Understanding the Distinction: Smallmouth Bass vs Largemouth Bass

Discover the differences between smallmouth bass and largemouth bass! From mouth size and coloring to preferred habitats, learn to identify these popular fish species.

Do you like to fish? If so, have you ever wondered what the difference is between a smallmouth bass and a largemouth bass? It’s a question that many anglers have pondered, and today we’re going to dive into the details. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the distinctions between these two popular fish species.

Let’s start with their appearances. The most obvious difference is in the mouths of these bass. Largemouth bass have, you guessed it, a larger mouth that extends past the back of their eyes. Smallmouth bass, on the other hand, have a smaller mouth that only goes to the middle of their eyes. Additionally, their coloring can vary. Largemouth bass tend to have a greenish-brown color with a dark stripe along their side, while smallmouth bass are typically brown or bronze with vertical bars along their sides.

While their appearances may differ, their habitats also play a role in distinguishing between the two. Largemouth bass are more commonly found in lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers, often hiding under cover such as fallen trees or aquatic vegetation. Smallmouth bass, on the other hand, prefer clear and rocky waters like rivers, streams, and large lakes. They like to hang out near rocks and other structures, making them a bit trickier to catch.

In conclusion, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass may both be bass species, but there are some distinct differences between them. From their mouth size and colorations to their preferred habitats, these fish have unique traits that set them apart. So, whether you’re a seasoned angler or just starting out, knowing how to identify these bass species can enhance your fishing experience. Dive deeper into our article to learn more about the techniques and strategies for catching both smallmouth and largemouth bass.

FeatureSmallmouth BassLargemouth Bass
Scientific NameMicropterus dolomieuMicropterus salmoides
AppearanceBronze or brown, vertical dark bandsGreenish-brown, dark horizontal stripe
Mouth SizeSmaller, extends to middle of eyesLarger, extends past the back of eyes
Average Size10 to 15 inchesCommonly 16-20 inches
HabitatClear, cool waters; rivers, rocky lakesMurky waters; lakes, ponds, slow rivers
Water Temperature60°F to 75°F65°F to 80°F
DietCrayfish, small fish, insectsFrogs, fish, small mammals, snakes
Breeding SeasonLate spring to early summerSpring
NestingGravel beds in moderate to fast currentsShallow water, near vegetation
Parental CareHigh (males guard nests aggressively)Moderate (males guard nests)
Preferred Baits/LuresSpinnerbaits, jigs, crankbaitsPlastic worms, minnows, jigs
Fishing TechniquesActive pursuit and ambushSit-and-wait, slow retrieval
Conservation StatusGenerally stable, some local declinesGenerally stable, introduced worldwide
Sporting QualitiesKnown for strong fights, acrobaticsResilient, known for dramatic jumps

An Overview of Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass

When it comes to bass fishing, one of the most common questions asked is, “What is the difference between a smallmouth bass and a largemouth bass?” While they may both belong to the bass family, these two species have their own unique characteristics that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the appearance, size, habitat, feeding habits, reproduction, fishing techniques, and conservation efforts for both smallmouth and largemouth bass. By the end, you will have a better understanding of the distinction between these two popular game fish.


Physical Characteristics

Smallmouth bass, also known as Micropterus dolomieu, have a more streamlined and elongated body compared to their largemouth counterparts. Their bodies are typically bronze or brown in color, and they have vertical dark bands along their sides. Smallmouth bass have a larger mouth compared to other bass species, but their eyes appear smaller in proportion to their head.

Largemouth bass, or Micropterus salmoides, have a chunkier and more robust body shape, with a deep and broad jaw. They possess a distinct lateral line that stretches from the gill cover to the tail, and they also have a prominent black stripe that runs horizontally along their bodies. The coloration of largemouth bass can vary depending on their habitat, but they generally have shades of green, brown, or black on their back.


Smallmouth bass are often referred to as “brown bass” due to their overall brownish coloration. Their backs are usually dark brown, transitioning to a lighter shade on the sides, and finally to a white or cream-colored belly. The vertical bands on their sides are a defining characteristic, and these bands can range from brown to black, depending on the individual fish.

Largemouth bass, as their name suggests, have a larger mouth compared to smallmouth bass. The coloration of largemouth bass can vary depending on factors such as water clarity and habitat. In clear waters, they tend to have a greenish hue on their backs, transitioning to a lighter shade on their sides and eventually to a white or yellowish belly. When in murky or stained water, largemouth bass may appear darker overall, sometimes almost black.

Distinctive Features

Both smallmouth and largemouth bass have unique features that differentiate them from each other. One distinctive feature of smallmouth bass is their red eyes, which can be observed in many individuals. Additionally, smallmouth bass have a clear or bronze-colored membrane between the dorsal fins, whereas largemouth bass have a solid black membrane.

Largemouth bass have a noticeably larger mouth compared to smallmouth bass. Another distinctive feature of largemouth bass is their ability to expand their mouth and create a suction effect to capture prey. This ability allows them to consume larger prey items, such as frogs or small mammals.


Average Length

Smallmouth bass typically range in size from 10 to 15 inches, with the average size being around 12 inches. However, they have been known to grow much larger, with some specimens reaching lengths of 20 inches or more. Smallmouth bass have a relatively slower growth rate compared to largemouth bass.

Largemouth bass, on the other hand, can reach larger sizes compared to smallmouth bass. The average length of a largemouth bass is typically around 15 to 20 inches, but they have been caught measuring over 30 inches. Largemouth bass generally have a faster growth rate, especially during their first few years of life.


Smallmouth bass are known for their strength and fight, and their weight can vary depending on their length. On average, smallmouth bass weigh between 2 to 4 pounds. However, larger specimens can exceed 5 pounds or more, with the world record smallmouth bass weighing in at an impressive 11 pounds and 15 ounces.

Largemouth bass, with their larger body size, have the potential to reach much higher weights compared to smallmouth bass. The average weight of a largemouth bass is typically around 2 to 6 pounds. However, trophy-sized largemouth bass have been recorded weighing over 20 pounds, with the current world record standing at 22 pounds and 4 ounces.

Growing Potential

Both smallmouth and largemouth bass have the potential for impressive growth, but largemouth bass generally have a higher growth potential. Factors such as food availability, water conditions, and genetics play a significant role in determining the growth rate of these fish. In optimal conditions, it is not uncommon for largemouth bass to grow 1 to 2 pounds per year during their first few years of life.


Preferred Environments

Smallmouth bass thrive in clear and cool waters, particularly in rivers, streams, and rocky lakes. They are often found near structures such as submerged rocks, fallen trees, and underwater ledges. Smallmouth bass prefer areas with moderate to fast-moving currents and are particularly abundant in areas with clean, oxygen-rich water. They can tolerate slightly acidic to neutral water conditions.

Largemouth bass are more adaptable when it comes to their habitat preferences. They can be found in a variety of environments, including lakes, ponds, rivers, and reservoirs. Largemouth bass tend to gravitate towards areas with abundant vegetation, such as lily pads, submerged grass, and weed beds. They prefer warm water temperatures and can tolerate a wider range of water conditions compared to smallmouth bass.

Water Conditions

Smallmouth bass thrive in cooler water temperatures compared to largemouth bass. They are typically found in water temperatures ranging from 60°F to 75°F. Smallmouth bass are known for their ability to tolerate colder water conditions, which allows them to inhabit northern regions where largemouth bass are less common.

Largemouth bass, on the other hand, prefer warmer water temperatures. They are typically found in water temperatures ranging from 65°F to 80°F. Largemouth bass are more sensitive to cold water conditions and tend to become less active and sluggish when faced with colder temperatures. This is why they are more commonly found in southern regions where water temperatures remain consistently warm.

Geographical Distribution

Smallmouth bass are native to North America and are particularly abundant in the eastern and central parts of the continent. They can be found in various states, including but not limited to, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Michigan. Smallmouth bass have also been introduced to other regions around the world, such as Europe, where they have established self-sustaining populations.

Largemouth bass are also native to North America and have a wider distribution compared to smallmouth bass. They can be found across the United States, from the East Coast to the West Coast and even as far north as Canada. Largemouth bass have also been introduced to numerous other countries, including Japan, South Africa, and Australia, where they have become popular game fish.

Feeding Habits

Dietary Preferences

Smallmouth bass and largemouth bass share similar dietary preferences, but there are slight differences in their feeding habits. Both species are opportunistic predators that primarily feed on smaller fish, insects, crayfish, and other aquatic organisms. They have a voracious appetite and will eat anything that they can fit into their mouths.

Smallmouth bass tend to favor prey that dwells near rocky structures, such as crayfish and small baitfish. They are known for their ability to ambush these prey items by hiding within the structure and striking with lightning speed. Smallmouth bass are also known to consume insects, especially during periods of high insect activity, such as hatches or swarms.

Largemouth bass, with their larger mouth size, have a broader range of prey options compared to smallmouth bass. They exhibit a sit-and-wait feeding strategy, often lurking near vegetation or other structures to ambush unsuspecting prey. Largemouth bass are capable of consuming larger prey items, such as frogs, snakes, and even small mammals when the opportunity arises.

Foraging Techniques

Both smallmouth and largemouth bass employ different foraging techniques to capture their prey. Smallmouth bass are active predators that rely on their agility and speed to chase down and capture their prey. They often utilize bursts of speed to ambush their prey items and deliver a quick and powerful strike.

Largemouth bass, with their sit-and-wait strategy, use a more patient approach when it comes to foraging. They remain motionless, camouflaged within their surroundings, waiting for an opportunity to strike at passing prey. When the time is right, largemouth bass will open their large mouths with lightning speed, sucking in their prey before closing their jaws.

Feeding Behavior

Smallmouth bass and largemouth bass exhibit different feeding behaviors depending on various factors, such as the availability of prey and water conditions. Both species are most active during periods of low light, such as dawn and dusk, as well as during overcast days. They tend to be less active during the middle of the day when the sun is at its peak.

Smallmouth bass are known for their aggression and are more likely to strike at fast-moving lures or bait presentations that mimic their preferred prey. They are particularly active during the summer and fall months when water temperatures are optimal for their feeding habits. Smallmouth bass are also known to exhibit schooling behavior, often congregating in groups to hunt and feed.

Largemouth bass, on the other hand, can be more elusive and selective in their feeding patterns. They are more likely to strike at slower-moving lures or bait presentations that mimic wounded or injured prey. Largemouth bass tend to be more active during the spring and early summer months when water temperatures are rising, signaling the start of their spawning season.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Breeding Season

The breeding season for smallmouth bass typically begins in late spring or early summer, when water temperatures reach around 60°F to 65°F. Smallmouth bass form pairs during the spawning season and engage in courtship behaviors, such as tail-slapping and nest-building. The males create circular nests on sandy or gravel bottoms, where the female deposits her eggs.

Largemouth bass have a broader breeding season compared to smallmouth bass, which can vary depending on the region and water conditions. In general, largemouth bass begin their spawning activities when water temperatures reach around 60°F to 65°F. Male largemouth bass create circular nests near vegetation or other structures, where the female lays her eggs.

Nesting and Spawning

Smallmouth bass nests are typically located on sandy or gravel bottoms in water depths of 2 to 10 feet. The male smallmouth bass guards the nest and the eggs until they hatch, which usually takes around 6 to 10 days. After hatching, the fry remain in the nest for a short period, protected by the male, until they are large enough to venture out on their own.

Largemouth bass nests are commonly found near vegetation or other structures, such as submerged grass, lily pads, or fallen trees. The male largemouth bass tirelessly guards the nest and the eggs until they hatch, which takes around 5 to 10 days. Once the fry hatch, the male continues to protect them for a short period, after which they disperse and begin their independent lives.

Parental Care

Smallmouth bass males are known for their strong parental instincts and their dedication to protecting the nest and offspring. They actively guard the nest against potential threats, such as predators or other fish. The male smallmouth bass will aggressively defend the nest by chasing away any intruders that come too close, utilizing its strength and territorial nature.

Largemouth bass males also exhibit parental care but to a lesser extent compared to smallmouth bass. While they guard the nest and the eggs, their level of aggression towards intruders is not as pronounced. Largemouth bass males tend to focus more on maintaining the nest and ensuring the proper oxygenation of the eggs.

Fishing Techniques and Tips

Best Baits and Lures

Smallmouth bass are known for their aggressive nature and are attracted to a wide range of baits and lures. Some popular bait options include live bait such as minnows, crayfish, and nightcrawlers. Artificial lures such as crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, and soft plastic baits can also be highly effective when targeting smallmouth bass. It is important to match the bait or lure to the water conditions and the specific feeding preferences of the fish.

Largemouth bass, with their sit-and-wait feeding strategy, may require a different approach when it comes to bait and lure selection. Live bait options such as shiners, frogs, and worms can be effective in enticing largemouth bass. When it comes to artificial lures, topwater baits, soft plastic creatures, jigs, and crankbaits are popular choices for targeting largemouth bass. Experimenting with different colors, sizes, and retrieval techniques can often yield successful results.

Fishing Locations

When it comes to smallmouth bass fishing, rocky shorelines, rocky points, and areas with submerged rock structures are prime locations to target. Smallmouth bass are often found near drop-offs, submerged ledges, and areas with moderate to fast-moving currents. Paying attention to underwater structures, such as boulders or fallen trees, can greatly increase your chances of success when targeting smallmouth bass.

Largemouth bass fishing often revolves around areas with abundant vegetation. This can include areas with lily pads, submerged grass, weed beds, or standing timber. Look for structures such as fallen trees, docks, or brush piles, as largemouth bass are often found hiding in or around these areas. Fishing around structure and working your bait or lure slowly can attract the attention of largemouth bass.

Fishing Equipment

When it comes to smallmouth bass fishing, a medium to medium-heavy spinning rod and reel combo is typically sufficient. Using a braided or fluorocarbon line with a test strength of around 8 to 12 pounds is recommended. For largemouth bass fishing, a medium to medium-heavy casting rod and reel combo is commonly used. A braided or monofilament line with a test strength of around 12 to 20 pounds is suitable for targeting largemouth bass.

Both smallmouth and largemouth bass can put up a good fight, so having a landing net and proper fish handling equipment is important. It is essential to practice catch and release techniques to ensure the longevity of these fish populations. Properly releasing the fish and handling them with care reduces stress and increases their chances of survival.

Sporting Qualities and Challenges

Fighting Ability

Smallmouth bass are known for their fighting ability and are often praised as one of the hardest-fighting freshwater fish species. When hooked, smallmouth bass will put up a strong fight, utilizing their strength and agility to make powerful runs and acrobatic jumps. Anglers often appreciate the thrilling fight that smallmouth bass provide, making them a popular game fish.

Largemouth bass also have a reputation for their fighting ability, although they tend to have a more powerful and bulldoggish fighting style compared to smallmouth bass. When hooked, largemouth bass will often make short, powerful runs towards cover or structure in an attempt to break free. They can also display acrobatic jumps, providing an exciting experience for anglers.


Both smallmouth and largemouth bass are capable of impressive acrobatic jumps when hooked. Smallmouth bass, in particular, are known for their ability to launch themselves out of the water multiple times during a fight. These aerial displays add an extra level of excitement and adrenaline for anglers, making smallmouth bass fishing an exhilarating experience.

Largemouth bass, while not as frequent jumpers as smallmouth bass, can still exhibit impressive acrobatics when hooked. They are known to make powerful leaps out of the water, showcasing their strength and resilience. The sight of a largemouth bass soaring through the air can be a memorable moment for any angler.

Angler Skills Required

To successfully target both smallmouth and largemouth bass, anglers need to possess certain skills and techniques. Having a good understanding of the behavior and feeding patterns of each species is crucial. This knowledge allows anglers to select the appropriate bait or lure, as well as the proper retrieval technique, to entice the fish.

Being able to cast accurately and effectively is also an important skill when bass fishing. Targeting specific structures or areas where bass are likely to be found requires precise casting. Furthermore, having a keen eye for subtle strikes and the ability to detect bites is essential in ensuring a successful hookset.

Conservation and Management

Populations and Threats

Both smallmouth and largemouth bass populations are generally considered stable across their native range. However, localized declines or fluctuations in populations can occur due to various factors, including habitat destruction, water pollution, overfishing, and competition from non-native species.

Habitat Conservation

Protecting and preserving the habitats that smallmouth and largemouth bass rely on is crucial for their long-term survival. Conserving clean and oxygen-rich waters, preserving natural vegetation, and maintaining appropriate water temperatures are all important aspects of habitat conservation. Additionally, efforts should be made to minimize pollution and prevent the introduction of non-native species that may disrupt the natural balance of the ecosystem.

Fishing Regulations

To ensure sustainable fishing opportunities and maintain healthy bass populations, fishing regulations play a crucial role. These regulations may include size limits, creel limits, and seasonal restrictions. Following fishing regulations and practicing catch and release techniques whenever possible helps to ensure that bass populations remain healthy and abundant for future generations.


In conclusion, while smallmouth bass and largemouth bass may share similarities as members of the bass family, there are distinct differences that set them apart. From their appearance and size to their habitat preferences and feeding habits, each species possesses its own unique characteristics. Understanding these distinctions allows anglers to tailor their fishing techniques and target specific species with greater success. By appreciating their sporting qualities and practicing proper conservation methods, we can ensure the longevity of these beloved game fish for generations to come. So, the next time you head out for a day of bass fishing, take a moment to appreciate the distinction between the smallmouth bass and the largemouth bass, and enjoy the excitement and thrill they bring to the sport.

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Erik Njordson

Hey there, fellow finned explorers! I'm Erik Njordson, your go-to guy for everything fishing and fishy. Born in the beautiful fjords of Bergen, Norway, I was practically raised with a fishing rod in one hand and a net in the other. When I was 10, my family and I migrated to the rugged coasts of British Columbia, Canada, where my love for fishing took on a whole new dimension.

I hold a degree in Marine Biology, which means I can talk fish—scientifically. My writing? Imagine your favorite fishing buddy and your Marine Biology professor had a baby—that's me! Informative but never boring.

When I'm not busy casting lines or jotting down the secrets of the deep, you'll find me hiking through the stunning Canadian landscapes, snapping photos of wildlife, or in my kitchen. I love cooking up a storm, especially when the main ingredient is my latest catch, prepared using recipes passed down from my Norwegian ancestors.

I'm fluent in both Norwegian and English, so I bring a unique, global flavor to the angling community. But remember, fishing isn't just about the thrill of the catch for me. It's about respecting our aquatic friends and their habitats. I'm a strong advocate for sustainable fishing, and I hope to inspire you to be one too.

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