Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass caught by the Red Heron Lance CooleyAbout: Smallmouth bass (micropterus dolomieu) are known as the pound for pound strongest fighters in the black bass genus (micropterus), of the sunfish family.  They are aggressive in nature and, once hooked, their aerial displays rival Shamu the killer whale.  These fish do have smaller mouths and look quite a bit different than a largemouth bass.  They actually resemble the shoal bass the most because both fish demonstrate brown vertical bars on the side of their bodies.  However, the smallmouth and shoal bass are not native to the same river systems.  Smallmouth are native to the rivers ranging north into Minnesota and southern Quebec, then south to the Tennessee River in Alabama and west to eastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas all the way almost to the eastern shore of the mid-Atlantic states.  Ambitious stockings by railroad many many years ago have assisted nature to where the fish is now in just about every state of the US.  Only Louisiana and Florida have smallmouth envy due to their lack of the species.  Because they are widespread and really take to the river it is no surprise that they are a favorite among river anglers.

Do They Have Any Other Names/Nicknames? Bronzeback, Smallie, Brown Bass, Brownie, Smalljaws

What Do They Look Like? As mentioned the smallmouth do indeed have smaller mouths and that is indeed how they were given their name.  They also have the dark, usually, but not always, pronounced bars on their sides.  They are also a wider fish than many of the other black bass and have clearly connected dorsal fins.  One of their common names is bronzeback because they do have a bronze, brown or even maroonish color to them that is unlike any other black bass.  Like all of their cousins they will adapt to many types of environments and change their coloration to best blend in to the ecosystem in which they inhabit.

Smallmouth bass

What Goes In Their Belly? Smallmouth are almost as versatile as the largemouth and will eat just about anything.  The only drawback to what they can eat is the fact that their mouth is so much smaller than a largemouth’s.  This does limit their options somewhat.  What it also does is help us understand why they live in the niche are of a river that they prefer to inhabit – the rocky and shoal sections where smaller creatures and lots of invertebrates live.  Crayfish, hellgramites and various insects are located in these places and you can bet the smallies are chock full of them too.  Likewise, smaller fish live in these areas and smallmouth do eat other fish, especially small, slender ones.  Baby catfish, bream, darters, goby and shad are prime smallmouth prey.  But just because they have smaller mouths don’t think they won’t go after a big snake, frog or fish, especially when they get in the 4lb+ (or 18-20+ inch) range.

So, Where Can I Catch ‘Em? You can catch them usually in the quicker water of the river and around rock and rapids.  However, they are versatile and you can catch them in areas that are very calm as well.  Smallmouth also inhabit lakes and still water areas so they can adapt to live in a variety of environments.  But more often than not if there is swift water with rocks then that is where they will be as they wait for their next meal to get swept down a chute or where they are face down rummaging through the rocks for a crayfish, hellgramite or catfish.Smallmouth Bass World Record Photo

Any Subspecies? Nope, a smallie is a smallie is a smallie.

World Record: 11lbs 15oz caught on July 9th, 1955 by David Hayes.

What I Like Bassin’ For Them: As stated in the first paragraph they are the pound for pound best fighters in the black bass family and that should be reason enough.  However, they also have other characteristics that make them a joy to pursue.  They love to leap into the air and will ferociously attack a topwater plug, buzzbait or popper on the fly rod.  It is rare that you find an angler who does not enjoy the bone jarring strike on the surface and sure enough I am not one of them.  The shoal and rapid section of rivers are usually the most scenic and full of life so being in these spots where the smallmouth live, catching smallmouth and enjoying the scenery is hard to beat.  Because they are not scared of shallower water the fight can certainly be a challenge and you had better learn to hold your rod as high over your head as you can or they will bulldog their way down and break you off on a rock.  It is the obstacles and aura of the shoals that, when a fish is on, creates the beautiful chaos that is river bassin!

Drew Gregory with another big smallmouth bassDrew Gregory with big smallmouth bass

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