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Large vs Small Mouth Bass: Beginner’s Guide to Fishing

Large vs Small Mouth Bass
Written by Walter Ashley
Last Update: February 14, 2022

Seasoned fishermen can tell a largemouth bass with one look. But since most of us can’t, we’re going to compare large vs smallmouth bass

With this guide, you’ll know what they look like, where to find them and how to catch them the next time you go fishing.

Largemouth Bass

Also known as Micropterus salmoides, Largemouth Bass are the fiercest predators in the natural water ecosystem. As a result, they are the most popular game fish in the US.

They are very aggressive and have a great sense of smell; they can follow the scent of their prey.

Identifying Largemouth Bass

Large vs Small Mouth Bass


They can live 16 to 25, though some have been known to live longer.


The bigger the bass, the older it is. They are continously growing fish, with the females being larger than the males. The average weight for an adult largemouth bass is 14 to 20 pounds. The average length is 16 inches.


Small fish, frogs, insects, crayfish, and small aquatic birds (baby ducks).


They love still, warm water with lots of weeds, rocks, and dead trees. They hide in the cover and strike out at their prey. They stay in the shallow water that is warmed by the sun. Large Mouth bass can survive in saltwater if they have a food source.


The male largemouth bass prepares the nest in water one to five feet in depth. They spawn in the first year of life during the spring.

Time to Fish for Largemouth Bass

The best bait for largemouth bass is crayfish, nightcrawlers, and shad if you use live bait. However, these fish love artificial bait, especially lures.

The best lures to hook a bass are crankbaits, jigs, spinners, spoons, and plastic worms, especially if they are red.

Where Can You Catch Largemouth Bass?

The only time you will find a group of largemouth bass is in an area with lots of food. Otherwise, they are loners. They hide among the rocks, weeds, and roots wait for their prey.

They are the alpha predator. You can find them in calm, warmer water that is dark and murky (they are sensitive to the sun) in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass is a very popular US game fish known for putting up a good fight once they are on the line.

Also known as Micropterus dolomieu, they are known for underwater feeding and don’t eat anything on top of the water.

Instead, they are opportunistic and eat whatever they find whenever they find it.

Identifying Smallmouth Bass

Large vs Small Mouth Bass

  • Lifespan

The average life span is ten to twelve years if they live through the first year.

  • Size

The older the fish, the bigger it is. They never stop growing. Females are larger than males. The average weight for an adult smallmouth bass is twelve to sixteen pounds.

  • Diet

Crayfish, minnows, shad, and perch. They only eat food they find under the water.

  • Habitat

They hang out near the rocks and weeds, but never in them. They love the action and moving water. You can always find them near the smaller fish, especially deeper, cooler water.

  • Spawn

Smallmouth bass spawn in shallow warmer water (60 degrees). That is the only time you will find them in the warmer water. They will go to spawn before the largemouth during the spring and are more aggressive at the time of spawning.

Time to Fish for Smallmouth Bass

The best time to fish is April to June; they go deeper to semi-hibernate as the water becomes colder.

Bass are known for their love of lures; the most popular ones to use for smallmouth bass are crankbaits, grubs, jigs, plastic worms, spinnerbaits, and spoons.

If you’re using live bait, they go for crayfish, minnows, nightcrawlers, and smaller shad.

Where Can You Catch Smallmouth Bass?

Smallmouth bass loves shady, warmer water between 66 to 72 degrees F. They love the currents and clear water with a rocky bottom.

They are known to hide and can be found between rocks and under the vegetation in the water. Ponds are too murky so, you will find them in rivers, lakes, and streams.

Telling Them Apart: Large vs Smallmouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

  • Identifiers

On both sides, they have dark spots that form a horizontal line. They are green to shades of olive with a yellow underbelly.

  • Fins

Dorsal fins are separated by a deep space.

  • Mouth

Very large mouth, big enough to put 3 or 4 fingers into (But I wouldn’t do that!)

  • Coloring

Is green to olive on the top and yellow on the bottom with a dark horizontal line on each side.

  • Jaw Related to Eye Placement

If you put your finger on the eye and brought it straight down to the jaw, the jaw would start at the back of the eye, giving its jaw an extended appearance.

  • Energy

They will jump a few times and then head for the weeds (or another cover) once you have hooked them. They are known to drag boats, especially kayaks, into the weeds trying to get off the hook.

  • What They Eat

Small perch, sunfish, and minnows. They also eat frogs, insects, crayfish, and small aquatic birds—fry 2 inches and smaller baby bass eat insect larvae and plankton.

Smallmouth Bass

  • Identifiers

Have a scale pattern with brown shades of vertical lines. They are shades of brown with red or brown eyes.

  • Fins

Have a dorsal fin that is one long fin from midback to near the tail with twelve to thirteen soft rays (spines in the dorsal fin.)

  • Mouth

Smaller than largemouth bass.

  • Coloring

Is green to brown with a white or silver bottom and shades of brown vertical stripes.

  • Jaw Related to Eye Placement

If you put your finger on the eye and brought it straight down to the jaw, the jaw would start at the center of the eye, giving its jaw a normal appearance.

  • Energy

They will put up a good fight, jumping, slowing down, then running towards the boat; they are not getting in the boat without a fight!

  • What They Eat

They only eat food they find under the water. Crayfish, minnows, shad, and perch are their usual diet.

Large vs Smallmouth Bass Habits in Natural Water

Both live in lakes, rivers, and streams, but smallmouth bass doesn’t do well in ponds because the water is too warm. Smallmouth bass prefers clearer, warm water with a shallow rocky bottom.

The largemouth bass is found in murky colder water with many hiding places like weeds, rocks, overhangs, and roots. They go deeper to get away from the sun.

Smallmouth Bass Are Unaffected by the Weather

Smallmouth bass doesn’t let the change in weather affect them. In good weather and bad, they act the same. They will bite in any weather with the right bait.

Largemouths Love Dark Water

Because they are sensitive to light, largemouth bass stays in the darker, murkier water.

Smallmouths Love Cooler Water

Smallmouth bass enjoys the cooler water, but not as cold as the largemouth bass enjoy.

Smallmouths Roam in the Shallow Water before Largemouths

Smallmouth bass is more aggressive during spawning season and seeks out the spawning grounds before the largemouth bass.

Largemouth Bass Love to Hide

The largemouth bass is a predator. They can smell the scent of their prey and follow the smell till they are caught.

The element of surprise helps the largemouth bass catch its prey. They hide in the cover and strike as a fish goes by.

The shallow waters with good cover enable the largemouth bass to eat his fill when hunting.

Everyone Loves a Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass fishing is so popular in the US that tournaments are held all over the country with large cash prizes for the anglers who catch the longest fish, the biggest fish by weight, and the most pounds of fish in a certain amount of time.

Most people are just everyday anglers who enjoy fishing as a hobby, a great way to pass the day, fishing for supper, and spending time as a family!

Tips for Catching a Largemouth Bass

  • Adjust to Weather Conditions

Largemouth bass hates the change in weather. They do not adapt to it well at all. When the weather changes, it is not uncommon for them to stop biting.

  • Days With Wind

On colder and windier days, the largemouth bass stays in the deeper water where the weather won’t affect them as much. So this is the best time to do some fishing!

  • Days With Sun

They can be found in the shallow water with lots of weeds, rocks, outcrops, and roots. It lets them stay cooler and hunt for food in the same place.

  • Days with Clouds

There is no good answer for a cloudy day and the largemouth bass, they don’t like changes in the weather, so they tend to go deeper. When the sun is behind the clouds, Midday works best for the largemouth bass.

However, a fisherman will tell you that a good fisherman can get a largemouth bass in any weather!

  • Picking the Best Bait

The best bait depends on choosing live bait over artificial bait. Live bait offerings are small perch, sunfish, and minnows.

When selecting artificial bait, bass loves red; choose lures like crankbaits, jigs, spinners, spoons, and plastic worms.

  • Adapt to the water temperature

Fish shallow in the warmer weather, the sun is shining, and the weather conditions are good.

On cloudy, windy, cold, and rainy days, fish deeper as the largemouth bass hang out as far as possible from the weather changes.

Finding the Best Spots to Fish

Large vs Small Mouth Bass

A lake, river, pond, and still stream will work well for largemouth bass—fish at about fifteen feet near weeds, rocks, roots, and croppings.

For smallmouth bass, stay with lakes, rivers, and streams with strong currents fish fifteen to twenty-five feet with a sandy or rocky bottom and some weeds and rocks.

Tips for Catching Smallmouth Bass

  • Fishing Time

Smallmouth bass are hungriest from sunrise to midmorning and late afternoon until sundown. They are not big fans of the sun, so cloudy days and when the sun is not brightest is the perfect time to fish for smallmouth bass.

  • Area

Find an area of the water that is 15 to 25 feet deep and has a stronger current with some weeds and rocks.

  • Bait

Be sure to use the right bait, live bait such as small perch, bluegill, and minnows (smallmouth bass love minnows!) Go with crankbaits, jigs, and spinners if you choose artificial bait.

  • Eating

Smallmouth bass has a clean, sweet taste that adults and children enjoy. They can be baked, broiled, fried, or pickled. If you catch them fresh, they are also free! Remember, if you catch em’, you have to clean em’!

  • Record

How big was the record-holding smallmouth bass? Just ask the fisherman from Dale Hollow Reservoir in Tennessee. He pulled in an 11 pound 15 ounce of smallmouth bass in 1995!

Safe Fish Handling

  • Hold it by the underbelly, with your fingers in its mouth. The best way to break the fish’s jaw is by bending it, so be careful.
  • Always wet your hands when handling fish.
  • Fish can’t live out of water; get them off the hook and back in the water as quickly as possible.

Obeying the State Laws

If you are fishing in the US, make sure you get a fishing license and know the rules. Most states have a daily maximum that you can take home, usually by length or weight.

Although they vary from state to state, one thing that is the same in every state is that if you get caught fishing without a license, you will have to pay a steep fine, and the state will confiscate your fishing gear!

About the author

Walter Ashley

I was brought up in Grove, Oklahoma alongside the Neosho river. It was not until my post-accident recovery period when I got hooked into fly fishing. The instructor had this unique teaching method and I started skipping my therapy sessions for kayak fishing out in the wild. It helped me be in places of nature that are extraordinarily beautiful and I would probably have never been there if fishing was not a part of my life. Experiences of those days taught me the shortcomings of fishing gear. So, I started investigating on a range of common equipment that people used and I started tweaking them for optimum results. It was not until my post-graduation on mechanical engineering when I seriously started thinking about fishing rod and reel designing. Extensive studies on materials that regular rods were made of eventually made way for new design ideas. Hopefully, my time on the waters and inner attachment to the nature will provide me sublimity for greater innovation.

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