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Smallmouth bass

Smallmouth Bass Illustration

Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri ©

Bass - general

Michigan boasts good populations of both largemouth and smallmouth bass statewide, though as you travel northward, smallmouths are the dominant species. Largemouths are more often associated with shallow, weedier bodies of water or reservoirs with standing timber, while smallmouths are more closely linked to rocky habitat and rivers. Both, however, can be caught from the same bodies of water and often from the same general areas.


Both species move shallow in the spring to spawn and are easily located and enticed into biting before they go on the beds. After spawning, bass typically move out to deeper water, though there are almost always some bass, especially largemouths, in shallow water, usually associated with cover such as weed beds, fallen timber or boat docks.

Perhaps America's top game fish, bass are known for their spirited fight making them one of the most enjoyable catches for any angler. They can be caught with a wide range of artificial lures, and can be taken on virtually any live bait. Bass fishermen typically cast all manner of lures, from topwater plugs to bottom-bumpers (such as jigs or plastic worms) with diving plugs, swim baits, spoons or spinnerbaits used in between. Similarly, bass can be taken on all types of flies, with fly fishermen often using streamers that imitate minnows or crayfish to take them subsurface.

Michigan's Great Lakes and connecting water have excellent smallmouth populations. The whole southeastern coast from Port Huron to Lake Erie is nationally known for its size and number of smallmouth bass. Many of the lakes across the northern tier of the Lower Peninsula offer outstanding smallmouth fishing, as do many of the rivers of southern Michigan. Many of the drowned river mouths along Lake Michigan, weedy backwaters of all the Great Lakes, and most southern inland lakes have good populations of both largemouths and smallmouths.

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Smallmouth bass

Micropterus dolomieu


Two dorsal fins with spinous and soft-rayed portions united, body longer than deep, jaw extends to the middle of the eye, bronze streaks in cheek. 


At first the fry eat microcrustaceans, but soon add insects and fish to their diet as they grow in size.

Life history:

Spawning activity begins in the spring when water temperatures reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit or more. The male builds a nest in quiet water, usually near shore, or downstream from an obstruction that causes a break in the current. Since the male will guard the eggs and the newly hatched fry, the nest is never far from deep water, or cover, where he can retreat when frightened. The eggs, which are larger than those of the largemouth bass, hatch in two to three days. Then the newly hatched light-colored fry drop down into the bottom of the gravel nest for three or more days. By the time the fry work their way out of the gravel on the ninth or tenth day, they are very dark in color. Under the watchful eye of the male, they swim in a dense dark cloud over the nest for a few days, then begin to disperse. 

Background information:

Smallmouth bass mature at age three or four, and occasionally live to be 10 to 12 years old. The usual smallmouth seen by anglers is eight to 15 inches long and weighs less than three pounds, but they are capable of reaching upwards of five to six pounds in waters with adequate food and habitat.