October 1, 2020


Submitted - 2005-07-28
By Andrew Schafermeyer and Bryan Comeau, Fisheries Staff,
Region 1/Lancaster

One of the most exciting images for a New Hampshire angler is a rising fish. Whether it's a two-inch brook trout dimple or a thirty-inch pike explosion, fish on the surface can get your blood pumping. Last week, I had the privilege of this type of action in a local reservoir. While fishing a walk-the-dog style stickbait on the surface, action at dusk became frequent and exciting. Half of the fish turned out to be largemouth and half were smallmouth bass. After a lifetime of bass fishing, I'm getting better at distinguishing the two, from both a sportsman's and a biologist's point of view.

The physical distinctions between smallmouth and largemouth bass are easy to see. Largemouth bass range in color depending on their environment, but are typically deep green to pale olive across their dorsal areas with paler bellies. They all have a black lateral line that runs from head to tail. Because of the bronze reflection of their scales, smallmouths are often called bronzebacks. Although sometimes difficult to see, smallies have nine dark vertical bars on their sides and three that radiate from the eye. On a smallmouth, the upper jaw extends to a point directly below the middle of the eye. In contrast, a largemouth's jaw extends beyond the rear of the eye.

All black bass are spectacular sportfish, but times do arise when an angler wants to target one or the other. In these instances, it becomes important to understand the differences in biology and preferred habitat. Smallmouth bass need habitat that combines food, cover, and access to deep or stratified water. Without all three, expect smallmouth to be infrequent. Largemouth can tolerate a wider range of habitat, including warmer temperatures; shallower, more fertile water; and clarity that smallmouth would avoid.

In lakes and reservoirs, smallmouth concentrate around river or stream influxes or areas with windy currents. Largemouth can be found in gently tapered shorelines with less current. Both fish prefer similar cover with smallies favoring rocks and broken substrate and largemouth choosing wood, aquatic plants, and root masses.

Both species of bass can be caught with many of the same methods. There are, however, small differences that can help improve catch rates depending on the waterbody or season. Smallmouth are most comfortable around substantial cover, and generally feed on the shadowed side of underwater structure. Largemouth can be free-swimming and feed around no apparent cover. More of a schooling fish, smallmouth tend to group by size, while largemouth school in staggered age classes.

When targeting smallmouth, artificial lures two to three inches in length are a good start. Smaller (eighth-ounce) spinner-baits are also a good bet. Because of the clarity in preferred water, dark or naturally colored baits like my favorite grub-tailed jig can really bring smallies in the boat. A method to largemouth fishing is casting and retrieving more quickly. Bigger baits with more unnatural colors like yellows and pinks can sometimes do the trick.

There is no use starting a debate as to which species of bass is the most fun to catch. I've had great trips catching both. The point is.....who cares! After a hard day at work, I'll take either one.
This report was provided by NH Fish and Game Department in Concord, NH. Follow this link for more specific information on the reports or the area - http://wildlife.state.nh.us/Fishing/fishing.htm