Smallmouth vs Largemouth Bass: All You Need to Know

Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass are among America’s favorite freshwater fish. From sportfishing pros to enthusiastic amateurs, everyone loves to catch Bass. Black Bass fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry. Countless tournaments and tackle brands specialize in catching lunker Largemouth and super-sized Smallmouth. But what’s the difference between them?

Two smiling fishermen holding up smallmouth bass and largemouth bass
One of these Bass is not like the others. Can you tell which?

At first glance, the two fish are pretty similar. They’re the same shape. They’re often the same size. They can both show up in the same waters. But these are two very different species. Here’s a handy guide to telling them apart, from how they look to where they live, and most importantly of all, when and how you should try to catch them.

How to Tell the Difference Between Large and Smallmouth Bass

The first and most obvious difference between Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass is that Largemouth grow a lot bigger. Smallies usually top out at around 10 pounds, while Largies can double that easily.

You can also tell the species apart by their color. Smallmouth are often known as “Brown Bass,” while Largemouth are nicknamed “Green Bass.” In reality, though, both fish can vary in color depending on their age, location, and a bunch of other factors. Don’t worry, there are three surefire ways to distinguish Smallmouth versus Largemouth Bass.

Largemouth Bass have, well, larger mouths. Their upper jaw extends past the eye, while Smallies’ jaws are usually in line with it. The next things to look at are their fins. Largemouth have a break between their dorsal fins, Smallmouth don’t. Finally, even if both fish are a similar color, “Green” Bass have dark, horizontal lines while “Brown” Bass have vertical stripes.

A comparison of smallmouth vs largemouth bass showing how to tell the two species apart. Largemouth Bass have bigger upper jaws, a break between their dorsal fins, and horizontal stripes. Smallmouth Bass have smaller jaws, no break in their dorsal fins, and vertical stripes

Once you’ve caught a few of each species, you’ll be able to tell which Bass you’ve hooked before you even land it. Smallmouth Bass are usually more acrobatic than their big-mouthed cousins. They jump more as they try to throw the hook. Largemouth Bass don’t normally jump more than once.

Where To Find Smallmouth vs. Largemouth Bass

So you can tell your Bass apart, but what’s the use if you can’t find them? In general, Smallies prefer colder waters, and are more common in northern waters like Lake Erie. Largies prefer warmer spots and thrive in southern lakes like Okeechobee.

Can Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass live together? Of course. They won’t usually be in the same part of the lake or river, though. Here are some tips on where to look for each fish.

Largemouth Bass Habitat

Largemouth Bass love cover. From stumps and rocks to weed beds, brush piles, and grasses, thick cover is the best place to look for lunker Largies. They will even hold in cover when they’re feeding. This makes finding them in murky water easier – you don’t have to spot the fish, just the cover they’re hiding in.

An angler in a white shirt and a hat holding a Largemouth Bass with a weed-covered lake in the background
Heavy cover is the best place to look for Largemouth.

In rivers, Largemouth tend to avoid strong currents. These lazy hunters usually rest in current breaks until they find a fish to ambush. If you find a sheltered break with thick cover near a fast current, chances are you’re in for a great day’s fishing.

Smallmouth Bass Habitat

Smallmouth Bass also like cover. The difference is that they don’t enter it. Smallies prefer to hunt around cover, particularly deep, rocky structure. Smallmouth Bass are also well known to chase bait fish out in open water. Because of this, it’s much easier to find Smallmouth in clear water than in the murky shallows that Largemouth anglers love.

An angler wearing sunglasses and a cap holding a smallmouth bass with open water behind him
Smallies show up in much deeper, more open water.

Another key difference between the two species is that Brown Bass love to hunt in hard currents. If you’re looking for Smallies in a river, you should ignore the breaks and make your cast right into the fast-moving water instead.

When to Fish for Large and Smallmouth Bass

When you fish often depends on where you’re fishing. Each body of water has its own peak season based on vegetation, climate, depth, and much more. There are a few rules you should bear in mind wherever you’re fishing, though.

When to Fish for Largemouth Bass

Largemouth spend their summers in shallow bays and creeks. They like to find a spot with good cover and access to structure. Because this structure includes dock stumps and bridge pilings, summer is often an easy time of year to get to them.

Two anglers holding Largemouth Bass with a Suzuki outboard engine behind them
A gray day can mean a great bite when targeting Largemouth Bass.

Many top anglers say that cloudy, drizzly days are best for Largemouth. Others say the important thing is the wind. A slight breeze is fine, but anything more and they start to roam in the grass rather than staying put. This makes them much harder to track down.

When to Fish for Smallmouth Bass

Once again, Smallmouth break all the rules their larger cousins set. They stick to the shallows when they’re spawning in spring, but head to deep water once the weather turns hot. In late summer, they can be especially hard to find. They hunt out in the open and rarely hold in groups. They head back to the shallows again in the fall, making them easier to track down.

A happy fisherman wearing sunglasses holding a smallmouth bass with open water behind him and two fishing rods to his right
You need plenty of light to sight Smallmouth in open water.

Bright days and calm waters are the best conditions for Smallmouth Bass. They make it much easier to spot Smallies in the clear, open waters they prefer. Again, a light breeze is fine, but strong winds make fishing tricky out in the open.

How to Target Smallmouth and Largemouth

Different anglers always have their favorite tactics, and it’s hard to get anyone to agree on which works best. Tournament pros swear by anything from soft plastic jerkbaits and finesse worms to spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and football jigs.

In fact, you can pick pretty much any lure and you’ll find someone fishing with it. People have spent their lives describing the different ways to catch Bass. There are some iconic tactics for each species, though. Here are a few must-try tactics for each species.

Three anglers fishing on a boat with a water and lake weeds in the background

Largemouth Bass Fishing Tips

The most effective way to hook Largemouth Bass is flipping and pitching into the grasses where they lurk. If the fish is on her bed, she can often ignore your lures entirely unless they’re right under her nose. Large plastics or jigs work well in these conditions.

Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips

Smallmouth Bass will go after pretty much any lure you send their way. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, vibrating jigs – they’ll even come up to take topwater plugs on occasion. They’re a lot quicker to take a lure when they’re bedding, too.

One thing Smallies won’t go for is heavy line. They can see it much better than Largemouth can, especially when the sun is high. If you’re fishing in the middle of the day, it’s often a case of “go light or go home.”

Smallmouth vs. Largemouth Bass: Which is Better?

3 happy fishermen holding 5 big Largemouth Bass
Nothing brings a smile to your face like a good day of Bass fishing!

The truth is that both species have their selling points. Largemouth grow bigger and can be fun to search out in cover. Smallmouth are much more acrobatic and put up a better fight pound-for-pound.

Avid anglers love arguing over which fish is better almost as much as they love catching them. Whichever species you prefer, one thing’s for sure: Black Bass are on every freshwater angler’s fishing list. And if you ask us, they more than earn the top spot.

Which do you prefer, Largemouth or Smallmouth? What are your top tips for catching them? Drop us a comment below – we’re always keen to talk Bass.

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