The Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieui) is one of the most popular North American game fish second only to the Largemouth bass and Florida Largemouth Bass. The smallmouth bass, like all North American fresh water bass, are members of the sunfish family.
They are also known as black bass, smallie, redeye, bronzeback, brown bass and the brownie. They have a preference for clear lakes and rivers with moderate to low turbidity.
Not only are they known for their fighting abilities, but they are well known for the taste of their meat both at the campfire and the dinning room table.
Above: Standard ice fishing hole and fishing rod
Top Fighting Fish
Smallmouth bass are known for putting up a great fight. When you set your hook on one of these fish, you will think that you have a much bigger fish that you end up reeling in because they put up such a great fight that lasts for some time.
At the turn of the twentieth century, smallmouth bass fishing was a commercial endeavour. However, today smallmouth bass fishing is relegated to being a top game fish with a rather large industry built around the fish. They are many lodges that focus on smallmouth bass trips, there are TV shows that cover smallmouth bass tournaments and pf course there is the tackle. Smallmouth bass fishing provides hundreds of millions of dollars to the North American economy. Only Salmon and trout have taken over at being the top game fishes in North America.
Above: smallmouth bass caught on a fly rod
Smallmouth Bass are energetic and aggressive fish, preferring fast moving water, but still at home in large clear lakes. Many anglers consider smallmouth bass fishing to be well worth the effort and a top fighter. However, when the waters cool down, they do become lethargic and slow to feed, though this is common to all fresh water species. The best way to encourage them to eat in cool waters is through spoons and spinners, appealing to their sense of territory. Try casting within a few feet of them, reeling the bait within six inches of here they are hovering.
Landing the smallmouth takes some skill. Hooking a smallmouth does not guarantee that you will land the fish in the boat as they quite often succeed in shaking the lure from its mouth by jumping and twisting into the air. When caught in the depths, they burrows into the weed bed for cover, which makes the angler work to land the fish.
Smallmouth bass have a protruding lower jaw, which extends beyond the middle of the eye. They have red eyes, brownish body, two connected or notched dorsal fins, one spiny and one soft, white bellies, and faint dark vertical bands across their bodies. It is often mistaken for a largemouth bass with the major difference between the two being the size of their jaw. The smallmouth jaw ends just under the eye, while the largemouth's jaw goes further back.
Above: Smallmouth Bass mouth
The smallmouth bass is a robust, fish with a laterally compressed body, a large, long, head with dark bars which radiate back from the eyes. It has a long, blunt snout with a slightly longer lower jaw and two joined dorsal fins that appear as one. The back and top of the head is brown, golden brown through olive to green and the sides are lighter than the back, more golden with golden flecks on most scales and marked by 8 to 15 pronounced to vague, thin vertical bars.
Above: Smallmouth Bass white underbelly to light green sides.
The underside is cream to milk-white; the pectoral fins are clear and the others are opaque, dark to amber with some black on rays, spines or membranes. It's body colour is variable with size, condition and habitat. In clear water they are darker with pronounced, contrasting markings, and in turbid water, they are lighter with vague markings.
They have the ability to changing colour slightly to suit their surroundings, preferring a lower light environment, which is when they are most active. They will avoid direct sunlight, preferring the twilight hours of dawn and dusk.
Smallmouth bass reach adulthood between two to four years of age. At ten years of age, smallmouths reach about twenty inches long and a weight of five to six pounds. Your best chance at catching a large smallmouth is by fishing the remote lakes of Canada and the central United States.
The maximum life expectancy is fifteen years, though the rate of maturation is directly dependant on the body of water: the further north we go, the slower the growth rate and the smaller the maximum size. Generally speaking, northern smallmouth live longer than their southern counterparts.
Smallmouth Bass mature much quicker in lakes with very low levels of turbidity and that contain diverse ecosystems and rocky bottoms. The average smallmouths come in at less than five pounds on average, with five pounds being considered a trophy bass in many northern lakes and rivers. The record smallmouth bass was caught in Dale Hollow Lake in 1955, weighing in at almost twelve pounds.
Above: Dale Hollow Lake, Tennessee