The Definitive Guide to Smallmouth vs. Largemouth Bass

John Malcolm
John MalcolmPublished: February 10, 2023
The Definitive Guide to Smallmouth vs. Largemouth Bass

Fishing for bass is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and have some fun. Whether you're an experienced angler or just getting started, knowing the differences between smallmouth vs. largemouth bass can help you be more successful on your next fishing trip. Smallmouth and largemouth bass both offer unique opportunities for anglers of all levels, but they also require different approaches when it comes to lures, bait, and technique.

We'll discuss the key differences between these two species so that you can make sure you're using the right equipment and tactics for each type of fish.

CharacteristicSmallmouth BassLargemouth Bass
ColoringLight-brown or bronze-colored bodies with a pale yellow or tan bellyDarker or greenish bodies (almost olive green colored) with a white belly
Dorsal FinsOne continuous dorsal fin that runs about half the length of their bodyTwo separate dorsal fins, with the second one being much longer than the first
SizeSmaller than largemouth bass at peak maturityLarger than smallmouth bass at peak maturity
HabitatClear waters with cooler water temperatures and a rocky bottomShallow weedy areas close to shorelines and near aquatic vegetation
Feeding BehaviorMore active and aggressive, chasing prey down until they strikeAmbush predators, waiting near cover or structures to pounce on prey
Best LuresSmaller lures such as crankbaits, spinners, and jigsBigger lures like frogs, buzzbaits, chatterbaits, and larger crankbaits
This table highlights the primary differences between smallmouth and largemouth bass.

The most popular sport fish.

Two of the most popular sport fish in North America are smallmouth and largemouth bass. Both species have similar characteristics, with the main difference being their size and behavior.

These two bass species are always competing for a spot in the angler’s live well. Although smallmouth and largemouth bass are both commonly found in the same bodies of water, they each have their own unique qualities that can make them popular among fishermen.

Identifying the differences between smallmouth and largemouth bass.

It's easy to get both largemouth bass and smallmouth bass mixed up when you bring them in the boat. While the two species may look similar in some aspects, there are a few key differences to note between them.

Coloring is the obvious difference between smallmouth vs. largemouth bass.

When you first bring that fish into the boat, the most obvious difference is their coloring. Largemouth bass tend to have darker or greenish bodies (almost olive green colored) with a white belly, while smallmouth generally has light-brown or bronze-colored bodies with a pale yellow or tan belly.

Sure, they share a lot of characteristics, but this is the first and most obvious difference you’ll likely notice.

Dorsal fins are a major difference in smallmouth vs. largemouth bass.

In addition to their coloring, the dorsal fin of the two fish is telltale as well.

As for the smallmouth bass, they have one continuous dorsal fin that runs about half the length of their body. There may be a shallow notch between the two sections of dorsal fins as well.

However, largemouth bass has two separate dorsal fins, with the second one being much longer than the first.

Comparing the sizes of smallmouth vs. largemouth bass.

Just by their names alone, you can figure out which is which. However, depending on the age and maturity of the fish, sometimes it can be hard to tell based on size alone. Not only that, they both generally have the same shape.

The smallmouth bass is generally a few pounds smaller than largemouth bass at peak maturity. This also goes for the mouth size as well. Largemouth tends to have a much larger mouth than smallmouth, which makes it easier to catch baitfish as well as other prey.

Understanding the habitats of largemouth and smallmouth bass.

These fish are so similar you would think that the two fish would share habitats for the most part. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. Of course, they can share the same lakes, but where in those lakes is a big difference.

Smallmouth bass tend to prefer clear waters with cooler water temperatures and a rocky bottom. This means you'll find smallmouth bass in deeper and colder waters, rivers, or streams that have an abundant amount of rocks and other structures, such as bridge pilings or drop-offs for cover.

On the other hand, largemouth love shallow, warmer waters near aquatic vegetation like lily pads, reeds, and grass. You'll find these fish in shallow lakes and ponds with plenty of cover and murky water for them to ambush their prey.

Largemouth Bass Underwater in Habitat
Largemouth bass live in underwater structures.

Comparing the behavior of smallmouth vs. largemouth bass.

Both species have similar behaviors when it comes to feeding, but there are some subtle differences between them as well.

Brown bass, or smallmouth will generally feed more actively than largemouth. They like to roam around in search of food and they are known to be more aggressive when it comes to feeding, often chasing their prey down until they strike.

Green bass, or largemouth bass, however, are ambush predators that tend to stay a bit more stationary while searching for food. They will wait near cover or structures and pounce on their unsuspecting prey.

Tips for catching large and smallmouth bass.

There are quite a few differences in smallmouth vs. largemouth bass - probably a few more than you thought there were.

But what you really want to know is how to catch them. There's nothing like targeting largemouth bass on a summer morning out on the lake. So with that, we're going to give you some of our best tips for catching these two species.

Location is everything!

With a deep understanding of how these two fish live and survive in their habitats, now you can go after them and become a pro angler! This means targeting specific structures, cover, and depths when searching for smallmouth or largemouth.

For smallmouth bass, look for rocky bottoms in deeper waters near drop-offs, bridges, and ledges. If possible, troll near a bridge at the mouth of a river or lake for best results.

For largemouth bass, look for shallow weedy areas close to shorelines and near aquatic vegetation like lily pads, reeds, and grass. Also, target points and submerged structures in these areas as they love to hide in and around them. Remember, they like to ambush their pray.

Having the right equipment.

For the most part, you can catch both smallmouth bass and large mouth bass with similar lures and equipment. In fact, you might be targeting one fish and catching the other - it happens. However, if you really want to go after one or the other, then having the right fishing equipment is a must.

If you're fishing for smallmouth bass, a light or medium action spinning rod with 8-10 lb. test line and small diameter lures that imitate baitfish are best. Having some bright-colored baits for those clear waters can't hurt either. We like to use football jigs that track along the rocky bottom like a small fish eating along rock piles.

For largemouth bass, heavy action rods with at least 15 lbs of test line and larger-sized lures are necessary for casting and retrieving heavy reaction baits. Weedless frogs, buzzbaits, chatterbait, and crankbaits should be your go-to's when targeting these fish in shallow waters. You can also use topwater plugs that mimic injured prey that fell into the water.

Smallmouth vs Largemouth Bass Lures
Football jigs are great for smallmouth bass while plastic worms are great for largemouth bass.

Timing of the day.

We discussed each species' living environment, and the right equipment needed to target them, but one of the most important features of bass fishing is when to go.

Smallmouth bass tend to be more active during low light conditions such as dawn and dusk while largemouth bass can remain active throughout the day but seem to hit their peak in early mornings or late afternoon.

Think about the temperature of the water each fish likes. Smallmouth prefers cooler waters (i.e., mornings and evenings and deeper water), whereas largemouth prefer warmer water temperatures that can be found in the middle of the day.

Fishing their habitats.

Knowing where to find these fish and how to approach their preferred environments is key to a successful fishing trip.

Smallmouth Bass Habitat

Smallmouth bass tend to inhabit rocky areas in deeper waters.

Look for drop-offs, bridges, ledges, and rocky bottoms when targeting smallmouth bass.

One effective technique is to troll near a bridge at the mouth of a river or lake, as these structures often provide excellent hiding spots for smallmouth bass.

Pay attention to changes in depth and focus on areas with ample rocky cover.

Largemouth Bass Habitat

Largemouth bass, on the other hand, are commonly found in shallow weedy areas close to shorelines.

Look for aquatic vegetation such as lily pads, reeds, and grass, as they offer ideal cover for largemouth bass to hide and ambush their prey.

Points and submerged structures within these weedy areas are also prime locations to target largemouth bass.

Questions about smallmouth vs. largemouth bass.

Whenever we compare fish, in this case, smallmouth vs. largemouth bass, we get a lot of questions. To help you out, we've put together some of the most common questions we get about these two popular species.

What are different names for smallmouth and largemouth bass?

There are a lot of names for these types of fish and a lot has to do with where you're geographically located. For the most part largemouth bass are often called largemouths, linesides, widemouth bass, bigmouth bass, green trout, or black bass. Smallmouth are often called smallmouths, bronzebacks, brown bass or redeye.

What are the differences in how smallmouth vs. largemouth bass feed?

Smallmouth bass tend to be more of an aggressive species while largemouth can be a bit more passive. They feed during the day and actively hunt their prey, while largemouth can be found lurking in cover or structure waiting to ambush unsuspecting food items. Smallmouth tend to eat larger prey such as crayfish and bait fish, whereas largemouth will eat smaller prey like insects and frogs.

Is smallmouth bass better than largemouth bass?

Both are a lot of fun to catch and eat, but it comes down to personal preference. It all depends on your fishing style and where you're located. Smallmouth are typically more active fish, so if you want to test your skills then they might be the better choice for you. Largemouth bass can be caught in much shallower waters, making them a little easier to target with finesse worms and plastic baits. Ultimately, it comes down to what you're looking for in a fishing trip and how you want to target these fish.

Do smallmouth fight harder than largemouth?

From our vast experience fishing everything from reservoirs in the northern and western regions to the brush piles in the great lakes region and countless tournaments, smallmouth definitely fight the hardest in the bass fishing industry.

Which bass fights the hardest?

Undoubtedly the smallmouth bass fights the hardest of all the bass species. We've had some spotted bass give us a fight or two, even the occasional largemouth bass, but smallmouth bass gives the toughest fight for their size.

What are the best lures for smallmouth vs. largemouth bass?

There are a lot of variables that go into the best baits and lures for a specific type of fish, but we find that for smallmouth bass, you want to use smaller lures such as crankbaits, spinners, and jigs. You can even use small bait fish to attract decent-sized smallmouth. For largemouth, you want to use bigger baits like frogs, buzzbaits, chatterbaits, and larger crankbaits.

Know the difference now catch these fish!

Smallmouth and largemouth bass can both be a lot of fun to catch. There is no wonder they're some of the most popular species for anglers across the country.

Knowing the differences between smallmouth vs. largemouth bass will help you have more success on your next fishing trip. Smallmouth is usually found in deeper water during low light conditions, while largemouth tend to prefer warmer waters throughout the day. When targeting these species, make sure you’re using the right equipment, such as heavy action rods with at least 15 lbs test line and larger-sized lures like weedless frogs, buzzbaits, chatterbait, or crankbaits for bigger catches.

With this knowledge under your belt now is the time to get out there and start catching some trophy-size bass.

John Malcolm

John Malcolm

Expert Angler

John is a highly skilled angler with over two decades of experience and a passion that has led him to participate in numerous tournaments, including reeling in a remarkable 9lb bass on Lake Okeechobee. His dedication to fishing and willingness to share his expertise make him a respected ambassador for the angling community, inspiring others to appreciate the sport.

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