Smallmouth bass is the cousin of the largemouth. Some anglers think the two fish are the same. Smallmouth bass seeks different habitat and has different behavior than a largemouth. You need to know the smallmouth’s preferences. It is the only way to be effective at catching these fish.
A smallmouth bass thrives at different temperatures. They need more oxygen and less light. The bottom structure varies also. Finding the right elements together will allow you to catch more fish. Areas lacking one or more of the elements are likely non-productive. Take the time to learn the differences and apply them to fishing.
Smallmouth Bass Habitat
Smallmouth bass prefers certain habitat as part of their behavior. Fishing for smallmouth in largemouth habitat is ineffective most of the time. There are reasons for these differences
These bass need more oxygen than other fish. They avoid waters with low oxygen levels. Instead look for cooler or flowing water. Rivers and streams flow making them ideal for smallmouth. The moving water has more dissolved oxygen. Oxygen levels must be higher for smallmouth to survive. In low oxygen waters the bass will not thrive and likely die off.
They will be in lakes also. The oxygen levels in lakes go along with temperature and depth. Both play a factor in oxygen levels. Water too warm holds less oxygen. Also plant life and organic matter on the bottom of the lake reduce oxygen. This can make deeper water inhabitable. You need to find water with good temperature and depth for adequate oxygen supply.
The temperature needs to be lower than 80 degrees but 72 or lower is best. Smallmouth has peak activity between 58-72 degrees. Most of the time, this is water 15-30 feet deep. The seasons affect the depth also. In spring the shallows warm up quicker triggering the spawn. In summer the shallower is too warm. Also in the morning and evening, shallow water is cooler and bass will go into them. Then move back to deeper water. During the fall, smallmouth uses the shallows to feed heavily for the winter.
The smallmouth will always seek stable water temperature in the preferred range. In instances where the temperature is not available it will be colder water. In winter smallmouths go into the deepest water with adequate oxygen. The oxygen and temperature are key elements for the survival of the fish. They outweigh the structure and food supply often. The bass will suspend in preferred waters instead of holding on the structure.
Structure and Cover
All fish use structure and cover. The smallmouth in rivers and streams find a lot of preferred structure. In lakes, largemouth often outnumbers smallmouth. The smallmouth has to take what is left being the smaller of the species. Both use points, humps, and other structural features. The bottom composition is the difference. Areas with various sized rocks and gravel hold smallmouth. The areas of mostly sediment tend to hold few smallmouths.
The cover is the same. In rivers or lakes look for fall-downs, docks, brush-piles, and rock-piles. Usually smallmouth habitat lacks weeds but they will be in weeds at times. The temperature and oxygen levels have to be in the right range. An Angler needs to study the waterways to find the right habitat for smallmouth. It rarely is the same as areas largemouth inhabit.
Smallmouth Bass Behavior
Understanding behavior is another factor. Smallmouth has some different behaviors than their cousins. Largemouth can be caught on bright sunny days in shallower water but not a smallie. They do not like the light. These bass go into deeper water or heavily shaded areas in higher light conditions. Want to catch smallmouths, fish early morning or late evening for best results.
If fishing during the day head to the deeper water or shorelines with a lot of shade. An exception to this rule is the spawn. It is the only time smallmouths go into areas with a lot of light. They will go into the shallows and stay long enough to spawn. Then return to the low light deeper waters or shaded shorelines.
Smallmouth change behaviors throughout the seasons. In the spring, they gather for the spawn. Smallmouth bass behavior and habitat are easiest to predict at this time. Pre-spawn they will hold on drop-offs and points. Waiting for the temperature to hit about 60 degrees. When the water hits the right temperature. They move onto gravel flats or gentle slopes to nest and spawn. Once done spawning they head back to the pre-spawn areas or scatter. After the spawn, for about 2 weeks they do not hit since they are recovering.
Once recovered the bass goes into a feeding frenzy. After the feeding they move out and scatter seeking preferred habitat. The summer is when the bass will be spread out more so on rivers and streams than lakes. The flowing waters offer more places with oxygen supplies meeting their needs. The current seams and eddies tend to hold larger amounts of the fish. In the morning and evening, they move into the shallower water to feed. Find areas with a deeper water sanctuary and shallow feeding grounds.
In the fall the fish move towards the shallows similar to the spring. This is when more and larger smallmouths are caught. They school up near tributaries, points, and other structures near areas with a lot of food. The exact time varies in the region you live in. Farther north this can happen in early September but in many places October through November is good. The same applies to the spawn cycle.
Smallmouth Lures Based on Behavior and Habitat
In cooler waters bass tend to be lethargic. A slower presentation is needed to be effective. Jigs use a slow retrieve making them ideal. The size and shape of many jigs mimic crayfish and a small minnow. The slower retrieve lets the bass have time to catch the lure. The bass will let fast lures go by without trying to hit them. Fish will not waste energy on an attempt likely to fail.
The other options are jerk-baits with long pauses. Use a suspending style with a pause of ten seconds or more. This gives a bass time to strike when in cooler water. Also soft plastics are effective. The wacky, drop-shot and other plastics presented slowly and up off the bottom work. Bass suspends in cooler water more than anglers realize.
Once the water warms up spinnerbaits and crankbaits are added to the lures being effective. The bass will be spread out and more active. This requires searching larger areas of the water. Fan cast and work an area thoroughly. Bass will hold tight to the cover even when active. Rocky shorelines hold a lot of bass at this time. The crayfish and minnows hide in these areas.
In stained or muddy waters a lure needs to make sounds and vibrations. Smallmouths are curious. They will check out noise or something vibrating. A spinnerbait or rattle trap is the best lure in these situations. The same is true for turbid water with a lot of currents. Below dams or rapids use the lures with sound attraction.
Color choices vary with the waters but yellow, chartreuse, blue, and black work well in most lures. Tube jigs and soft plastics go with match the hatch. Crayfish colors seem to work better with these lures. Do not rule out red, green, or brown either. These colors work at times the other does not to catch fish. Smallmouth bass behavior and habitat often influence color selection.
Try to contrast the bottom to make a better silhouette in the water. The amount of light also affects the color to use. In deeper water use the darker colors. Shallow waters use brighter colors but not too bright. In clear water a lure too bright can spook bass. Topwater a black lure works better more often than not. It takes experience to learn good color selection. Try various colors in each water.
The size varies by region. A smallmouth about 20 inches is a very nice sized fish. Smallmouth bass 20-22 inches can be caught when fishing in the better waters.
Smallmouth eat many aquatic prey. The favorite of smallmouth is crayfish or crawfish. Smallmouth will search rocky areas for crayfish all year. When the water temp is 45-70 degrees is the best time to catch smallmouth.
The majority of bass anglers practice catch and release. Smallmouth can be eaten and some angler like the flavor. Be warned however, in some regions parasites cause smallmouth to have a bad taste. Check with the state regulating body on parasites in fish.
Smallmouth bass have different behavior and preferences in habitat. The oxygen level and temperature are important. They influence habitat selection. The fish will suspend to find the right temperature and oxygen levels. All fish use structure and cover. In lakes, other fish push smallmouth bass out of the prime locations.
The seasons affect behavior and locations. Spring and fall the bass gather and in summer spread out. The lure needs to match the activity level and water conditions. The colors are affected by water conditions and other factors. You will need the experience to become a good smallmouth angler.