Smallmouth Bass Tackle & Techniques: Think Trout

by Louis Bignami


Since most smallmouth rivers run clear much of the year, very light spinning tackle and 1/16- to 1/4-ounce lures are about right. Such rigs also suit nightcrawlers, crawfish tails and small live minnows drifted where I usually chuck artificials. Since smallmouth are not huge, four to six pound test gets the job done on most rivers. I may use eight to ten pound test in dredger ponds where snags are a hazard, but you hook more fish with lighter line.

Basic lures work. I find motor oil and clear Fat Gitzits on the smallest, lightest jigs I can cast a good choice. Texas-rigged purple, motor oil or, for muddy water, hot green tailed plastic worms work too. White and yellow Beetle SpinsĀ® -- the smaller the better -- silver and gold MeppsĀ® Spinners are also fine. Small crayfish plugs take larger, if fewer smallmouth. Spoons such as my favorite gold or copper KastmastersĀ® maximize casting range. However, I would rather take smallmouth on top so most often use Hula Poppers. I go with frog finish in the spring; switch to black just about dark and move to clear when the water is low and/or clear and/or warm.

Fly casters find nearly any flies in Size 4, 6, 8, and 10 go nicely with #4 to #7 weight outfits. Floating lines -- weight forward if you use poppers -- and the odd sink tip for streamers or nymphs do the job. Woolly worms in green, olive, tan and dark brown in sizes 6 to 4 and most any small streamer fly get the job done with a fly rod. Flyrod poppers work too. So do various "never sink" bugs that can survive the attacks of a dozen or so smallies! You don't need anything fancy here!


Hellgrammites and smaller crayfish suit freestone streams. Worms work nicely during spring days when water's a bit off-color. Leeches seem a decent choice in warmer summer months, and in grass-lined bank areas, live grasshoppers floated in the current can be the hot bait.

However, for big smallmouth, live minnows are preferred where allowed. Lip-hooked minnows free-lined down current make stream fishing easy if you start their drift in the proper spot -- you may need to add a split shot or three in stronger currents. In larger rivers, golf-ball-size bobbers control drift and depth. I prefer bobbers barely big enough to keep the minnow from diving. Minnows also suit lakes if you take care to check temperature preferences. Boaters can dunk minnows over the side or slow troll live minnows. Shore anglers can use slip bobbers or the Biggie Rig.


Smallmouth aren't particularly hard to catch if water temperatures are ideal. Moving water smallmouth often seem more like trout than other basses. The edges of riffles, rocky banks and, when waters warm in summer, dark holes along undercut banks deserve a look. As a rule, smallmouth seem much like brown and other trout, although not as nocturnal as the former. 

In ponds, smallmouth tend to cruise or gang up at inlets and outlets. In the big, deep, clear Western impoundments smallmouth tend to go deep along rocks and sometimes suspend in middle depths. Dropping Gitzits and other jigs down banks works well. Trolling or jigging suits suspended fish.