Smallmouth Bass Fishing


tagged smallmouth bass
Smallmouth Bass
By: John Ackerson

Smallmouth bass and rock bass (goggle-eye) anglers often use smaller versions of the same baits and lures used for largemouth bass. The most common fishing method is casting and retrieving artificial or live baits into places where you suspect smallmouth bass are hanging out. Smallmouth bass can be caught on any type of bait-casting or spinning equipment, and some folks feel that a smallmouth bass on a fly rod is the ultimate angling experience.

Lures and baits

Artificial lures are the choice for anglers practicing catch-and-release to reduce hooking mortality.

  • Choose from a wide variety of artificial lures that mimic prey animals.
  • Consider the size and color of the prey in that body of water and choose lures to match.
  • In clear water, use natural colors of prey items.
  • In murky water and the low light of early morning or evening, you might want to use brighter colors.
  • Some popular lures include soft plastics (with or without jigs), crankbaits (plugs), spinner baits, popping bugs and flies.

Casting artificial lures

Soft plastic imitations of worms, crayfish and lizards, as well as grubs and tubes used with a jig, work very well. Fish soft plastics by casting and allowing the bait to sink, then slowly lifting your rod tip from horizontal to vertical with slight jerks, lowering the rod tip back horizontally, reeling in the slack and repeating the steps.

Crankbaits and spinner baits also come in many different varieties. Casting spinner baits over boulders and rootwads, then retrieving the lure at a speed that produces a gurgling noise from the lure, can be excellent on some days. As you reel in the lure, crankbaits with an attached plastic lip dive below the surface to depths determined by the length of the attached lip.

Varying the speed of retrieval mimics a minnow in distress, provoking a strike. Topwater baits can be retrieved at varying speeds, stopping the lure occasionally. Fly fishing using large popping bugs or flies to imitate crayfish, large aquatic insects or minnows is also an excellent and sporting way to catch smallmouth. No matter the method, you will need to experiment with the type and speed of retrieval that interests smallmouth bass on the day you are fishing.

Live bait

Some of the most popular live baits are crayfish, minnows, nightcrawlers and hellgrammites (dobsonfly larvae). See the regulations for catching your own live bait. When fishing live bait, use a #2 or #4 hook with split shot sinkers added a foot or two above the bait to help get it to the bottom. Crayfish are commonly hooked underneath the tail, while minnows are hooked behind the dorsal fin or through both lips.

Smallmouth generally face upstream, so cast upstream beyond your targeted habitat and work the bait back to you and the awaiting fish. Practice casting at home to help make your fishing trips more enjoyable. Whatever method of smallmouth bass fishing you choose, respect fellow anglers, landowners, the river and the fish.

Use even smaller baits for goggle-eye

Typically, the same methods and baits used for smallmouth bass also work well for goggle-eye, although in general the baits should be somewhat smaller. The secretive goggle-eye spends most of the daylight hours lying in the shadows around boulders or submerged logs. Fishing in rocky places with moderate current and plenty of cover are likely to produce the best catches. Goggle-eye can be caught year ‘round. However, when fishing in the winter (as with most fish), it’s best to slow the retrieve of your favorite lures or use live bait in slower currents.

Catch-and-release tips

We can all help Missouri smallmouth bass fishing thrive by practicing catch and release. The way you handle your catch can significantly increase its chance of survival. See our tips for handling fish.

Don’t tag or mark smallmouth bass

The Wildlife Code of Missouri states that fish taken into actual possession, unless released unharmed immediately, shall be included in the daily limit of the taker. Anglers who mark fish with tags or fin clips are not releasing their catch unharmed or immediately. Fisheries biologists use these techniques to evaluate fish populations. Anglers who mark fish are confounding scientific studies and, if not done properly, are also increasing the chance of killing the fish.

Float or wade?

Which is best, floating or wading? Each angler has a preference. Missouri’s larger, deeper streams are made for floating. From a boat, an angler can fish a considerable amount of stream in a day’s time. Floating is also very relaxing, allowing you to simply float with the current, cast into likely-looking spots and stop occasionally to work fishy-looking areas that you would otherwise float by too quickly. Using an outboard motor on a small johnboat or canoe that would allow a motor, gives you the choice of traveling upstream, downstream and through less desirable stretches of river more quickly. If you don’t own a boat, canoe rental businesses are available on many of the larger streams in the Ozarks and can handle the details of your putting in and taking out plans.

Wade fishing is most effective when fishing small streams that are inaccessible to boats. This can be a very enjoyable method of fishing. As you move slowly, you often see wildlife and natural features missed from a boat. Wading anglers often catch large fish since they are able to cast repeatedly into good spots. In addition, they can cast to difficult spots more easily as they stand in the stream, rather than float by. Wading anglers must move slowly and try not to disturb the stream bottom or streamside cover; otherwise fish will be alerted to their presence.