Part Sixty

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass Fishing

By Tom Keith
Excerpt from: Fly Tying and Fishing for
Thanks to Frank Amato Publications!

To people not familiar with bass or bass fishing, an obvious question is: "What's the difference between largemouth and smallmouth fishing? Those fish are just the same except for the size of their mouths, aren't they?"

Actually, there is a good deal of difference between the two species and those differences have a great effect on how you fish for them and how successful your fishing will be.

It is amazing that two fish that are so closely related and look so much alike can really be so different. The smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieui) is, like its cousing the largemouth, a member of the sunfish family. It is relatively slender fish and has a fairly large mouth, but its jaw does not extend past the rear edge of its eye. There is a shallow notch that separated the spinour portion of the dorsal fin from the soft rear portion. The smallmouth's back and sides are generally a greenish-brown color with subdued dark-colored mottling and several vertical bars. Its belly is usually a dirty shade of white.

Fishermen refer to the smallmouth by many names, like bronzeback, black bass, brown bass, and even green trout.

Smallmouth habitat

While the largemouth is usually found in still-water spots like ponds, lakes and reservoirs, the smallmouth prefers the clear, clean waters of moderately fast-flowing streams and rivers, though it does do well in some still-water impoundments.

Where they occur in ponds, lakes and reservoirs, smallmouths tend to concentrate near the mouths of rivers flowing into the impoundment, or in areas of the lake where current is created by the wind. When you are searching for smallmouths, the best place to start looking is that part of the lake where the water is the clearest and the cleanest.

In a stream or river, the fish congregate in spots with moderate current. They like to lie behind downed trees and behind rocks in small pools where there is a noticeable current, rather than in very slow-moving pools or those where the water is completely still.

Smallmouths are usually associated with rocks in some form - gravel, boulders, scattered rock, or riprap. The fish need rock to spawn successfully and they prefer to spawn directly in the rocks, over gravel, or bottoms covered with sand. Biologists say smallmouth nests that are constructed in silty lake or stream bottoms are rarely successful.

Many anglers have misconceptions about smallmouth bass. Unfortunately, the smallmouth is a fish that prefers to live in cool, clear flowing waters rather than the warmer water normally found in reserviors, lakes and ponds. Because they grow rather slowly and because many excellent smallmouth waters are in the north where the growing season is shorter than it is in the south, smallmouths just don't get as big as their largemouth cousins.

Because the smallmouth is not readily available in many parts of the country and because it is not capable of attaining a real heavyweight status, it has not enjoyed the immense popularity of the more common largemouth.

On the other hand, the smallmouth can be more difficult to catch and it fights stubbornly until it either escapes, which is often, or is landed by the angler. One of its favorite tactics is to jump or roll on the surface trying to shake the lure from its mouth. If it can't throw the hook, it dives and heads for deeper water to continue the fight. In my opinion, smallmouths are the most acrobatic of all freshwater gamefish. That's why I'd rather catch a 4-pound smallmouth on fly fishing gear than a 6-pound largemouth on the same equipment - smallmouths are just that much more exciting and fun to catch. ~ Tom Keith

More on Smallmouth Bass Fishing Next time!

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