing, your gear can be basic, but should be of good quality. You’ll want a rod and line that can hold up to the heft of a Smallmouth. They’ll hit your line hard, and those sharp little teeth can cause serious abrasion. Get a line weight appropriate for Smallmouth and make sure your rod is up for the task.

Additionally, take the time to curate a simple but varied tackle box with a few different bait options. If they aren’t hitting on one kind, you don’t want to be stuck with no other options. 

What is a Good Rod and Reel for Smallmouth Bass? 

What is a Good Smallmouth Bass Fishing Rod?

Temple Fork Outfitters Professional Series Casting Rod 

Temple Fork Outfitters MH Professional Series Casting Rod

Temple Fork Outfitters MH Professional Series Casting Rod

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TFO’s casting rod is a bit more high end when it comes to price, but for good reason. At 7 feet in length, this rod is sturdy and will hold up no matter where you bring it. No matter what you’re casting, TFO’s rod can handle lures weighting anywhere from ⅜ – 1 oz. This is a one-piece rod. . 

13 Fishing Defy Black Spinning Rod

13 Fishing Defy Black Spinning Rod

13 Fishing Defy Black Spinning Rod

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If you’re looking for a more affordable option, 13 Fishing’s Spinning Rod has won over many anglers. Slightly shorter than the TFO Casting Rod, this rod can handle 6-12lb line weight and lures ranging from 3/16 to ⅝ oz. It’s a one-piece rod. 

What is a Good Smallmouth Bass Fishing Reel?

Shimano SLX (Baitcasting Reel)

Shimano SLX

Shimano SLX

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If you’re looking for a baitcasting reel, the Shimano SLX is much-loved. It’s stylish, compact, and comes both right and left handed. This reel is great for flipping and pitching – a technique commonly used when going after bass species. It has smooth action and great retrieval. 

Lew’s American Hero (Spinning Reel)

Lews American Hero

Lews American Hero

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The more rugged option on the list, the American Hero weighs only 2 oz and is made of stainless steel. It’s an ambidextrous design that customers laud for the smooth action and retrieval. This reel has been described as “almost silent” and a great quality for the price. 

What is the Best Fishing Line for Smallmouth Bass?

Seaguar 101 Basix 100% Fluorocarbon Fishing Line

Seaguar 101 Basix 100% Fluorocarbon Fishing Line

Seaguar 101 Basix 100% Fluorocarbon Fishing Line

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When it comes to Smallmouth fishing, choosing the correct line may prove essential in whether or not you’re bringing a fish in. Check out Seaguar’s options for line weights 6 – 15lbs. In clearer water, you’ll want a lighter test line; in water with heavy cover where you might be punching through mats of vegetation, try a heavier line. 

Whatever you choose, Seaguar is great for standing up to fish that like to fight. No worries about abrasion when you’re packing Seaguar products. 

When do Smallmouth Bass Spawn? 

Spawning season for the Smallmouth depends mostly on water temperature – 60 degrees F is their triggerpoint. They’ll look for sandy or gravel bottoms in shallow water and will often congregate near vegetation or logs for coverage. 

How Big Do Smallmouth Bass Get?

This species averages 10-20 inches in length and 2-5 lbs, which is a fair spectrum to go off. It’ll keep you guessing as to what’s on the other end of your line. 

What is a Good Size Smallmouth Bass? 

A good size Smallmouth Bass will be anywhere from 10-20 inches when mature. Smallmouths are considered mature when they reach 2-4 years of age, depending on their habitat. Small surroundings usually lead to smaller fish. 

What is Considered a Trophy Smallmouth Bass? 

A trophy Smallmouth is any fish ranging from 7-9 lbs. This is considered by many anglers a great catch! Smallies caught in the Great Lakes can easily reach 20-22 inches and, in that area, are a trophy size. 

What is the World Record for a Smallmouth Bass?

The IGFA lists the world record Smallmouth Bass at 11 lb, 15 oz. This fish was caught by David Hayes in Tennessee on July 9, 1955. 

How Long Do Smallmouth Bass Live?

Smallmouth Bass can live to be 4-6 years in age in their natural habitat and occasionally grow to be over 12 years old. That’s a long time to grow, and a lot of opportunity to catch a good sized fish. 

What Color is a Smallmouth Bass? 

The coloration of this species ranges from a golden-dark green to dark brown toward their dorsal side, fading to a pale yellow. Dark brown bars spread vertically across the body and blotches are very common. The Smallmouths’ coloration acts as camouflage in their environment. 

Do Smallmouth Bass Have Red Eyes? 

Smallmouth Bass can have red eyes, but it isn’t a rule across the species. Not every Smallmouth will have red eyes. 

Do Smallmouth Bass Have Teeth? 

Yes, this species does in fact have teeth. The teeth face inward and are small in size. 

What is a Smallmouth Bass’ Predator? 

Aside from humans, Smallmouth Bass can come up against predatory birds such as osprey or eagles, turtles, and other larger fish. 

Can You Eat Smallmouth Bass?

Yes, many fishermen eat the Smallmouths they catch. This fish is great deep fried and has a firm flesh that tastes rather mild. 

In most states in the US, Smallmouths must be at least 12 inches to be kept. In Florida bass of any kind must be 16 inches or larger. Alternatively, in Canada, there is no size limit on Smallmouth or Largemouth Bass caught from July to November. 

How Long Can a Smallmouth Bass Live Out of Water? 

Like most fish, the Smallmouth won’t last long out of water. If you want to snap a quick picture or show off your catch, limit the time the fish is out of the water to 2 minutes or less. 

How to Hold a Smallmouth Bass

One of the easiest ways to harm a fish is by putting too much pressure or weight on the jaw. When you catch a Smallmouth, start by holding the body securely to remove the hook. Once the hook is removed, place your thumb inside the fish’s mouth and let the fish hang vertically. This will keep pressure off the jaw and allow you to keep the fish secure. 

Can Smallmouth Bass Live in a Pond? 

Due to their popularity, many anglers stock ponds with Smallmouth Bass. However it isn’t the ideal environment for these fish. Smallmouths like deep, clear water, and need at least 10 feet to do well. Muddy ponds aren’t ideal and won’t provide good oxygen levels for this species to thrive. 

What’s the Difference Between a Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass? 

Here are a few ways to tell largemouth bass and a smallmouth bass apart:


Whether you’re looking for a great little fish to stock your pond or just out to try your hand at game fishing, Smallies are an option that many anglers love. These fish pack a punch when it comes to aggression and are slightly pickier about their surroundings and diets. They’ll prove a fun challenge even to seasoned fishermen. 

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