Fish

What is the difference between smallmouth and largemouth bass

Published: 29th of June 2023 Last updated: 29th of June 2023

Smallmouth and largemouth bass are two sought-after species among fly fishers. They are distinct species with unique characteristics, behaviors, and habitats, yet they very much look alike.

This article will provide an in-depth comparison between these two species, helping you to distinguish between them, and understand the nuances that are relevant in fly fishing.

Physical differences

Smallmouth bass

Known scientifically as Micropterus dolomieu, smallmouth bass are typically bronze or brown in color, with vertical stripes along their bodies. The upper jaw of a smallmouth bass extends to the middle of the eye, and they have a more streamlined body shape than their largemouth counterparts. The average size of smallmouth bass varies, but they typically range between 12 and 20 inches in length.

Largemouth bass

On the other hand, the largemouth bass, or Micropterus salmoides, has a distinct greenish hue with a broad horizontal stripe along its flank. Even though the horizontal stripe can consist of many vertical segments, it's a much more clear horizontal line vs the smallmouth bass.

The upper jaw extends beyond the rear margin of the eye, giving it a "larger mouth" appearance. Largemouth bass are generally bigger, with adults typically measuring between 13 and 20 inches, although specimens exceeding this length are not uncommon.

Smallmouth vs largemouth bass: red line indicates how the mouth of the largemouth is better extends further vs the eye, and the blue line indicates the difference in the stripe pattern on the side.
Smallmouth vs largemouth bass: red line indicates how the mouth of the largemouth is better extends further vs the eye, and the blue line indicates the difference in the stripe pattern on the side.

Behavioral differences

Smallmouth bass

Smallmouth bass are renowned for their fighting spirit. When hooked, they exhibit aggressive jumps, making them a thrilling catch for fly fishers. Especially when fished on a popper, like a frog popper! They prefer clear, cool, and slightly flowing water, and they usually feed on insects, smaller fish, and crustaceans. Smallmouth bass are known for their wariness and tend to be harder to catch, demanding a bit more skill and strategy.

Largemouth bass

Largemouth bass behave a little differently. They are ambush predators and often lie in wait near structures such as logs, rocks, or plants before lunging at their prey. They thrive in warmer, murkier waters with abundant vegetation. While their diet is varied, it primarily consists of smaller fish, insects, and even small water birds or mammals. Compared to smallmouth bass, largemouth bass are generally easier to catch.

Habitat preferences

Smallmouth bass

Smallmouth bass are highly adaptable and can be found in a wide range of aquatic habitats. They thrive best in the clear, cool waters of streams, rivers, and the rocky areas of lakes and reservoirs. Their adaptability extends to various elevations, from lowland ponds to high mountain lakes.

Largemouth bass

Largemouth bass are primarily lake dwellers. They prefer slower-moving, warmer waters, and are commonly found in ponds, reservoirs, and sluggish streams. Their ideal habitats feature a wealth of submerged structures where they can hide and hunt, and plenty of vegetation.

Fishing techniques

Successful fishing strategies differ significantly for these two species. When targeting smallmouth bass, fly fishers should opt for smaller, more subtly colored lures that mimic the insects and small fish that form their diet. Given their wariness, a stealthy approach is crucial.

For largemouth bass, larger, more brightly colored lures are typically more effective, given these fish's aggressive hunting style and preference for larger prey. As they tend to stay near cover, casting near vegetation or submerged structures can yield good results.

For both, many fly fishers agree that the most exciting way to catch them is on a popper.

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