How To Fish For Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) are a popular freshwater game fish known for their spirited fight and agility. They are part of the sunfish family and are native to North America’s temperate waters.

Smallmouth bass are generally characterized by their brownish to olive-green color, with dark vertical bands and a slightly smaller jaw compared to their cousin, the largemouth bass. They are commonly found in clearer, cooler waters of rivers, lakes, and streams, often around rocky areas and structures. Adult smallmouth bass typically range in size from 12 to 16 inches, with the largest recorded individuals measuring around 27 inches (69 cm) in length and weighing up to 12 pounds (5.4 kg).

Smallmouth bass is known by several common names including smallmouth, bronzeback, brown bass, brownie, smallie, bronze bass, and bareback bass, which often reflect its distinctive appearance and coloration.

Smallmouth bass are a favorite among anglers for their fighting ability. They are not the easiest to catch, but with the right techniques and knowledge, they can provide an exhilarating fishing experience. This guide will cover the essential aspects of smallmouth bass fishing, including gear setup, bait choices, fishing techniques, the best times and places to catch them, and tips for beginners, ensuring you have all the necessary information to successfully hook these magnificent fish.

Smallmouth Bass Fishing Setup

The most common tackle to target smallmouth bass includes a medium-light to medium power rod, paired with a spinning or baitcasting reel. The ideal rod length is generally between 6.5 to 7.5 feet. This size offers a good balance of sensitivity and power, crucial for feeling the bite and fighting the fish. Spinning setups are particularly favored for their ease of use and versatility, especially in situations involving lighter lures or finesse techniques.

The best setup for smallmouth bass involves a reel spooled with 6 to 12-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line. Fluorocarbon is preferred due to its low visibility underwater and good sensitivity. Braid can also be an excellent choice, particularly in situations where you need extra sensitivity and zero stretch, such as in deep water or heavy cover; however, it’s often used with a fluorocarbon leader to reduce visibility.

smallmouth bass setup
smallmouth bass setup

When it comes to the best rig for smallmouth bass, the drop shot rig is highly effective, particularly for finesse fishing. This rig involves tying a hook onto the line and then attaching a weight a foot or so below it. The lure, often a soft plastic worm or other finesse bait, is then presented just off the bottom, in the strike zone. For the drop shot rig, use a smaller hook, size 1 to 4, and a light weight, about 1/8 to 1/4 ounce, depending on the depth and current.

Another popular choice is the Texas rig, especially when fishing in areas with lots of cover. This rig involves a soft plastic lure, like a worm or a creature bait, rigged on a 3/0 to 5/0 size hook, with a bullet weight above it on the line. The weight size can vary from 1/8 to 1/2 ounce based on the depth and the amount of cover.

Best Bait For Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass are opportunistic feeders with a diet that includes a variety of aquatic animals. They primarily feed on smaller fish like minnows, crayfish, and insects, as well as other aquatic organisms.

The best baits for smallmouth bass are those that closely mimic their natural prey. Crayfish and minnows are top choices for live bait, while crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and soft plastics are highly effective artificial lures.

When it comes to live bait, one of the best choices for smallmouth bass is crayfish, as they form a significant part of their natural diet. Live minnows are also highly effective, especially when mimicking the small fish that smallmouth bass typically prey on. When using live bait, the key is to present it in a way that mimics the natural movements of these creatures. For crayfish, this means allowing them to crawl along the bottom, while minnows should be presented in a way that allows them to swim naturally, often with the use of a float or bobber to keep them at the desired depth.

In terms of artificial lures, a wide range is effective for smallmouth bass. Popular smallmouth bass lures include crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and soft plastics. Crankbaits are excellent for covering a lot of water and can be used to mimic small fish. Spinnerbaits are particularly effective in areas with a lot of cover, as their spinning action and vibration can attract bass from a distance. Soft plastics, such as worms, grubs, or creature baits, are ideal for more targeted and slower presentations. These can be rigged in various ways, such as on a jig head or using a Texas or Carolina rig, to present them effectively based on the environment you are fishing in.

crankbait lure

Smallmouth Bass Fishing Techniques

Here are some of the most common and effective techniques for catching smallmouth bass, along with details on their setup and optimal use:

1. Drop Shot Rig

The drop shot rig involves tying a hook onto your line with a trailing leader to a weight. Typically, a 1/8 to 1/4 ounce weight is used, and the hook is positioned 12 to 18 inches above it. Use a soft plastic lure, like a worm or minnow imitation, on the hook.

This technique is especially effective in deep water or when smallmouth are suspended off the bottom. It’s ideal for precise presentations around structures like rocks or submerged trees. The drop shot rig excels in clear water conditions where smallmouth bass might be more line-shy.

2. Crankbait Fishing

Crankbaits are designed to mimic the movement and appearance of small fish. They come in varying sizes and diving depths. Match the crankbait to the depth where the bass are holding. Use a medium-action rod with a reel spooled with 10 to 12-pound test line.

Crankbait fishing is highly effective when smallmouth bass are actively feeding, particularly in warmer months. It’s excellent for covering a large area quickly and is effective around rocky areas and steep drop-offs. Crankbaits work well in both clear and stained water conditions.

3. Spinnerbait Fishing

Spinnerbaits consist of a metal shaft with a spinning blade or blades and a skirted hook. Choose a spinnerbait that matches the size and color of local baitfish. Use a medium to medium-heavy rod with a baitcasting reel for better control.

This technique is great in areas with a lot of cover, like weeds or submerged timber. Spinnerbaits are effective in stained or murky water due to their vibration and flash, which help attract bass. They are particularly effective in windy conditions and during spring and fall.

4. Jig Fishing

Jigs consist of a weighted head with a hook, typically dressed with a rubber or silicone skirt. Pair them with soft plastic trailers like craws or creatures. Use a medium-heavy rod with a baitcasting reel and 10-15 pound test line for better control and sensitivity.

Jig fishing is superb around structures like rock piles, docks, or downed trees. It’s effective year-round but shines in colder water when bass are less active. Jigs can be presented with various techniques, like hopping, dragging, or swimming, making them versatile.

5. Topwater Fishing

Topwater lures like poppers, buzzbaits, or walking baits are used on the water’s surface. A medium-action rod with a spinning or baitcasting reel works well. Use a monofilament or braided line for better floatation.

Topwater fishing is most effective technique to catch bass in low-light conditions, such as early morning or late evening. It’s thrilling during the warmer months when smallmouth are more likely to strike at surface prey. This technique is best in calm and clear water conditions, where bass can easily spot the disturbance on the surface.

Best Time To Catch Smallmouth Bass

Catching smallmouth bass can be more successful at certain times, depending on various factors:

  • When do Smallmouth Bass Spawn? They spawn in late spring or early summer when water temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Best time of day to catch smallmouth: Early morning and late evening are prime times. These periods offer low light conditions when bass are more active and likely to feed.
  • Best time of year to catch smallmouth: Fall is often considered the best, as bass feed aggressively to prepare for winter. Spring, especially post-spawn, is also excellent.


In spring, especially after the spawn, smallmouth bass are actively feeding to regain energy. Morning and late afternoon are the best times to fish. Techniques like crankbaits and spinnerbaits are effective, as they can cover a lot of water and appeal to the bass’s aggressive post-spawn feeding habits.


During summer, early morning and late evening are the best times to catch smallmouth bass, as the cooler temperatures encourage them to feed more actively. Topwater lures are exceptionally effective in the early morning, while drop shot rigs and jigs work well later in the day as bass move to deeper, cooler waters.


Fall is an excellent season for smallmouth bass fishing. They feed aggressively throughout the day to prepare for winter. Crankbaits and jigs are very effective during this time, as they can mimic the baitfish and crawfish that bass are actively preying on.


In winter, smallmouth bass are less active, but they still feed. The best time is during the warmest part of the day, typically midday. Slow-moving baits like jigs or finesse worms presented with a slow, steady retrieve are effective as the bass’ metabolism slows down in colder water.

Night Fishing

Catching smallmouth bass at night can be challenging but rewarding. Use lures that create vibration and noise, like spinnerbaits or topwater lures, to attract bass in the darkness. Fishing near areas with ambient light, like docks or piers, can also be productive as these lights attract baitfish, and in turn, smallmouth bass.

Where To Find Smallmouth Bass

Locating smallmouth bass effectively requires an understanding of their preferred habitats and behaviors in various water bodies. Rivers, lakes, and streams are ideal habitats for smallmouth bass. They can be found at varying depths, often between 5 and 20 feet, depending on the season and water conditions.

A fish finder is a valuable tool for locating smallmouth bass, especially in deeper and larger water bodies, as it helps identify underwater structures and depths where bass are likely to be.


In rivers, smallmouth bass often inhabit areas with moderate current near structures like rocks, logs, or undercut banks. The best smallmouth setup for river fishing is a medium-light spinning rod and reel combo with 6-10 pound test line. Use techniques like casting crankbaits or spinnerbaits around structures, or drifting live baits like minnows or crayfish in deeper pools. Additionally, topwater lures can be highly effective in early morning or late evening.


In lakes, look for smallmouth bass around structures like rock piles, ledges, or weed lines. A versatile setup includes a medium-action spinning or baitcasting rod with 8-12 pound test line. Effective techniques include drop shot rigs for deeper areas, or crankbaits and spinnerbaits for shallower, structured regions. During summer, fishing in deeper waters using jigs or plastic worms can be particularly productive.


Smallmouth bass in streams are often found in areas with some current and plenty of cover, such as boulders or fallen trees. A light to medium-light spinning setup is ideal, with 6-8 pound test line. Small crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and soft plastics work well. In smaller streams, fly fishing can also be an effective and enjoyable method for catching smallmouth bass.

Shore Fishing

Shore fishing for smallmouth bass is common and productive. Look for areas with access to deeper water, structure, or varying bottom compositions. A medium-action spinning rod and reel with 8-10 pound test line is a good choice. Shore anglers can find success with a variety of lures, including topwater baits in low light conditions, or jigs and soft plastics during the day. Casting parallel to the shoreline can often yield good results as it keeps the lure in the strike zone longer.

Tips To Catch Smallmouth Bass For Beginners

Here are some straightforward tips for beginners looking to catch smallmouth bass:

  • Start with a medium-action spinning rod and reel combo, which offers a good balance for casting and handling smallmouth bass.
  • Use a 6-10 pound test monofilament line. Consider adding a fluorocarbon leader of the same strength for clearer water, as it’s less visible to fish.
  • Soft plastic baits, like worms or grubs, are great for beginners. They’re easy to use and effective in a variety of conditions.
  • A small to medium-sized spinnerbait or a crankbait in natural fish colors is a good choice. They are easy to cast and retrieve, making them ideal for beginners.
  • For live bait, use a size 4-6 hook. Thread the bait onto the hook to keep it secure. For soft plastics, use a worm hook and practice the Texas rig – threading the bait onto the hook and embedding the point back into the bait for a weedless presentation.
  • Cast near structures like rocks, fallen trees, or weed edges. Retrieve the lure steadily, with occasional pauses or twitches to mimic injured prey.
  • Start by fishing in shallower areas (5-15 feet deep) where smallmouth bass are often found, especially near structures.
  • In spring and fall, fish closer to shorelines or shallower structures. In summer, focus on deeper waters, especially during midday.
  • Pay attention to the environment and the behavior of the fish. Be patient, as it often takes time and practice to consistently catch bass.
  • Always follow local fishing regulations, handle fish with care for catch-and-release, and ensure safety for yourself and the environment.

Best Smallmouth Bass Fishing Gear And Tools

The best fishing gear for targeting smallmouth bass includes selecting the right fishing rod, line, reel. Electronics like fish finder are also valuable for locating smallmouth bass.

Fishing Rod

The ideal fishing rod for smallmouth bass is a medium-action spinning rod. A length of 6 to 7 feet offers a good balance of casting distance, accuracy, and sensitivity. Medium action rods provide enough flexibility to cast lightweight lures effectively, while still maintaining sufficient backbone to fight and land a strong smallmouth bass. Rods made from graphite are preferred for their strength, sensitivity, and lightweight construction.

Fishing Line

The best smallmouth bass fishing line is a monofilament line with a test strength of 6-10 pounds. This line strength offers a good mix of durability and finesse, allowing for effective handling of the lures and the ability to feel subtle bites. In clear water conditions, adding a fluorocarbon leader of similar strength can be advantageous due to its near invisibility underwater, which helps in not spooking the fish.

Fishing Reel

A spinning reel pairs well with a medium-action rod for smallmouth bass fishing. Look for a smallmouth bass reel with a smooth drag system and good line capacity. A reel in the 2500 to 3000 size range balances well with most bass fishing rods and is capable of handling the line weights and lure sizes typically used for smallmouth bass. The reel should offer a smooth reeling experience and have enough drag to handle the spirited fights smallmouth bass are known for.

Fish Finder

A fish finder is an invaluable tool for locating smallmouth bass, especially in larger and deeper water bodies. An ideal fish finder for smallmouth bass should have GPS mapping, to mark productive fishing spots, and high-resolution sonar, to identify structures and depths where bass are likely to be. Side-scan and down-scan technologies are particularly useful as they provide detailed images of the underwater environment, helping to pinpoint the exact locations of fish.