Difference Between Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass

Difference Between Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass

Bass are, by far, the most sought-after fish when it comes to recreational and sport fishing. Entire businesses have grown up around bass fishing alone, from tackle manufacturers to YouTube celebrities. If you wanted, you could watch bass fishing programs 24/7. But, it’s more fun to get out there and catch them yourself. 

Bass are such popular fish for a few reasons. First, they’re not hard to find. Since they can be found from east coast to west and from up north to down south, bass fishing is only ever as far as your local lake. They also make for great fishing. They’re strong, they fight hard, and some of them will even try to outsmart you.

What They Look Like

Two of the most prized fish within the bass family are the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and the smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu). Since you’re likely to encounter them swimming in the same waters and they look similar, it can be tough to tell one from another. They’re also closely related to each other. But, once you learn a few tips and tricks, you’ll be able to pick them out of a lineup. 

The most visible difference between the two is their coloration. Largemouth bass have a darker line of dots and splotches leading from the eye all the way to the tail. Smallmouth bass have vertical stripes at intervals along their sides. However, that’s what the adults look like. Juveniles are a little different. So, it’s still possible to misidentify them if you’re going by color alone.

The next area to look at is the dorsal fin. Largemouth bass have a dorsal fin that’s divided so that it looks like two fins. The forward half has nine sharp spines and the rear half has 12 to 13 soft rays. Smallmouth bass has a dorsal fin that looks divided as well, but the two are joined together in the middle. This fish has 13-15 soft rays in the dorsal fin.

Another obvious difference between the two fish is the size of the mouth. Largemouth have, of course, a larger mouth. The upper jaw of this fish reaches well past the rear margin of the eye. Smallmouth, naturally, have the smaller mouths of the two. Their upper jaw never reaches past the eye.

Finally, if you can get close enough for a good look, another way to tell them apart is by the number of scales on their cheeks. Largemouth bass have 17 rows of scales on their cheeks and smallmouth have far fewer – just 10 rows.

Where To Find Them

You can often find both large and smallmouth in the same body of water. But, if you’re fishing up north, in the Great Lakes region, the smallmouth will be the more abundant of the two. They prefer to spend their time in cool climates. Largemouth, on the other hand, like it warmer. You’ll find them more in places like Florida, Georgia, and Texas. 

When you do see them swimming in the same waters, you won’t usually see them together. Like cliques of teenagers, they each have their own hangout spots. Largemouth like to be under thick cover. They also don’t hang out in the currents. A largemouth will hang out in the breaks, waiting for dinner to swim by. Smallmouth bass like cover too, but they will skirt the edges instead of going under. You’ll definitely find smallmouth in the current and out in open water.

When To Fish Them

The “when” of fishing both bass relies a lot on where you are. The vegetation that acts as cover for the largemouth bass might not be growing all year around. If you’re in Wisconsin, but there’s a record heatwave, the smallmouth might abandon their usual places in favor of cooler waters. However, there are a few general guidelines that will up your chances of finding these fish.

Summer is usually the best time for largemouth bass. This is when they move into shallow bays and creeks. Largemouth are happiest when the water is between 81-86℉, so they tend to stay within 18 feet of the surface. When the temperature drops and those surface waters lose heat, the fish goes into deeper water.

Spring and fall are the best times for smallmouth bass. In the spring, they head into the shallow waters to spawn. This is when you’ll find a higher concentration of them because the males and females are looking to get together. In the fall, they return to the shallows. Although they like cooler water, smallmouth bass don’t exactly like the cold. In winter, they migrate as much as 12 miles a day to find deep water where they can hibernate.

How To Fish Them

For either fish, there are techniques you can use when fishing that will help you land them all day long. Everyone’s got their favorites they swear by and it’s always good to vary your lures and strategy with the conditions. But, knowing how these fish behave and where they spend their time are tremendously helpful for any angler. 

Largemouth bass can be exciting to fish because they put on a show. You can use jigs, plugs, and spinner, but if the fish are feeling particularly frisky that day, bring out your surface plugs. At the top of the water, you can witness the strike. After the fish is hooked, it will likely jump out of the water, mouth wide, in an attempt to shake off the hook. If it can’t get rid of the hook this way, it’ll go deep and try to tangle your line around submerged debris.

Smallmouth bass are much more sensitive to line visibility. You won’t be able to get away with using a heavy line if you after smallmouth. This is when to use either a lighter line or a leader that’s harder to see. They tend to go after flashy, fast-moving lures like spinnerbaits and spoons. 

So, which fish is better? Some anglers will argue over this question until they’re blue in the face. But, it really just depends on your style of fishing and even your mood. Now that you’ve read this article, you’ll be able to tell your largemouth bass from your smallmouth bass. So, catch a few of each and decide for yourself!

Learn more: Difference Between Salmon and Trout

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