Largemouth and smallmouth bass are closely related, and the two species are similar in many ways. But they also have their differences, and you might not always catch both types of bass in the same lake using the same methods.
Here’s what you need to know about largemouth and smallmouth bass. That includes how they’re alike, how they’re different, and how to catch them.
How to Identify Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass
Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are part of a genus of fish known as black bass, which are part of the sunfish family. A few key characteristics can be used to tell largemouth and smallmouth bass apart:
Color: Largemouth bass are greenish in color, typically a light shade of olive green that is darker on the back, with a dark, blotchy horizontal stripe down the sides. Smallmouth bass are brown or bronze in color, often displaying a series of dark vertical bars.
Jaw Length: The most conclusive way to tell largemouth and smallmouth bass apart is the length of their jaw. On a largemouth bass, the rear of the jaw extends back past the eye when the mouth is closed, whereas the jaw of a smallmouth bass does not.
Size: Size alone isn’t enough to tell largemouth and smallmouth bass apart, but largemouth bass do get bigger than smallmouths. While smallmouth bass typically weigh 1 to 3 pounds and only occasionally top 5 pounds, largemouths commonly weigh 2 to 5 pounds and are capable of exceeding 10 pounds.
Where to Find Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass
The geographic range of largemouth and smallmouth bass overlap to a significant degree, and both species have also been stocked in waters well outside of their native territory. That said, it’s generally true that largemouth bass are most abundant in the southern part of the United States, while smallmouth bass are most common in the northern U.S. and Canada.
Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass Habitat
Many lakes and rivers are home to both largemouth and smallmouth bass, but the two species prefer different conditions and often inhabit different areas within the same body of water.
Largemouth bass prefer a weedy habitat and are comfortable in water that is warmer and more stained than smallmouths. Temperatures between 65°F and 85°F are most favorable to largemouth bass. They are often caught around weed beds, beneath lily pads, and near woody covers like stumps and fallen trees.
Smallmouth bass favor rocky structures and clearer, cooler water than largemouth bass. Water temperatures between 65° and 75°F are ideal, and smallmouths are often found in deeper water during summer as a result. Smallmouths are also more at home in current than largemouths, and they are well-adapted to life in rivers.
Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass Diet
Largemouth and smallmouth bass eat many of the same foods, including smaller fish such as shad, shiners, alewives and herring. Largemouth bass are able to eat larger prey like bluegill and sunfish thanks to their larger mouths.
Some of each species’ preferred foods are related to their environment. Both species eat crayfish, but smallmouths tend to eat more of them because they inhabit the same rocky areas. Largemouths also eat other creatures that are found in shallow, swampy areas like frogs and snakes.
Do Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass Fight Differently?
Sometimes you can tell what kind of bass you’ve hooked just by the way it fights. Largemouth bass are strong but not very agile. They usually pull with a series of steady tugs. Smallmouth bass, even though they don’t get as big, are known for being stronger and more energetic. They go on erratic runs with lots of quick turns and often leap completely out of the water.
Best Baits & Lures for Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass
A lot of the same baits and lures will catch both species of bass, but certain lures work better for one or the other. Overall, these are some of the best lures for largemouth and smallmouth bass:
Jigs:Arguably the broadest lure category, a jig is any lure that includes a hook with a lead “head” molded onto it. Jig heads can be adorned with a tremendous range of trailers. Common varieties include plastic skirted jigs, hair jigs and tube jigs. Jigs catch both largemouth and smallmouth bass and are usually used for bottom-fishing.
Spinnerbaits: A spinnerbait combines a spinning blade with a skirted jig-like body. Spinnerbaits are more popular for largemouth bass but can catch both. They’re designed to minimize hangups in weedy areas and work best close to the surface and in shallow water.
Crankbaits: Shaped and painted to mimic baitfish, crankbaits are effective for both largemouth and smallmouth bass in a wide range of situations. Most crankbaits have a plastic bill that helps give them lifelike movement while allowing the lure to dive to a specific depth.
Jerkbaits: There are two types of jerkbait: hard jerkbaits, which are similar to crankbaits but with a longer shape and a more pronounced side-to-side “jerking” action, and soft jerkbaits, which are minnow-shaped soft plastic baits that work best when threaded onto a wide-gap worm hook. Both types mimic injured baitfish and are equally effective for both largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Texas Rig: One of the most “classic” rigs for fishing soft plastic lures, a Texas rig involves a sliding bullet sinker threaded onto the leader line above a wide-gap worm hook. Texas rigs are typically used to fish on the bottom with plastic worms and lizards.
Drop-Shot Rig:A drop-shot rig features a sinker at the bottom with a soft plastic bait on a hook anywhere from 10 to 14 inches above it. They’re most often used with small “finesse” worms for smallmouth bass in deep, rocky areas.
Wacky Rig: A wacky rig is simply a soft plastic stickbait (sometimes called a wacky worm) hooked through its center on a short-shank hook. The lure is allowed to sink through the water column slowly, a tactic that works best in shallow water but is equally effective for largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Ned Rig: The Ned rig is a relatively new invention popularized in the last 10 years. It is a shortened version of a soft stickbait hooked onto a mushroom-head jig, which is then hopped across the bottom so that the tail of the lure wiggles as it sticks straight up. Ned rigs work for both species, but they seem most effective on smallmouths.
With these essential baits and rigs, you’ll be ready to catch both largemouth and smallmouth bass in no time. And unless you live in one of the southernmost U.S. states, don’t be too surprised if you catch both!