Smallmouth Buck Bass
By: Gary Buchannan
Posted On: 2009-01-24
The Smallmouth Black Bass (average weight: 1½ pounds; world record: 11 pounds, 15 ounces) may not be as large as his Largemouth cousin, in over-all size as well as jaw-spread, but he makes up for it in scrappiness. When a Smallmouth feels your hook he will treat you to a dazzling display of acrobatics and headshaking that usually unhooks your lure and tosses it back at you. Fishermen for Smallmouth will tell you that you have to know more than just fishing; you have to be able to duck fast, too.
The Smallmouth, like the Largemouth, can be found almost everywhere in the United States, due to transplanting, but he's at his fightin' best in the cold, invigorating waters of the Northeastern states and Southern Canada. In appearance he resembles the Largemouth also, although his green back and sides may have an even richer bronze sheen, giving him the nickname "Bronzeback." The distinguishing difference, of course, is his mouth. The joint of his closed jaw lies directly below his eye, not behind it as in the Largemouth. And sometimes each of his eyes will contain a red spot, which is a clue to his fiery disposition.
The Smallmouth likes clear, cold water and he prefers it to be moving. In a lake you'll find him over sand bars and rocky bottoms, not over mud bottoms and only occasionally in weed beds. He migrates into shallow water during the night to dine, but the shallows he chooses are those fed by springs or nearby streams. Look for him at dawn and dusk along rocky shores, and especially in the deep mouths of feeder streams. If the stream is large and deep enough, you'll usually find him there rather than in the lake itself. As a general rule, you'll find Largemouth Bass in the lake, and Trout and Smallmouth Bass in the river that feeds it, the Trout occupying the fast, tumbling waters of the rapids and the Smallmouth Bass the slower, deep water of the "runs" between the rapids.
The Smallmouth's menu is more limited than that of the Largemouth. He likes minnows, frogs and the occasional worms, insects, crawfish and hellgrammites (the larvae of large insects) the stream washes down to his waiting mouth, which isn't quite as small as his name implies. At dawn and dusk when he's hungry, he's just as hungry as his Largemouth cousin. But he's more discriminating. He prefers to look your lure over once or twice before taking it instead of gobbling it blindly. And a live minnow or frog or worm, with a big hook on it and dangled on a heavy line, or a big lure bristling with hooks, won't fool him very often in spite of any red color you might add to it. Use small, noisy surface lures with your bait-casting or spinning outfits, and with the former use a yard-long 10-pound-test nylon leader between line and lure so he won't see that they're connected. For the most thrills, try catching him on a heavy fly rod (about 5 ounces), with an 8-pound-test leader on your line, and floating lures that resemble night-flying moths—the kind of lures called "popping bugs" that have concave heads and "pop" along the surface when you retrieve them in jerks. Red-and-white are the best colors, with deer-hair "wings." And how the Bass love to smash them!
Since the Smallmouth is discriminating when he's feeding, as you might guess he's quite difficult to fool when he isn't feeding! First find him! Since he prefers cool water, during the heat of the day he'll be deep, haunting the dark sand bars and rock-strewn bottoms at 20-to 100-foot depths. "Feel" the bottom with a sinker (about 2 ounces) on your line, trailed behind your boat. If weeds tug at your sinker, move on! When your sinker hits a rocky bar, you'll feel it bounce from one rock to the next. Try there! Sand bars in a lake are more difficult to spot. Many of them, like rocky bars, extend far out into deep water from a projecting point of land. Best solution here is to inquire; learn their location from the local fishermen or game warden.
Deep-swimming red-and-white lures, used as for Largemouth Bass— in injured minnow fashion, many times over the same spot—will coax a Smallmouth, too, because he's also a bully like his cousin. But frequently it's more effective to capitalize on this Smallmouth weakness in another way. Tie a small silver spinner-and-hook onto your line about 2 feet ahead of your deep-swimming lure, cast, and retrieve the combination in long, fast jerks. What does the Smallmouth see swimming by ? A large minnow chasing a small silver one! Keep casting, and after he has been confronted with this tempting scene a few times, he soon becomes convinced that here's a bargain he shouldn't overlook. And no matter which he grabs—the minnow that's doing the chasing or the one that's being chased—you hook him either way.
To keep him from throwing the lure back at you when he jumps after you've hooked him, keep a tight line on him! As he starts to break water, lean back on your rod tip to turn him over. This pressure will keep him on—most of the time.