Bass species of the Mid-West

- Smallmouth Bass -

Smallmouth Bass

The smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) is a species of freshwater fish in the sunfish family (Centrarchidae) of order Perciformes. It is the type species of its genus. One of the black basses, it is a popular gamefish sought by anglers throughout the temperate zones of North America, and has been spread by stock to many cool-water rivers and lakes in the United States and Canada. The smallmouth bass is native to the upper and middle Mississippi River basin, the Saint Lawrence River–Great Lakes system, and up into the Hudson Bay basin. Its common names include Smallmouth, Bronzeback, Brown Bass, Brownie, and Bronze Bass.


The smallmouth bass is marked by a series of dark stripes(or bars) on the sides, and its upper jaw does not extend past the eye. It grows to a maximum recorded overall length of 69 cm (27 in), weighing up to 5.4 kg (12 lb). Specimens have been recorded living up to 26 years.

Drawing of a Smallmouth Bass.


M. dolomieu is found in clearer water than the largemouth, especially streams, rivers, and the rocky areas and stumps and also sandy bottoms of lakes and reservoirs. The smallmouth prefers cooler water temperatures than its cousin the largemouth bass, and may be found in both still and moving water. Because it is relatively intolerant of pollution, the smallmouth bass is a good natural indicator of a healthy environment, though it can better adjust to changes in water condition than most trout species. Carnivorous, its diet comprises crayfish, insects, and smaller fish, the young also feeding on zooplankton.

The female can lay up to 21,000 eggs, which are guarded by the male in his nest.


In the United States, smallmouth bass first moved outside their native range upon construction of the Erie Canal in 1825, extending the fish's range into central New York state. During the mid- to late 1800s, smallmouth were transplanted via the nation's rail system to lakes and rivers throughout the northern and western United States, as far as California. Shippers found that smallmouth bass were a hardy species that could be transported in buckets or barrels via the railroad, sometimes using the spigot from the railroad water tank to aerate the fingerlings. They were introduced east of the Appalachians just before the Civil War, and afterwards transplanted to the states of New England.

With increased industrialization and development, many of the nation's eastern trout rivers were dammed, polluted, or allowed to silt up, raising water temperatures and killing off the native brook trout. Smallmouth bass were often introduced to northern rivers now too warm for native trout, and slowly became a popular gamefish with many anglers. Equally adaptable to large, cool-water impoundments and reservoirs, the smallmouth also spread far beyond its original native range. Later, smallmouth populations also began to decline after years of damage caused by overdevelopment and pollution, as well as a loss of river habitat caused by damming many formerly wild rivers in order to form lakes or reservoirs. In recent years, a renewed emphasis on preserving water quality and riparian habitat in the nation's rivers and lakes, together with stricter management practices, eventually benefited smallmouth populations and has caused a resurgence in their popularity with anglers.

Today, smallmouth bass are very popular game fish, frequently sought by anglers using conventional spinning and bait casting gear, as well as fly fishing tackle. In addition to wild populations, the smallmouth bass is stocked in cool rivers and lakes throughout Canada and the United States. In shallow streams it is a wary fish, though usually not to the extent of most trout. The smallmouth is highly regarded for its topwater fighting ability when hooked - old fishing journals referred to the smallmouth bass as "ounce for ounce and pound for pound the gamest fish that swims" Smallmouth bass are taken for the table, with filets of white, firm flesh when cooked. Today, many fishermen practice catch-and-release fishing to improve fish populations.

Underwater picture of a Smallmouth Bass.



Smallmouth are attracted to a wide range of natural and artificial baits, flies, or lures. Spinners, crankbaits, plastic grubs, crawfish, and tubes in natural colors fished with a weight are popular among spinning or baitcasting fishermen. Smallmouth can also be taken on a fly rod using a dry or wet fly, nymphs, streamers, or imitations of larger aquatic creatures such as crawfish or leeches (see Fly lure). Floating topwater popper fly patterns are also popular for smallmouth fishing.

Smallmouth bass are more susceptible to mortality resulting from fishing tournaments than are largemouth bass. Smallmouth bass require cool, highly-oxygenated water which is difficult to reproduce in the holding wells of boats without specially aerated live wells and oxygenating chemicals. Poor water conditions and long periods of confinement result in significant stress that can result in high levels of post-release mortality, up to six days after the confinement.

Fishing Tackle

For river fishing, spinning tackle or fly tackle have been the most popular angling tools for smallmouth in North America for many years. Many fisherman use a 5.5-6.5 foot, medium-fast action rod matched with 6-8 lb. test line. However, fly fishing for smallmouth bass has become increasingly popular in recent years, and most fly fishermen seeking river or stream smallmouth use a 7- to 9-foot fly rod in a #5, #6, #7, or #8-weight size with a floating or sink-tip fly line, depending upon the water to be fished. Fishermen seeking smallmouth in large lakes often use sinking lines of various densities, as smallmouth found in such waters often feed at greater depths. Smallmouth are not leader shy and will take larger lures and flies, though shallow streams and tight quarters may call for a shorter rod and lighter lines than are generally used for lakes or large rivers.

Smallmouth Bass.






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