7 Differences Between Large And Smallmouth Bass

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If you plan on going fishing, especially in any of the lakes throughout North America, particularly in Canada and the USA, two fish that you will probably encounter are largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. Both are great fish to aim for.

That said, what is the difference between largemouth and smallmouth bass? the 7 main differences between these two fish are;

  • Coloration & Patterns
  • Shape, Size, & Length of the Mouth
  • The Dorsal Fin
  • Overall Weight & Size
  • Distribution
  • The Usual Habitat
  • Feeding Habits & Hunting Style



Largemouth VS Smallmouth Bass

Alright, so while both of these fish are part of the same class (Actinopterygii), order (Perciformes), family (Centrarchidae), and genus (Micropterus), there are some major differences between the two.

Let’s find out exactly what makes largemouth bass and smallmouth bass different.

1. Coloration & Patterns

One of the major differences between smallmouth bass and largemouth bass has to do with their appearance, particularly their colors and patterns.

For the most part, smallmouth bass are brown in color, and can sometimes appear to be almost black, with vertical dark brown bands appearing on the sides of the body. They usually have brown or dark red eyes.

On the other hand, we have the largemouth bass, which is usually green in color, anywhere from greyish green to olive green, complete with dark blotches on the head and body, blotches that can range from dark green to black.

These blotches usually create somewhat of a jagged or broken line that runs horizontally along the head and body of the fish.

smallmouth vs largemouth bass

2. Shape, Size, & Length of the Mouth

As you can probably tell by the names of these two fish, one of the major differences between them has to do with the size and shape of the mouth.

First off, when it comes to the length of the mouth, largemouth bass have mouths that extend well beyond the back of the eyes, towards the gills.

On the other hand, the mouths of smallmouth bass generally do not extend past the back of the eyes.

The mouths of largemouth bass are not only longer or deeper than that of smallmouth bass, but also a bit wider and larger in general.

It makes perfect sense considering the names of these two fish.

3. The Dorsal Fin

The next major difference in terms of appearance that you will see between largemouth and smallmouth bass has to do with the dorsal fin, the fin on top of the back.

With smallmouth bass, that dorsal fin looks like one solid and long fin without any separation, whereas on a largemouth bass, the dorsal fins are more separated, thus producing the appearance of something like a mountain range.

Also, the dorsal fins on a smallmouth bass look more like rays or small spikes that form one continuous chain.

4. Overall Weight & Size

The mouths of these two fish are not the only things that differ in terms of size. In general, smallmouth bass are shorter and lighter than largemouth bass.

Your average smallmouth bass is going to top out at around 10 pounds, and often does not exceed 7 or 8 pounds, with an average length between 12 and 16 inches.

On the other hand, largemouth bass do tend to be a good deal wider and bulkier than smallmouth bass, thus resulting in increase weight, anywhere from 14 to 20 pounds.

That said, although largemouth bass are quite a bit heavier, this increased weight tends to come from their chunkier bodies, not because they are longer.

On average, a largemouth bass won’t be longer than 16 inches, although some longer specimen have been caught before.

5. Distribution

The next big difference between these two fish has to do with where they are found. First of all, smallmouth bass can be found in the Mississippi region, the St. Lawrence river and the Great Lakes Region.

Smallmouth bass can also be found in other select areas in Northern Canada and in the Northern parts of the USA.  

Due to artificial stocking, smallmouth bass can now be found further south in North America than just a few decades ago.

On the other hand, largemouth bass, as long as there is sufficient water, can be found in virtually all parts of Canada and the USA.

Largemouth bass can be found everywhere from southern Canada to Northern Mexico, and nowadays can even be found in some parts of Europe, Central America, and even in countries such as Japan.

smallmouth bass

6. The Usual Habitat

Smallmouth bass and largemouth bass tend to inhabit fairly different waters.

First off, smallmouth bass tend to prefer fairly large and deep bodies of water where the temperature is fairly cool. Smallmouth bass prefer cooler waters.

This is also why you will often find smallmouth bass fairly deep down in the water, where the temperatures are lower.

Smallmouth bass also prefer lakebeds with lots of rocks, stumps, and cover.

Next, smallmouth bass tend to like moderate to strong water currents, and they also prefer their water to be clean and clear, which is why large smallmouth bass populations are often associated with clean water that is relatively free of pollution.

On the other hand, we have largemouth bass, which tend to inhabit a much wider range of waters than smallmouth bass, which is why they are more prevalent and can be found in more places.

Yes, largemouth bass like cooler water, but they can also deal with warmer water just fine.

For this reason, you are much likelier to find largemouth bass in water as shallow as 3 feet deep, when compared to smallmouth bass.

Largemouth bass also prefer shallower waters that feature tons of green vegetation.

Moreover, although largemouth bass can handle moderate water currents, they do prefer the water to be calmer.

Finally, largemouth bass are also more tolerant of murky and relatively unclean waters than their small mouthed counterparts.

7. Feeding Habits & Hunting Style

The final major difference between these two types of bass is what and how they eat.

Now, what needs to be said here is that the diets of these two fish are very similar, with the difference being that largemouth bass tend to go for slightly larger baitfish than smallmouth bass, which of course has to do with the difference in size.

That said, both fish feed on smaller feeder or baitfish. However, the real difference between the two is that smallmouth bass tend to hunt for their food out in the open, and may travel long distance without cover in search of food.

On the other hand, largemouth bass like cover. They are known for being ambush hunters. They will often wait in cover, such as thick vegetation, and then strike their prey as the bait fish pass by.

Smallmouth bass rely on speed to hunt, whereas largemouth bass rely on their ability to pop out of cover to ambush their dinner.

Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips

bass fishing tips

To help make your life easier, and to improve your chances of landing some impressive specimen, let’s go over some of the most important smallmouth bass fishing tips for you to follow.

The Right Time of Year

One thing to keep in mind when fishing for smallmouth bass is that they prefer colder waters and that they start spawning in the early spring.

This means that if you want to easily land some smallmouth bass, the best time of year to go fishing for them is during the late winter and early spring, all the way up until May.

That said, the early fall, once the water has started to cool down, is also a decent time to go fishing for smallmouth bass.

The Right Time of Day

The next thing to keep in mind here is that not only does the time of year make a difference, but the time of day as well.

When it comes down to it, smallmouth bass are most active when they are feeding, and this is usually ad dawn and dusk.

This is when the fish that smallmouth bass eat are the most active. Smallmouth bass are most active and most prone to feeding when the sun is not to bright, which is because it makes it easier for bass to see their prey, among other things.

Moreover, just like humans, fish are the hungriest in the morning and at night.

The best time to catch smallmouth bass is from sunrise to a couple hours after sunrise, followed by the late afternoon, a few hours before sunset, until it gets dark.

The Right Weather

Something else to keep in mind is that the weather will also influence your success when fishing for smallmouth bass.

Smallmouth bass tend to not like sunny days, so if you are fishing in the middle of the day, it should be cloudy.

Moreover, rain and stormfronts tend to produce great smallmouth bass fishing opportunities as well.

Inclement weather or wind and rain cause smallmouth bass to feed, probably because wind and rain cause insects to come lower to the water’s surface, and the weather also drives insects from land to over the water.

Fishing for smallmouth bass on a clear and sunny day is definitely not your best bet.

The Right Location & Water Depth

As mentioned before, smallmouth bass usually prefer slightly deeper water with lots of cover, or at least lots of cover if shallow water is involved.

Therefore, in the middle of the day, if you want to go daytime fishing, try looking for deeper water, anything deeper within lakes, and even better is if it has cover.

This is not to say that smallmouth bass don’t hang out in shallower water, but if so, they will definitely stick to cover, particularly during the day, so they don’t get eaten by predators.

Moreover, while smallmouth bass do usually like stronger water currents, they can also be lazy, and often like hanging out in mild or moderate currents where food is pushed in their direction.

More or less, during the opportune times of day for smallmouth bass fishing, at dawn and dusk, they will be in deeper waters where they like to feed, and during the day, they will often move to cover to hide from the sun and predators.

During the spring and summer months, anything between 15 and 25 feet in depth is great for smallmouth bass fishing.

The Best Baits & Hooks

If you are going smallmouth bass fishing, try sticking to drop shot hooks, Texas rig hooks, extra wide gap hooks, and weighted swim bait hooks.

In terms of hook size, you can choose anything like 4, 2, 1, 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, 5/0 and 6/0.

When it comes to the best type of live bait to use for smallmouth bass, you really can’t go wrong with minnows and other similar bait fish.

The Best Lures

If you want to use artificial lures for smallmouth bass fishing, as opposed to hooks and live bait, some of the most popular and preferred options include the following.

  • Jigs are great to use when smallmouth bass are inactive, when you really need to entice it. Any kind of jig that you can get near or to the bottom will work well.
  • Floating minnow baits can work well in some situations.
  • Crankbaits work well for smallmouths feeding in moderately deep and shallower waters.
  • Spinnerbaits are great for any time when smallmouth bass are feeding aggressively.
  • Jerk baits tend to work quite well for surface fishing.

Related: Does shrimp work as bait?

Largemouth Bass Fishing Tips

largemouth bass tips

Just like we provided you with some great smallmouth bass fishing tips, let’s now do the same for their large mouthed counterparts.

This section is going to be a bit shorter than for smallmouth bass fishing tips, mainly because many of these tips will be the same.

The Right Time of Year

Just like with smallmouth bass, springtime tends to be best for largemouth bass fishing.

That said, largemouth bass do prefer slightly warmer waters, and therefore are best fished for in the middle of the spring when the water starts to warm up a bit.

Late summer and early fall can also provide for great largemouth bass fishing opportunities.

The Right Time of Day

Just like with smallmouth bass, largemouth bass are also not fans of bright sunlight.

So, this means that early morning, right at sunrise and a couple hours after, as well as late afternoon, a couple hours before it gets dark, is the best time to fish for largemouth bass, as this is when they are most likely to feed.

You may catch largemouth bass in the middle of the day, but it’s best done on a cloudy day.

The Right Weather

Speaking of the weather, if it is bright and sunny out, the best time to fish is dawn and dusk.

If you want to fish in the middle of the day, it should be cloudy.

Just like with smallmouths, largemouth bass will also be triggered to feed in rainy and windy weather, which means that inclement weather provides you with some great opportunities as well.

The Right Location & Water Depth

As we have covered, largemouth bass usually prefer somewhat shallow water that has plenty of cover.

Therefore, fishing from a dock, in the shallows, or anywhere with plenty of rocks, stumps, and vegetation is ideal.

While you can find largemouth bass in deeper waters, they usually prefer sticking to 15 feet or above.

The Best Baits & Hooks

Seeing as largemouth bass are fairly large predators, you can use all sorts of live baits for them, including but not limited to minnows and other baitfish, frogs, and even large insects and grubs too.

In terms of hook size, you can choose anything like 4, 2, 1, 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, 5/0 and 6/0. Baitholder hooks, wide gap hooks, drop shot hooks, octopus hooks, soft bait hooks, and various others can be used, depending on your preferred setup.

The Best Lures

The cool thing about largemouth bass is that they will go for all sorts of lures.

Some of the best lures to use for these fish include spinnerbaits, plastic worms, vertical jigs, popping plugs, floating minnow baits, and crankbaits.

Are Large and Smallmouth Bass Good to Eat?

Most people agree that both of these fish are fine to eat, both of which have firm, flaky, and tender white meat.

That said, most agree that bass are much more fun to catch than they are to eat, as they do have a very strong fishy taste.

However, there are so many recipes, spices, and ways to cook fish, that you can definitely find something that works for you.

Which One Tastes Better?

In general, because smallmouth bass prefer cleaner water, they generally taste cleaner as well.

Although, most people agree that smallmouth and largemouth bass taste virtually identical.

However, smallmouth bass tends to be a bit sweeter with a slightly less fishy taste. If you are unsure, we recommend trying smallmouth bass first.

Can Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass Breed?

Although it is not overly common, with decreasing fish populations, some fish resort to cross-breeding, and yes, it is technically possible for smallmouth and largemouth bass to breed.

That said, fish are usually healthier and more likely to reproduce when the offspring come from female largemouth and male smallmouth bass, compared to male largemouth and female smallmouth bass.

Simply put, yes they can breed, and are often referred to as smallmouth-largemouth hybrids, or even as mean-mouth bass.



The bottom line is that smallmouth and largemouth bass do have some fundamental differences between them, but when it comes down to it, besides a few defining features, they are fairly similar fish.

Jason Downs

I created Fishtackly to share my 30 years of fishing experience and knowledge with others with the aim to help, and hopefully get more people involved and educated in this fantastic hobby that I love.