14 Effective Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips!

15 effective smallmouth bass fishing tips

14 Effective Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips!

This post will list 14 effective smallmouth bass fishing tips. Smallmouth bass are a popular freshwater game fish that are found in the cooler portions of North America. They are an aggressive predator that readily takes artificial lures, live baits, and flies. Capt Jim Klopfer is a fishing guide in Florida. However, he grew up fishing for smallmouth bass in Maryland rivers. He shares his tips here in this article!

In reality, smallmouth bass are a bit of a combination of largemouth bass and trout. Smallmouth bass prefer cool, clear water. They do not tolerate rivers or lakes that have poor water quality. Anglers who regularly fish for largemouth bass will need to adjust their techniques and strategies a bit in order to be successful when chasing smallmouth bass.

smallmouth bass fishing

14 effective smallmouth bass fishing tips

The following 14 effective smallmouth bass fishing tips will help anglers of all experience levels catch more of these terrific freshwater game fish. Slight adjustments in technique and tackle will have positive results. Smallmouth bass were originally found in the Midwest and parts of the East Coast. However, they have been successfully transplanted to many waters west of the Mississippi River.

1)  Go smaller for smallmouth bass

river smallmouth bass fishing

Number one on the list of 14 effective smallmouth bass fishing tips is to think small. However, small doesn’t mean tiny. The same artificial lures that produce largemouth bass are also productive when chasing smallmouth bass as well. The key is to downsize the offerings to suit the forage and clear water situations where smallmouth bass are often found.

Read more about the best smallmouth bass fishing lures

The same is true when it comes to fishing with live baits. In most situations, a 2 inch to 3 inch minnow or crayfish is the perfect size for smallmouth bass fishing. While larger baits will catch trophy fish, they will also produce fewer fish. Lures in the 2” to 3” size are generally most effective as well.

2)  Smallmouth bass love current

fishing in Franklin, NC

Next on the list of 12 effective smallmouth bass fishing tips is to understand that they love current! This is the number one difference between largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. Smallmouth bass are found in many faster flowing rivers, especially those with cool, clear water. They will stage in areas of slack water such as behind boulders and fallen trees as well as behind ledges in deeper pools.

Check out more about fishing for river smallmouth

Many of the best smallmouth bass lakes are those that are part of a river system. The Tennessee River system is a perfect example of this. Part of the reason for this is that once again these lakes often have current. Hydroelectric dams will result in a lot of current, as will rain water. Smallmouth bass will position themselves on large structure breaks such as channel edges and sloping points.

3)  Smallmouth bass are found near rocks

fishing for bass

Smallmouth bass love rocks! This is the next smallmouth bass fishing tip. These rocks can include anything from small gravel to giant boulders. The main reason for this is that one of the primary sources of nutrition for smallmouth bass is crayfish. These freshwater crustaceans are mostly found in rocky environments. This includes both rivers and lakes.

Smallmouth bass fishing for beginners

Generally speaking, the top areas and larger lakes and reservoirs will be those with some type of rocky bottom. Sloping gravel points that connect out to the main river channel are top spots for smallmouth bass. This is also the type of area where they spawn. Submerged rocky islands are another smallmouth hotspot. Many of the best smallmouth bass fishing rivers are those with a lot of larger boulders and rocky ledges.

4)  Jigs are terrific smallmouth bass fishing lures

smallmouth bass fishing tips

Jigs are fantastic smallmouth bass fishing lures! These include both hair jigs such as marabou and bucktail along with the jig and grub combination which uses a jig head along with a soft plastic trailer. Both can be equally effective depending on the situation. The jig and grub combination is especially versatile as it allows anglers to easily change the color and shape of the body.

Jigs are so effective on smallmouth bass because they realistically imitate the primary forage of many smallmouth bass; crayfish. A natural colored jigs such as olive or rootbeer bounced along the bottom very realistically imitates a fleeing crayfish. White is also an excellent color when bait fish such as shad are present, especially in lakes.

5)  Understand the diet of a smallmouth bass

smallmouth bass fishing

Successful smallmouth bass anglers will understand the differences in their diet versus other bass species. Since smallmouth bass are often found in rivers, their prey will often consist of crayfish and helgramites. Both of these animals are high in protein and are found on rocky bottoms in flowing rivers.

Anglers chasing smallmouth bass in larger lakes and reservoirs will find that they feed equally on crayfish and bait fish. Shad are a top forage and lakes where they are present. In the Great Lakes region, smallmouth are growing incredibly fat on gobies, which are an invasive species that have invaded this region.

6)  Match the hatch for success

finesse fishing

Number six on the list of 12 effective smallmouth bass fishing tips is to match the lure, bait, or fly, to the naturally available forage. In lakes where larger shad are present, larger soft plastic swim baits and crank baits will be productive. Conversely, and areas where smallmouth bass are feeding on small crayfish, a black and orange jig bounced along the bottom is a better option.

7)  The Rebel Wee Craw is the top river smallmouth bass fishing lure

smallmouth bass fishing tips

The Rebel Wee Craw is Capt Jim’s favorite river smallmouth bass fishing lure. This bait is legendary among experience smallmouth bass anglers throughout North America. It comes in several sizes and colors which allow anglers to match the lure to the conditions. This little crank bait hasn’t incredible erratic action that realistically mimics a fleeing crayfish. It can be used in lakes as well, however really shines in river situations.

8)  Use light tackle for smallmouth bass

smallmouth bass fishing

The next tip on the list of effective smallmouth bass fishing tips is to go light on the tackle. As mentioned above, smallmouth bass thrive in clear, cool water. Therefore, anglers will do better scaling down their line size as well as the offerings. Capt Jim prefers a 6 1/2 foot to 7 foot light rod with a fast action paired with a 1000 series reel and spooled up with 6 pound monofilament line is perfect for most applications.

Anglers can click this link for a detailed article on smallmouth bass fishing tackle and lures. They can shop for the products from this page as well!

This outfit will do fine in river fishing situations as well as fishing for average sized smallmouth bass in lakes. Anglers casting larger crank baits and other lures and lakes where larger smallmouth bass are present may need to bump the tackle up a bit. A 7 foot medium weight rod with a 2000 reel and 10 pound line will work well. Light bait casting outfits are also excellent for casting plugs and heavier lures.

9)  Live bait is effective on smallmouth bass

live bait fishing

While many anglers pursue smallmouth bass with artificial lures, live bait can be extremely effective, especially when the fish are finicky. The top three live baits for smallmouth bass fishing are crayfish, minnows, and nightcrawlers. There are certainly other effective live baits such as leeches, but these are the top three.

Read Capt Jim’s article on fishing for smallmouth bass with live bait

Nightcrawlers are a terrific all-around live bait for smallmouth bass. They can be drifted naturally or under a float in a river through the deeper pools. In lakes they can be fished using a drop shot rig. Minnows can be fished in shallow water under a float or in deeper water on a drop shot rig. Crayfish are most often fished with no weight and allowed to drift naturally with the current in rivers.

10)  Smallmouth bass love jerkbaits

live bait for bass

Smallmouth bass love jerk baits! A jerk bait is a long slender plug that is cast out and jerked sharply followed by a pause. This causes the lure to jerked forward and flash erratically before pausing. This action simulates a wounded bait fish and smallmouth bass find them irresistible. They are available and many different sizes and colors as well as the depth to which they will dive.

Capt. Jim’s favorite jerk bait is the Rapala X-Rap Extreme Action Slashbait. He prefers the number 10 size which is 4 inches long. It is available in a shallow diving model as well as one with the larger live which will dive down to 15 or 18 feet. White is a great all round color, especially in clear water when shad are present. Darker models that imitate yellow perch and gobies are effective as well.

11)  Fly fishing for smallmouth bass

Minnesota smallmouth bass

Eleventh on the list of 12 effective smallmouth bass fishing tips is that smallmouth bass are a terrific species to target with a fly rod. Smallmouth bass in many instances are much more aggressive than trout species and are therefore easier to fool on fly. Also, the fact that smallmouth bass are so prevalent in streams makes it a natural situation to give the fly rod a try.

Bob Clouser invented the Clouser Deep Minnow for fishing for smallmouth bass on the Susquehanna River. It remains one of the top smallmouth bass fishing flies of all time and is relatively easy to fish. It can be purchased or tied to imitate both bait fish and crayfish. A 6wt rod with a floating line and an 8 foot leader tapering down to 4 pound test is a good all-around flyfishing outfit for smallmouth bass.

12)  Understanding seasonal migrations is key to success

smallmouth bass

Just as with other species, successful anglers will understand the seasonal migrations that smallmouth bass make in order to be successful. In the winter, they will be found in deeper water on structure breaks such as main channel edges. And rivers they will be in the deeper holes. As the water warms up and spring, smallmouth bass find shallow areas of gravel to nest and spawn.

After the spawn, smallmouth bass in lakes will often school up in be found over deeper structure. Sloping points are excellent spots, as are underwater humps, channel edges, and bridges. In the fall, smallmouth bass will move up into tributary creeks and rivers and feed in the backs of these areas heavily on shad and other bait fish. As winter comes on, the cycle will repeat itself.

13)  Ice fishing for smallmouth bass is productive

ice fishing for bass

Next on the list of effective smallmouth bass fishing tips is that smallmouth bass can be caught through the ice. While the cold water will result in the metabolism of a smallmouth bass slowing down quite a bit, they still need to feed. A live minnow fished on a jig head around structure in 15 feet to 30 feet of water is a good approach. Early and late in the day is best.

14)  Fish waters that have both trout and smallmouth bass

fishing tips

The last tip on this list is for anglers to choose waters that hold both smallmouth bass and trout species. These colder lakes and rivers that have good populations of both bass and trout will allow anglers the opportunity to catch both using the same lures, baits, and techniques. The same live baits and artificial lures that produce smallmouth bass and lakes and rivers will also catch rainbow and brown trout where they are available.

In conclusion, this article on 14 effective smallmouth bass fishing tips will help anglers be more successful when chasing these fantastic freshwater game fish!

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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