How to Catch Smallmouth Bass

Fishing Tackle / Fishing Tips / Lures / April 7, 2017

Every freshwater fisherman has chased bass; whether largemouth bass or smallmouth bass. As the warm waters of spring are upon us, let’s go over the basics about how to catch the latter of the two and what makes them such an intriguing catch.

All About Smallmouth Bass

Like the Largemouth bass, the smallmouth is a member of the sunfish family and is classified as a warm water fish. Smallmouth have a jaw that extends to about the middle of their reddish eye. They run from a greenish to bronze color where they get their common nickname: The Bronzeback. Sometimes they have vertical lines and stripes or patterns along their body with dark bars on their face as well.

There are two types of smallmouths. The northern smallmouth is more common and what most anglers think of when picturing the fish and the Neosho smallmouth which has been almost completely wiped out by dams on its originating water.

Even though they’re considered a sunfish, smallmouth are more active on the lower spectrum of warm water fishing. They tend to prefer water temperatures in the high 60s. However, they will still be active in higher water temperatures up to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Their preference for warm, but still cool, waters is reflected in their preference for spawning in low to mid 60 degrees temperatures in the Spring closer to on or sand-gravel or rocky bottoms. Like any other fish, they tend to look for protected areas when spawning.

Smallmouth are some of the fittest and fightingest fish around. They are well known for their tendency to break the glassy surface and leap high above the water of a pond during a fight. You can find smallmouths in most bodies of water. Lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and streams are all sure-fire places of where to find smallmouth.

Where to look for Smallmouth 

In natural lakes look toward sheltered sand-gravel bays, beds adjacent to deep water, shallow points with boulders. In the late spring or fall you can find smallmouth around sandy, gravel, or rocky bottoms and mouths of major inlets. In the late fall or winter, look for smallmouth bass on steep-sloping points, irregular break lines that drop rapidly into deep water, or deep gravel. Man-made lakes follow many of the same suggestions. Man-made lakes that have timbered flats along old river channels are great areas to find smallmouths.

In rivers, tributaries with a rocky bottom draw smallmouth if there are few rock areas in the river itself. Deep riprap along shorelines and islands. Eddies alongside the swift water to below a low-dam or warm water discharges.

Fishing Techniques for Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth are aggressive for their size, especially in lightly fished waters. However, in heavily fished areas, these fish tend to be a bit more reserved and picky about their prey. They typically go for smaller baits though they won’t refuse larger baits. Many lures, jigs, and crankbaits are great for smallmouth.

Size and action of a bait is infinitely more important than color or ability to mimic crawfish (a popular smallmouth bait). Though most anglers have more success on dark colors, rather than bright or fluorescent colors.

Just as many fake baits imitate crayfish, the best live bait is crayfish. Hellgrammites are great baits for smallmouth as well. Leeches and nightcrawlers round out the list for best live bait for smallmouth bass.


The lead headed jig is the smallmouths bread and butter. You can jig them slow, drag them along the bottom, or whatever you prefer. Smallmouth are drawn to jigs. As they come in all designs, a skirted jig, feather tipped,  or soft plastic work wonderfully.

Vertical jigging is a successful technique that you can utilize with spoons, blades, or a lead-headed jig. It works great in deep and clear water. The key to jigging is a quick snap of the rod up and to follow the line back down with your rod tip. Its important to keep the rod line slightly taut because most fish will attack the bait as it sinks.

Types of Jigs include: Tube jigs, marabou jigs, curlytail jigs, hair jigs, blades, and spoons

Subsurface plugs

Plugs used for small mouth are typically shorter plugs- only a couple of inches long. They are normally smaller than plugs used for largemouth but there is certainly some overlap. Crawfish colors are always popular for any small mouth bait though minnow or shad colors are also successful.

Minnow baits are often more successful in cooler water than crank baits. The tighter wiggle is more likely to entice an attack, especially around spawning time. Fish them on the surface with a twitch-and-pause retrieve. Crank baits and vibrating plugs are great baits for fishing deep structures.


Most anglers think spinner baits are solely for use catching large mouth. However, they can be great for small mouth bass depending on how you utilize them.

The thumping blade works wonders alerting fish to its presence and enticing them closer. Let a spinner dive next to a large drop off in deep water or drag it slowly across heavy cover.


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Final Thought

Just as with largemouth bass, there is excitement to catching smallmouth bass. The hunt for that perfect smallmouth spot is part of the excitement and once they hook is set, the fight will begin. This season, use the information above and seek those perfect spots for your trophy smallmouth.

Are you interested in Learning More?

Take a moment and watch a Youtube video by Bassmasters. There is some great information regarding bass.

Happy Fishing!

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Matthew Gallagher

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