Smallmouth bass can be distinguished from it’s two cousins, the largemouth bass and the spotted bass by a few identifing marks. On a smallmouth the back of the mouth ends in front of the eye, smallmouth also have 9 vertical bands along the body instead of one horizontal band on a largemouth or spotted bass.
Smallmouth bass are aggressive, in clear water they are sight hunters, but they also have well a developed lateral line sense and a great sense of hearing that allows them to hunt in cloudy water as well. Smallmouth bass are opportunistic, when available they will feed on crayfish, aquatic insects, crickets, grasshoppers, minnows, mice and more.
Originally found in the eastern portion of the U.S. they have now become popular in most areas thanks to stocking programs. Just about everyone has caught a smallmouth at one time or another.
Smallmouth Habit & Habitat
Smallmouth bass prefer clear water and are more likely to be found in rocky cover. Look for areas where large boulders and cracks provide cover. They will also hang out near points and drop offs ready to ambush their prey. Because smallmouth prefer clear water they can also be found in areas of slow moving water. In rivers look for them in slow runs, pools and mild riffles.
In lakes, smallmouth prefer areas where water flows in or where natural lake current caused by wind flows over and between structure. For the most part smallmouth are a shallow water fish and are usually found in 20 feet or less of water. Even if they hold in deeper water during the day they often return to shallow water in the mornings and evenings in search of food.
Weather can be a big factor in the feeding activity of smallmouth, as is the case with most fishing, unsettled weather can play a big factor in fishing success. Best fishing occurs when weather conditions are most stable, this can be both multiple days in a row of rainy condtions as well as multiple days in a row of warm sunny weather.
The day or so before an approaching storm can be excellent fishing. However, during cold fronts smallmouth bass activity can come to a halt. Other condtions that may improve activity are cloudy or windy days with low light conditions. The size of the body of water will also be a factor in how weather affects feeding conditions. Large lakes take longer for weather conditions to change activity. Small pond conditions can change in a matter of hours.
Once water temperatures reach the low 50′s smallmouth start to become active and move from deep water to shallower spawning areas. When water temperature reach between 60 and 65 degrees, spawning takes place. Nests are usually located in sand or gravel areas that are sheltered from current or waves. After spawning has occurred, the males guard the eggs and fry, they are very aggressive at this time and should either be left alone at this time or when caught should be immediately released to continue their guarding activity.
After the spawn smallmouth behavior becomes more stable. It’s at this time that they will locate a food source and stick with it as long as it’s available. If crawdads are to be had smallmouth bass will stay around in one area feeding on crawdads. On the other hand if the food source is minnows they may travel miles in pursuit of them.
Summer months bring higher water temperatures. Samllmouth bass prefer water temperatures in the mid-sixties to mid-seventies, so when daytime water temperatures start to approach the the high seventies or low eighties look for them to move to deeper water. If deep water is close to shallow feeding areas, then early morning and evening hours will still be good for fishing in the shallows as smallmouth return to find prey.
In the summer look for areas that are shaded for most of the day, this can keep water temperatures lower and smallmouth will hang out in these areas seeking relief from the heat. Also, if you can find a cool stream flowing into a lake this can also be an excellent area to find active fish.
When falls arrives and water temperatures cool to the mid-sixties, smallmouth will once again be found returning to the shallows to feed, building up fat reserves for the winter. Fall is your best chance to catch big fish, as they are aggressively seeking out prey. Look for them off rocky points, around deadfall, inlet areas, large boulders and other like areas. As water temperatures continue to fall as winter approaches, smallmouth will retreat to deeper water and become quite torpid and little feeding occurs.