Smallmouth bass go by a number of handles, smallie, bronzeback, brown bass, brownie, bronze bass, and bareback bass to name a few. These feisty critters are called smallmouths because their jaw never extends beyond the eye as it does with their cousin, largemouth bass. While some folks confuse small largemouth with smallmouth, their bronze coloring, vertical banding (when visible), and red eye (most fish) make this a rather distinctive black bass.
Smallmouth often run smaller in size than largemouth bass, 8 to 15 inches is typical on most waters. But they can exceed 24 inches and 10 pounds. My personal best is a 22 inch bruiser. Smallmouth bass prefer clear-water lakes, reservoirs and streams. However, they are adaptable and tolerate less than ideal conditions. Preferred water temperature is 68-70 degrees. My experience catching smallies suggests they’re most likely to be shallow and aggressive when temperatures are in the 50 to 70 degree range. Warmer or cold and they tend to go deep and become a bit tight lipped, or at least they ignore my offerings. Enough biology, read the FxR species description for more information or google it.
A comment from a friend of mine best expresses why I love smallmouth bass. He said, “Every time I land a smallie, I’m always amazed how small it is!” Yep, few fish, ounce for ounce, pull harder than these bronze scrapers. Plus, when they’re on the feed, few fish are more willing to nail your offerings with a vengeance.
Ask what smallmouth’s favorite prey is and I’m willing to bet the answer will be crayfish. There’s no doubt that smallies love crustaceans. However, from what I’ve read and in my experience, given their druthers, bronzebacks prefer baitfish. That’s counter intuitive to many anglers as we often associate and target smallmouth bass around rocky cover, be it riprap or some other broken rubble. Prime crayfish habitat, and don’t look for them chasing schools of bait.
Over the years, my “go to” fly for smallmouth bass, has been and is, the Clouser Minnow, in shad or shiner colors. Crawfish patterns work, but day-in, day-out, a minnow pattern if more productive. Smallies love fish. This was driven home to me recently at Horsetooth. I started out with a sinking line, bouncing clousers off the bottom around broken rock. My partner was throwing a fly and bubble rig with a large, black pistol Pete. To my surprise he started picking up fish, decent fish to 15 inches, over the deeper water zipping that thing around. I took the hint, and we fished deeper water, to 60 feet or better. While I stayed with the sinking line, I picked up the retrieve, ripping the clousers near the surface. It worked! The better fish were in deeper water chasing bait fish.
Their love of fish and comfort with riverine habitats has resulted in them not being welcome in a number of western Colorado waters due to the issues they’ve caused with the Colorado River drainage endangered species. Further in some waters, they’ve severely damaged trout fisheries, while overpopulating, resulting in a marginal fishery. Consequently, moves are being made to remove limits to encourage greater harvest of smallies on many West Slope waters.
Books have been written on smallmouth and tactics to catch them, way more information than I can cover here. Suffice it to say, they’re a favorite with me. The reasons are simple, smallmouth can be found in a large number of Colorado waters, they readily take flies (streamers, nymphs, and topwater), and they fight like devil is on their tail. Maybe the devil in them explains the red eyes.
Simply, it doesn’t get much better than a day on the water catching smallmouth bass and until the waters cool into the fifties driving them deep for the winter, I’ll be spending a lot of time this fall fishing for them.