Smallmouth Bass: What are They and How do you Catch One?

April 6, 2010
Fishing on the James River

Having a good day

Gary Blankenship

The Algonquin Indians call the smallmouth bass achigan, which means “the one that fights.” With all the traits of an aristocrat and ruffian, this fish stands head and tail above any freshwater game fish.

What is a Smallmouth Bass?

This fish ranges in color from dark, olive brown to pale yellow green with a mottled off-white belly. Its eyes are usually red or orange.

It has a broad, powerful tail, excellent hearing, and uncanny vision. With these physical attributes, plus a savage instinct to kill its prey with a single blow, the smallmouth comes close to being the perfect predator.

How to Catch a Smallmouth Bass

The most enjoyable and exciting way to catch a smallmouth is with a “bug.” You can do this method from a boat or canoe or on bass streams where wading is possible.

  • A 9–foot length flyrod is prefered for this method, along with a tapered line. The line should be spooled on a large reel with plenty of backing.
  • If you're in a boat or canoe, you need someone to keep it moving while fishing. The slower the craft moves, the better.
  • Plop the “bug” along every yard of shoreline, even in places that appear to be fishless. Remember, you can never tell where a bass may be lurking.

Bait for Smallmouth Bass

The smallmouth takes to a wide variety of bait, top-water and deep-running.

  • Try using a frog bug. The closer you can make the bug act like a real frog, the better your chances are of catching a smallmouth. Plop the frog lure by the shore and let it rest there briefly. If nothing happens, gently twitch the rod a few times. After a brief time, “swim” the lure about a dozen feet along the surface before casting again.
  • Try some unlikely baits, such as corncob, a string of beads, the top of a beer can, and bait dressed with boiled egg. Don't be discouraged if the smallmouth aren't biting; sometimes they just won't bite anything.

Best Smallmouth Bass Fishing Places

There isn't actually any specific places that are best for catching smallmouth. These fish are found in every state except Alaska. However, smallmouth prefer cleaner, swifter, and cooler waters than largemouth bass.

Here are some good places to check out:


  • Lake Quinsigamond in western MA
  • Grand Lake Stream country in Washington County, ME
  • Lake Champlain, VT
  • Lawrence River, NY


  • Spirit Lake, IA
  • Les Cheneaux Islands, MI
  • Lac La Croix, WI

If you know of some great places—or any fishing tips or stories, please post below!

Reader Comments

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Catching Smallies in WV

Here in West Virginia we like to keep things simple when it comes to our smallmouth fishing. We don't complicate things by bringing out the fly rod. We use light tackle spinning rods equipped with no more than 6lb. test. Then we get a sine net and mattock and head down to the shoals and catch us some hellgrammites, for those of you that don't know what a hellgrammite is, let's just say they're like ribeye steaks to smallmouth.

Catching smallmouth in Texas

Guadalupe bass is a rare specie of smallmouth that can only be found here in Texas. They don't grow very large but they do put up a good fight for their size. Neko and wacky rig work best or soft plastic lizards on a Texas rig will do just as well to catch these feisty basstards. has great smallmouth tips

lake Pardee in northern

lake Pardee in northern California is my favorite i have caught smallmouth up to 8 pounds no lie the biggest is close to 10 lbs there you can have days there with 20 to 25 fish if you get out to northern California give it a try

All bag and possession limits

All bag and possession limits on smallmouth bass at Miramonte Reservoir in Colorado have been lifted due to illegal stocking. Miramonte Reservoir is located in San Miguel County about 10 miles south of Norwood in western Colorado. Read about this here:

up at my gpas farm in

up at my gpas farm in newbloomfeild misouri i have coughten a bunch of smallmouth bass the biggest i have ever coughten was a 13 pounder.

They say the Gasconade River

They say the Gasconade River in Missouri is an excellent river for smallmouth bass.